Nataly Kogan wants you to appreciate the life you’re living right now.
After fleeing Russia with her family, living in European refugee camps and then subsisting on welfare outside of Detroit, she vowed to make good on the struggles her family experienced and lead a happy life. In her mind, that meant working high-powered jobs and earning a lot of money. But, once she accomplished that, she felt burnt out and unhappy.
Taking a cue from her scientist father, Kogan studied research about what makes humans happy and realized she needed to shift her approach, focusing more on the small joys of each day than on manifesting milestones. She felt such an improvement in her own outlook that she decided to share her findings and create Happier, a mobile app and leading wellness company that also provides instructional courses on forming new, simple habits that increase joy. Additionally, on February 21 to 23, Kogan will partner with Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. to offer a special program in which she will teach guests how to find happy moments in everyday life and about the cumulative effect of people sharing their happiness with others.
Here, Kogan shares her most popular tip on how to lead a more positive life
Live The Process: When did you first come across the research on happiness and how did that impact you?
Nataly Kogan: My family fled Russia in 1989 and it was a rough time for all of us. After a few months in refugee camps in Austria and Italy, we finally made our way to the United States and then spent a year living in the projects on welfare outside Detroit.When I finally got on my feet, I decided to make up for the hardship my family went through by chasing the American Dream—for them and for myself.
To me, this dream meant becoming happy. And the way I thought you got there was by achieving a lot and making a lot of money. So, for the next 20 years, I did just that: I worked a series of impressive jobs, started companies, published a book with Hyperion, got the fancy stroller and the fancy car, you name it. By the time I was in my early thirties, I really appreciated my life but I was not happy. Not at all. Mostly, I was really exhausted.
My father is a scientist, so I decided to see if there was scientific research about what I could do to be happier. I spent a few years reading every academic paper and hardcover book I could find and that's when I had a “holy crap” moment. I was doing it all wrong. Money or achievements don't make us happy. But there are some really simple things that we can do that have been scientifically proven to lead to positive and optimistic thinking. I changed my approach to my life based on what I had learned, stopped chasing happiness and became a lot happier.
LTP: What inspired you to co-found Happier?
NK: The positive change in my life inspired me to create Happier and to encourage millions of other people to stop saying, "I'll be happy when..." and start saying, "I am happier now because..."
Another huge inspiration for me was realizing that being happier isn't just about having more fun. There's a wide body of research that shows being more positive is critically important to living well and achieving and maintaining good health. Happier people catch fewer colds, have a fifty percent lower chance of experiencing a heart attack, are less depressed, stressed and anxious, sleep better and make healthier lifestyle choices. And that's our mission at Happier: to help millions of people become happier in their everyday lives, so that they live better and in more fulfilling ways.
LTP: What can attendees expect at your February 22nd event at Canyon Ranch, “Happier with Nataly Kogan”?
NK: Canyon Ranch is a place where people come for renewal and to rejuvenate their minds, bodies and spirits. I love the quote on the website: “Welcome to a world of endless possibility – where health and wellness allow you to soar.” I think this is the perfect environment in which to talk about emotional wellness and think about small simple daily changes we can make that have huge impacts on our happiness and well-being.
My hope is that people who come to one of my workshops will walk away feeling that they’ve learned some really simple ways to shift their mindset on a day-to-day basis and to celebrate and appreciate more little moments of joy that are already part of their lives.
LTP: What one tip do you find yourself offering most often?
NK: Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It doesn’t mean that you don’t feel stress or worry or pain or anxiety. We all lead real lives and real lives are filled with all kind of moments, including many difficult, boring and stressful ones.
You do have a choice to not let the stress and difficult moments own you, and science shows that you can shift your perspective, even in tough situations. It’s simple and yet challenging at the same time but it’s one of the most important habits to cultivate: Pause every day to find something, however small, to appreciate about where you are, what you’ve done, felt, experienced, people you’ve connected with, something new you’ve learned or tried. If you make this a habit, if you pause to be present in those tiny moments that are already part of your life, if you take some time to appreciate and savor the joy in them, you will be happier in the most meaningful way there is.
Life is made of moments and you can choose to create and collect the happy ones.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
NK: Making art with my 10-year-old, watching movies with my husband, eating a really crispy baguette with tons of butter on it. Wearing orange and stripes and really big rings. Cooking up a huge dinner for my family and hearing my parents laugh. The feeling of my daughter hugging me after a tough day. Really big scarves. Yoga. Walking in New York and Paris. Paintings by Amadeo Modigliani. Any word written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Dark chocolate and a glass of Rioja. Getting lost in the art and the sounds of museums. Surprising friends. The songs of ZAZ. Being able to inspire someone. Ripe cherries and pomegranates (especially if someone peels the pomegranates for me). Journals with smooth paper that lie perfectly flat. Any soup from Olive and Gourmando in Montreal. The strength in the face of Frida Kahlo. Watching my daughter play piano. Living two miles from my parents (or “my heroes,” either term works). Driving my Mini Cooper on a sunny warm day, roof open and really loud Latin music blasting. Coming home after traveling. The sound of my daughter’s feet running to open the door when I come home. Did I mention dark chocolate?
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process" and how do you do that every day?
NK: I think living the process is about making tiny awesome habits part of our everyday lives instead of being focused on achieving some huge goals. And, believe me, I am someone who has spent her life chasing goals and I think achievement runs in my blood. There’s nothing wrong with goals—in fact, research shows that working towards meaningful goals and making progress makes you happier. But I think sometimes it’s more powerful to think about the fabric, the routine of our daily lives, and to make our goals part of them in small ways.
I used to think of happiness as a big goal to achieve, like if I did X, Y and Z (was successful, made a lot of money and looked a certain way), I would get it. While I was on this chase of what I called my “BIG HAPPY,” I missed actually experiencing the many tiny happy moments that were right there and already part of my life. For me, becoming happier was about living the process by being present in my life and taking time and energy to find, savor and share those moments. It’s not always easy to do, but that’s what makes it a process: it’s ongoing, it’s changing and it’s something that is part of my daily life. This mindset shift has been a huge one for me and it’s one that we’re inspiring thousands of people to connect with through Happier.
Find more information on world-renown wellness resort Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass here.
Find more information on Happier here.