VOY Inspire! - Happiness And A Ninja (Part 1)
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In this big, ever-growing complex world of ours, it’s sometimes quite hard to find the right definitions to simple words like happiness, or other emotions and feelings.
Perhaps the only way to get through the hustle and bustles of life is to pursue true happiness. To wake up every day, willing only positive vibes and building the attitude to simply stay happy, no matter whatever evil or bad karma comes your way.
Easily said, but indeed very hard to practice.
But believe it or not, whether you see it as a job, full-time occupation or just the purpose of her life, Marie-Claire Ashcroft is a Happiness Ninja.
It was an honor to interview her for the Voices of Youth Inspire, as such a unique but much needed role is just the inspiration-boost we all need.
Part 1 of the interview is as follows:
1- If I ask you, what is happiness, what would you say as its definition, in general and/or personally?
Happiness to me is about feeling awesome – it’s feeling upbeat, high on life, cheery, positive, buzzing etc. It’s feeling good about your life, the choices you’ve made, the experiences you’re having and your achievements – to me it’s an all-encompassing feeling of making the most out of life in a way that matters to you and you only.
And I believe to get that feeling, you have to go deeper than the surface to get an understanding of yourself to your very core, what you need, how you work and what you have to do to get back to feeling good when something knocks you down.
It’s impossible to be giddy-happy the whole time – life can throw challenges at you quite regularly, so happiness is also the ability and resilience to get back to feeling good quickly, no matter what is going on around you – I call this ‘bouncebackability’.
The happier you are to your core, the quicker you can bounce back to feeling better and therefore more able to deal with whatever it is that’s going on around you. Dealing with challenges is much easier when you’ve got a good head on you to begin with.
I think the reason a lot of people chase this thing called happiness is because they are aware of having and experiencing bad feelings but they haven’t yet defined exactly what it is that makes THEM feel good.
A lot of the things we think will make us happy were actually defined by other people, namely society such as the so-called ‘American Dream’ but all that has given us, is a path to follow, fewer decisions to make and a feeling of safety but we’re capable of much more than that – it’s just a case of working out who we really are instead of who we think we should be – that’s where your real happiness is hiding.
2- We were talking about how many of us have days when we plaster smiles, just like makeup. What are your thoughts on how to attain true happiness and smiles?
We plaster smiles on our faces so as not to be a burden to those around us and to not let people really know how we’re feeling – after all, that leaves us feeling unsafe and vulnerable.
As well as finding out what’s important to you like I said above, it’s also a case of daring to be a little vulnerable and open up and show the real you – human beings crave connection; it couldn’t be more evident today – just look at all the devices to connect to one another, then there’s social media and things like reality TV shows, where we get a look into people’s lives – but the thing is that we’re actually more disconnected than ever now too because it’s all so surface level. We want to look perfect and have perfect lives and trying to keep up appearances or achieve what is expected of us by others is why so many of us have anxiety and issues with self-esteem too.
All it takes is one person to open up and tell someone that they’re having a bad day or a hard time and BOOM, all of a sudden, you connect with the person you speak to. They then feel they have permission to share their experiences with you, you realise you’re not alone and you’ve connected with someone which is an important human need.
I think people confuse opening up with being a burden or complaining – you don’t have to moan to say you’re not having a good time. And you don’t have to be open and vulnerable to everyone you meet, it’s just important to know you are able to and by taking the first step, you’re actually doing the whole world a favour by giving other people permission to do the same.
But with all this ‘life is supposed to be like this’ society / TV pressure, we’re afraid of deviating from the norm and showing our human side, so we share our highlight reels on social media, we close off, we feel ashamed and it just fuels the cycles of anxiety, low self-esteem, not feeling ‘good enough’ which all lead to feeling unhappy. That’s why I started I Dare You. Happiness is about being brave, being yourself and opening up to who you really are and that’s why I made the move so other people around me can open up too when they need to.
3- Beating the blues, is a tough wrestling match. Youth in particular face a jumble of emotions. Would you like to share with us how you yourself faced this roller coaster, and how it all paved your way through being the Happiness Ninja?
We have a range of emotions, yet for some reason, some of them get bad press – like anger for example. How often have you tried to ‘not be angry’ or stuff it down. It’s behaviour like this that causes the problem. If you learn to treat emotions like a stream and let them come and go, then you’ll have much less of a problem. We don’t like to be too emotional though – it’s taught at a young age: Hold back your tears, don’t lose it in a rage, keep your composure, and don’t make a show of yourself.
If we’re afraid of feeling the bad feelings, then how can we expect to feel the good ones? It’s all about balance and all the feelings coming and going.
I’ve learnt myself, that if you start feeling an unpleasant emotion, it’s a really good sign – it’s a chance to look at what is causing it and do something about it. Emotions are like your internal GPS!
Feeling bad? – then go another way, do something else. Don’t just stuff it down and hope it will go away. That’s a silly idea. That’s why you have ‘blow ups’ and emotional outbursts because that feeling is backing up and wants to get out and be felt and heard.
If you go ahead and face all the stuff you’ve been stuffing away, then it just goes away in the end. Sometimes it can feel scary dealing with sadness, jealousy and old hurts, this is where a bit of help comes in. I help people with tools to explore their feelings – both good and bad and if something comes up which feels too big then I always recommend going and spending time with therapists and / or councilors to guide you through things that are really painful and hard to deal with so you can come out of the other side safely.
Exploring how I felt about everything, taking the time to drop the mask I created and working out who I really am is how I came to find my own happiness and it’s why I decided to share what I learnt with others to help them too.
4- How do you work given this title? Have you come across youth and helped them?
I work in various ways. For people that want to go through things by themselves, I can share my tools and lessons via e-books, courses and via an online academy with a private community. Or I can work in person via workshops, talks sharing my story and one on one mentoring where I hold people’s hands to help them work out what it is they want and go on that journey with them.
When I’ve worked with young people, the best way I’ve found is to be myself so they can see that you radiate who you are and also I try to be as open about my story as much as possible. When I share my story of being bullied, beaten up and having really low self-confidence and hiding my whole young life and how that affected me growing up and what I learnt from it, I think they really appreciate it. I think so many adults tell the young people what they should be doing and don’t actually listen or empathise and it’s that which pushes them away. Young people just want to be heard and given a voice in my experience.
5- Your recent project, I Dare You to come across to the road to happiness seems a bold initiative. How do you drive yourself to determination?
For me I believe that life is too short to feel bad or to not enjoy yourself and make the most of the time we have here. When I was younger, I didn’t know any better so I just accepted that I didn’t feel happy or excited until one day, I realised I didn’t want to feel that way anymore and I was meant to experience more out of life.
I think also knowing that what I have learnt myself can and does help other people and it’s that which keeps me driven. Obviously I have my own self-doubts and I frequently face ‘imposter syndrome’ and these are things that slow my drive down and knock me back but I’ve learnt enough to know that that’s just my ego – the internal voice that tries to keep us all small, safe and inert, but it’s something we all have and it’s what leads to procrastination and lack of motivation. Even the most brave, driven and successful people still have the voice of self-doubt and meanness, the only difference is that they’re better at ignoring theirs more which is what we have to learn to ignore to get to where we want to go.
Marie-Claire Ashcroft and her recent projects, including mentioned “I Dare You” which can serve yet more inspiration can be found on the following: