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Nataly Kogan Knows We Can All Still Be Happy

The Happier founder and author shares her insights into how we can stay well in the era of social distancing.

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Has the world ever needed a healthy dose of more than it does right now? After all, the power of happiness is transformative. It lifts us, rejuvenates our spirit and gives us renewed energy and resolve to meet the unprecedented challenges we’re facing today.

Jon Shaft
Happier founder Nataly Kogan

At times like this, the impact of happiness on work culture and the health of employees becomes more important than ever. Happiness can reshape a company’s culture and bring us closer together as a community, even though we’re physically apart. That’s why the insights of happiness expert Nataly Kogan take on a particularly profound meaning today. She’s just the tonic for these unprecedented times.

Despite reaching the highest levels of corporate success by her mid-20s, Kogan felt unfulfilled. She was building her life in the United States after immigrating as a refugee from the former Soviet Union as a young teen, but was burnt out and unhappy.

Related: Yes, There Can Still Be Positive Workplace Disruption 

To redefine happiness, she dived into the science and learned that happiness isn’t simple, nor does it come from the outside. Rather, it’s a skill — one we can all learn and develop in our lives and careers. She founded her company, Happier, to share methods for finding more joy in everyday moments and being more resilient in the face of difficulty, all of which we discussed in a recent conversation.

What experiences have shaped your career and philosophy?

I always thought that once everything in my life was perfect like my job and family, then I’d finally be happy. I chased that euphoria by trying to do it all, and it led me to a dark place because I was completely burnt out. Plus, life won’t ever be perfect no matter how hard you try. The lesson I learned several years ago was that happiness is not a state of being that is achieved when everything in your life is going right. Instead it’s a skill you need to practice. When things are as challenging as they are right now, you must practice it even more, and is one way you can do this. You can journal, write a note to your co-worker or take a picture of what you're grateful for. If you pause and capture your gratitude in some way, it's working.

We also get stuck in this trap sometimes of thinking that happiness is all about being upbeat and smiling all the time. That’s not always how we feel as human beings, because life has many challenges. If we redefine happiness as a skill, then we can practice being compassionate to ourselves and each other when times aren’t going well. I've been talking a lot to our community about the fact that happiness is not about making things perfect in order to enjoy them.

How can we become more resilient during times of uncertainty?

Just like we have a physical immune system, we have an emotional immune system, which is sometimes referred to as a psychological immune system. In fact, most of us overestimate when something bad happens, such as how long we'll feel bad for or how difficult it will be. We have inner resilience as human beings, but for us to tap into it we need to learn the skill of first acknowledging how we feel. Many people think they can’t feel negative emotions because then they’ll get stuck and never feel good again. If we allow ourselves to acknowledge all our emotions, the good and the challenging ones, our emotional immune system gives us the opportunity to be resilient and get through them.

Research shows that when you focus on your emotional health and practice happiness, particularly when you’re going through a challenge, you are much more likely to work harder and help others. I mention that because these are all things we need to be doing right now but we can't be doing them if we are stuck in what I call the valley of suffering. Self-compassion increases , productivity, and the likelihood that after a failure we're going to work harder to improve.

How can leaders help their remote teams stay connected with each other?

I read something recently that stuck with me, which was that we shouldn't be talking about social distancing, but rather physical distancing and social connection. We’re in a place where we need to be more intentional about creating those social connections, because we can't run into each other in an office. I can't just hug my parents because they're over for a Friday night dinner. The best way we can support each other is through intentional kindness.

The word intentional is so important because it's easy to be overwhelmed right now and not make the effort to reach out. For many people, it may be out of their comfort zone to check in with a colleague via text when they’re used to seeing each other in person. Now more than ever, we must practice intentional kindness with each other, because so much of it does not require physical contact or even proximity.

If you could offer one piece of advice to people looking to be happier, what would it be?

Begin an intentional daily practice of gratitude, which can be nothing more complicated than taking a minute every morning or night and jotting down a few things you are grateful for. There are more than 11,000 studies that show if you do this tiny, little practice consistently, it has enormous payoff, not just in how happy you feel but your overall emotional and physical health.

We have access to this magic pill with no side effects that is completely free and has these scientifically backed and proven benefits. Why isn't this required for living?

Related: What I Learned From Mister Rogers About Disrupting While Being Disrupted

What are you most grateful for in this moment?

I’m most grateful for the fact that my trio, the three musketeers — my husband, my daughter and I — all really like each other. Of course there's family love, but I'm grateful that we like each other as well. I feel so enriched and supported by them, and we also have a lot of fun together.

I’m also incredibly grateful to be able to share my research and help so many people right now. Whenever people say to me, "I'm really overwhelmed," I tell them the best way to get out of our heads is to focus on helping someone else. It completely shifts our way of thinking. I feel like I've been preparing my whole life to be here and to offer these tips and practices to others. The more we can learn together right now, how to practice our happiness as a skill, how to practice connection and kindness, the stronger and more resilient we’re going to be as we get through this.


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