Happiness at Halow
12 Jun 2015 | Izzy McRae
I just had an amazing experience running a workshop for young
adults with learning disabilities at the brilliant Halow Project in Surrey.
I was slightly nervous about doing it. So much of my
energy has gone into explaining the intellectual side of happiness
- what the research is saying, what scientists see in the brain
functions etc. I figured this crowd would need a much
more hands-on experience rather than an esoteric discussion.
So I started off by asking
the group what good things had happened over the weekend.
This is a great way to put yourself in a positive train of thought
(even if you've had a terrible weekend!). Two of the young
men couldn't come up with anything. It made my heart
I chatted to one of them who was sitting next to me. We
came up with three good things eventually, and he seemed to perk up
at the evidence in front of him that his weekend hadn't been all
bad. Then, not to be out-done, the other guy suddenly
volunteered that he'd had a haircut which had made him feel
But the real surprise was still to come. I led a three
minute guided meditation, focusing attention on the breath. When I
stopped, I looked round the room. It was incredible the way
the calm had come over all of us. Haircut Man's eyes were
clear and bright. He said he couldn't describe the feeling,
but a weight had gone from his shoulders.
I'd always assumed the people most in need of meditation and
positive psychology were stressed out city executives. But
this experience renewed my faith in the power of these easy
interventions to help all kinds of people, and reminded me that
Having a learning disability and being aware of your dependence
on your loved ones, aware of finding things difficult that others
found easy, it must be hard not to get down.
They also brought up the suffering in the world - the
unhappiness from the war in Syria and Iraq, and from parents not
looking after their children. I could see that they felt the
pain out there and it weighed on them.
But there was one woman who seemed nothing but joyful - the
"happiness mascot" of the group. When we nominated her
this she squealed with delight and clapped with glee.
As I got on the train back to gloomy rush-hour London I felt
truly blessed to have had such a wonderful experience. I will
Thank you to the Halow Project for giving me the
McRae has been part of the Action for Happiness team since
January 2015. Her background is in foreign affairs and economics
and she is currently completing an Executive MBA at Oxford's Said
Business School. Follow her on Twitter @izzymcrae1