In Conversation with SmartCitti’s Happiness Guru, Carolyne Bennett
1 Jun 2020
Carolyne Bennett is SmartCitti’s resident Happiness Guru. She is a respected life coach who has been featured in the Daily Mail, Metro and BBC. She works with the Happiness Team to shape SmartCitti’s path to enlightened happiness and in this Q&A, explains why it is important to consciously adopt a happiness mindset. She sheds light on what happiness is, the science behind it and how to use the SmartCitti app as part of our happiness toolbox. She also discusses the importance of having a wellbeing routine.
Q1: What is happiness and how should we think about happiness?
“Happiness is a state of internal being that encompasses many pleasant emotions. Unfortunately, sometimes, the way we talk about happiness can be very limiting. To avoid this, I’d like to emphasize that happiness encompasses many emotions and states of mind such as joy, passion, excitement, compassion, contentment, calm, peace, love, hope, etc. Whenever people experience any of these, they would naturally feel happier. So, simply put, happiness is feeling good. It’s a state of internal being that includes the wellbeing of mind, body and soul.”
Q2: Is happiness different for each of us?
“One size does not fit all when it comes to happiness because there are other factors involved. We don’t begin our lives the same way, we don’t have the same levels of reserve and we have different programs running. This is why some of us may be more deficient in one aspect of happiness than others.
The good news is that science has proven that our brains are malleable. This is known as neuroplasticity. It means we can change the thought and behaviour patterns (programs) and neural pathways that have been pre-set in us by the circumstances of our lives. These programs or patterns arise from a combination of influences including our families, our social circles, our communities, and the wider society. So, happiness is a beautiful and complex thing that requires a process of self-discovery and self-awareness.”
Q3: In essence, you’re saying happiness is an active thing and there’s some hard work involved?
“Yes, there is some work involved and even the slightest upward shift in happiness can make a world of difference to how we feel. It can create a positive feedback loop that amplifies our happiness and strengthens our happiness habits by teaching the brain a new way to respond to life situations. Here, I really want to emphasize the role of the brain and the hormones it releases. Science has shown that it is possible to become addicted to the body’s stress response and its neurological pathways on a neurochemical level. So, our happiness greatly depends on how we’ve consciously and unconsciously trained our brains to respond.”
Q4: How can SmartCitti help to build happiness?
“I like to think of SmartCitti as an addition to our happiness toolbox. It serves as a special kind of journal, a happiness journal if you like, that lets users share their feelings openly or privately, and track their happiness points of interest (poi), whatever they may be. In this way, SmartCitti can help us better understand and amplify our happiness in a simple and community-oriented way. The idea behind the company and the app is to help people be happy, live smarter and make the world a better place.”
Q5: Why do we really need to track and record our happiness?
“For the same reason we keep journals of any kind— to give ourselves time and space to process and understand what makes us happy so that we can better nurture our own happiness. Keep in mind that for many of us, life can feel really automated at times. We’re often not aware of how we’re feeling from day to day. We may not be conscious of our own happiness and the things that really make us happy because we’re stuck in a numbing, gruelling cycle that sucks up all our time and mental space. By tracking our happiness triggers using an app like SmartCitti for instance, we become more aware and can make better choices that will contribute to our own happiness.”
Q6: Why is self-awareness so important? Can you tell us more about how it comes into play?
“Simply put, self-awareness is the key that unlocks the door to greater conscious control over our individual happiness. Afterall, if we’re unaware that we’re unaware, then we can’t make the internal shift required to achieve happiness. I always say ‘internal’ because “happiness is an inside job”. That’s my favourite happiness quote. Without self-awareness, we cannot make the mental shift required to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and the other systems responsible for feelings of happiness and calmness.”
Q7: How can we teach ourselves to live by a happiness mindset and exercise our power to create our own happiness?
“One way is to develop a wellbeing routine that involves useful tools like journaling, meditation, exercise, relaxation and an app like SmartCitti, which is a digital happiness journal. Again, we should bear in mind that one size does not fit all. Getting to know what resonates for you as an individual is a very important first step and in order to do that, you have to be willing to try new things.
This is why being openminded is essential. It was Einstein who said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. Being openminded helps us identify and change old, failed patterns of living and thinking. It also helps us explore new schools of thought that embrace the science behind happiness and give us more control over how we experience life.”
Q8: What do you say to people who take a more passive attitude to happiness, who see happiness not as a purpose but as more of a subconscious by-product of living?
“I’d start by saying that we are creators. We are the makers of our dream life and this passive attitude goes against our inherent ability, and some would say responsibility, to create the kind of life we want, the life that’s right for us. Also, this approach to happiness is just not supported by science. Science has repeatedly proven that our subconscious mind does not know what is real and what isn’t. Any picture or idea that we show our subconscious mind— whether it be positive or negative, real or imaginary or fantastical— it believes to be true and either activates the stress or the relaxation response. So, waiting for happiness to happen as a subconscious by-product is a less than ideal way to go about achieving something that goes to the heart of our wellbeing.”
Q9: What’s the downside to not prioritising our happiness?
“Prioritising happiness is part of self-care and there are many downsides when we fail to make our happiness a priority, such as living an automated existence and feeling no sense of purpose or fulfilment. Also, not prioritising happiness leaves layers of toxic emotions to accumulate and potentially become debilitating to our mental and physical health. Our families and loved ones also suffer when we don’t prioritise our happiness because at the end of the day, you can’t pour from an empty cup, you can’t give what you don’t have. By taking care of yourself and prioritising your own happiness, you’re giving your family a priceless gift.”
Q10: How has the pandemic and lockdown affected happiness?
“Unfortunately, our health and livelihoods are not the only things threatened by covid-19. Our happiness is also at risk and through this, our long-term mental and physical health are threatened. The reason is something that’s happening in our brains. I would say that there’s been a huge fear response as a result of the pandemic. For many of us, our sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the fight or flight response, is activated. So, we are secreting hormones like cortisol and adrenaline for prolonged periods, which puts our bodies under more stress, and that’s when we’re more likely to have negative feelings physically and emotionally. We need to tap into our parasympathetic nervous system to counter the effects of prolonged exposure to these stress-inducing hormones.
That’s why now more than ever, it’s so important to educate people about the things we can do to keep ourselves in a place of calm and relative control.”
Q11: Looking ahead, with AI and other technologies coming on the scene, what do you think happiness will look like 10 years from now?
“I think that in 10 years, we’ll have a healthier lifestyle and happiness will increasingly be linked to that. This is something that’s already happening and an app like SmartCitti highlights the supporting role technology can play in our collective effort to keep ourselves and our environment healthy. Interestingly, I see the covid-19 pandemic feeding this trend because it’s been an eye opener for many and has reminded us of the centrality of health and wellbeing, and the value of the outdoors. I also think people will experience more inner peace and fulfilment because they’ll have the tools and means to do more of what they really love.”