Sunday 25 February 2018

The pursuit of Ireland's happiness - meet the people dedicated to making us happy

Facing into a bleak January, our reporter meets the crack team of Irish people who are working to bring more cheer into our lives

Banishing the blues: Steve Cummins, one of the brains behind the First Fortnight festival
Banishing the blues: Steve Cummins, one of the brains behind the First Fortnight festival
Edelle Notte, who launched the Happiness Initiative
Claire Hayes, Aware's clinical director

Tanya Sweeney

You don't need me to tell you that 2016 was one long and ceaseless carousel of bad news. Celebrity deaths, politics, economic strife… little wonder that our happiness has taken quite a battering of late.

And with the Irish weather also taking a toll on our moods right now, we need people power more than ever.

There's no shortage of people in Ireland who have made others' mental wellbeing their business, and they're obviously doing something right. A recent study by Eurostat, published in April of last year, revealed that Irish people are officially much happier than many of our European brethren (including the UK, France and Germany), ranking the seventh happiest in the poll.

Facing into a New Year gives us reason enough to turn our attentions to our moods, so we asked a crack team of people whose main game is happiness to offer their advice for a much happier 2017.

Edelle Notte, who launched the Happiness Initiative
Edelle Notte, who launched the Happiness Initiative

Steve Cummins

As one of the brains behind First Fortnight festival - which runs until this Sunday - Cummins has been involved in making Dublin a little brighter during these dastardly first two weeks of the year.

Not only does the event seek to eradicate the stigma around mental health, but it offers a programme packed with film, theatre, visual arts and spoken word events to raise everyone's spirits. In 2013, First Fortnight also established the First Fortnight Centre for Creative Therapies, which provides art therapy for people experiencing homelessness and mental ill-health.

Steve's tip for happiness: "Embracing acceptance, in all its forms. May 23, 2015 was one of the happiest days in this country that I can recall. As the result of the Marriage Equality Referendum filtered through, it reinforced the idea for me that happiness is acceptance; that by accepting yourself and others breeds a message of positivity that will push you on a path to happiness, whatever that might be."

Dr Mark Lowe

Many Irish GPs are edging ever closer to a better understanding of mental health challenges, but Waterford-based Rowe is especially keen on strengthening the foundations of our mental and physical health. His one-man show, 'A Prescription For Happiness', highlighted the impact of negative and positive emotions when it was presented at a Waterford theatre last year.

Mark's tip for happiness: "Expressing gratitude for what you have is a key habit to build inner happiness and contentment. I recommend writing three things down each day. It's like a natural antidote to anxiety. Perhaps the best definition of happiness I've come across so far is 'having someone to love, something useful to do and something to look forward to'."

Randy Ralston

Science has already proven that regular cuddles raise endorphin and serotonin levels, but what of those without a significant other to hug? Enter Randy Ralston, the man behind the Irish Cuddle Salon. This is a meet-up where people give and receive hugs in a strictly platonic and non-sexual way. See for details.

Randy's tip for happiness: "Happiness is a by-product, not a goal.

"Give yourself permission to find and be your authentic, truest self. After that, happiness is effortless - and inevitable."

Niamh Gunn

As founder of wellbeing centre The Well, Gunn is intent on bringing mindfulness and peace of mind to Irish people. She initially set up camp at Liss Ard estate in its pilot stage, and is now on the lookout for a permanent home for her centre, which has stress release and support at its heart (

Niamh's tip for happiness: "Stop operating from a place of lack: seeking external success or materialism for happiness will never give peace of mind. Keep near those who have the best for you and let go (kindly) of anything or anyone that doesn't."

Edelle Notte

Notte, a Cork-based event manager, has launched the Happy Initiative and set about devising a series of moments in the People's Republic to put a spring in anyone's step. Last year, she hosted her first event in Joseph's Hair Salon in Glasheen, Cork, where folks enjoyed a free haircut, head massages, food and hugs. Keep an eye on her Facebook page for information.

Edelle's tip for happiness: "Always forgive, be kind to others, love with all your heart and get a dog if you don't have one already."

Trevor Clarke

Wicklow-based Trevor Clarke knows a thing or two about reclaiming one's happiness: after working with IMB bank in Sydney for 14 years, he discovered massage therapy. These days, he offers energetic healing sessions to clients; a therapy that helps people tackle anxiety, worry, trauma, physical ailments and depression.

Trevor's tip for happiness: "For me it's all about getting out of the right side of the bed each morning. No matter how I feel or what's ahead, I simply state that today is going to be a great day, that all events and interactions with people will be positive and uplifting. Sounds simple, and it is! If you try it consistently, you will see very quickly that daily life becomes positive."

Andy Brady

Hypnotherapist Andy Brady regularly sees clients for help with weight loss, quitting smoking and even fear of flying. But Brady also attempts to re-programme the subconscious of his clients so that they feel happier and make better, healthier decisions for themselves without even knowing why (

Andy's tip for happiness: "Get playful and let go of the habit of worrying. Take short moments each day to be in full appreciation for what you have. Measure yourself against yourself and not others."

Mary Ananda Shakti

Laughter Yoga pretty much does what it says on the tin; for those who hit yoga poses while laughing at the same time, the feelgood effects are twofold. Mary is the founder of Laughter Yoga Ireland, and runs sessions regularly in Dublin (

Mary's tip for happiness: "Start the day with a smile. It's easy to do that when we become grateful for who and what we have in our lives. Write down five people, things and situations in your life that you are grateful for. Forgive the past, live in the moment, and set goals for the future."

Declan Rothwell

Rothwell is one of the few practitioners of Five Element Acupuncture, which redresses imbalances in the system. Using a combination of smell, skin colour and lengthy talk sessions, Declan pinpoints the underlying emotion that corresponds to the elements. Wood, for instance, related to a person's capacity to grow and see things clearly; fire is a person's capacity to be warm, open and loving. Once he finds the 'weak link', he places needles in the corresponding meridian points and waits for the magic to happen (

Declan's tip for happiness: "To love and be loved is still is a key to happiness. Whether it's a lover, a friend, a child or an animal, loving someone elevates us, and being loved confirms our place in the world. "

Dr Claire Hayes

Claire Hayes, Aware's clinical director

As Aware's clinical director, Claire has helped countless Irish people who experience anxiety and depression. The charity's helpline runs a wide gamut, servicing callers with any kind of worry. Its free life skills courses help people develop the tools to help themselves (

Claire's tip for happiness: "Let go of wanting to 'feel happy'. The pressure we put on ourselves... to feel happy can actually cause extreme unhappiness. Enjoy unexpected moments of happiness without wishing that we felt like this all of the time."

Irish Independent

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