Have you ever taken the time to imagine your dream life… how it would look, what you would do, how you would feel? At the age of 24, Susanna Halonen did just this and it made her realise that her life was not on track.
Susanna, who spent her childhood in Finland, Brazil and Sweden, was always a studious child. She did well in her International Baccalaureate and came to the UK to study for a degree in Business Management at Regents Business School. On graduation, she joined the prestigious Sony Graduate Scheme, a two-year apprenticeship for graduates that would enable her to try different roles in the company and work in different countries. She spent a year working as a product manager in Germany before moving to the UK.
“I have always wanted to do something meaningful with my life and opted to work in sustainable communications. But, there was a nagging doubt in my mind. This came to the surface when I had a coaching session with a careers coach. He asked me to envision my dream life. It gave me the space to be honest with myself and I realised that, actually, I didn’t want to be part of the corporate world.”
Susanna had always been interested in psychology but found it to be too focused on the treatment of mental illnesses to wish to pursue it as a career. However, around the same time as she had her coaching session, she read a book called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, which introduced Susanna to positive psychology.
“The two things seemed to fit together,” says Susanna.
“I had a vision of myself in five years time spending half my day working with people to help them find greater happiness and contentment, and half my day riding my horse and competing, which I’d always loved. At first I thought “it’s not possible” but my coach kept challenging me and, in the end, I thought why not?”
Like many of us, Susanna had become climbing the career ladder because she believed it was the right thing to do. “I like to achieve and, to me, achievement meant climbing the career ladder. But, even before I had my light bulb moment, I had begun to realise that climbing the career ladder didn’t mean much. I’d started to realise I preferred the idea of doing more of what made me happy and understood that success would follow as a result of greater happiness.”
It was 2011 when Susanna had the coaching session that was to change her life. After the session, she began reading more about positive psychology. She joined Action for Happiness and started attending talks and workshops on happiness. Susanna attended a two-day introduction to positive psychology at Positive Psychology Training in Bristol and, by May 2012, she was accepted onto a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of East London.
“I created a brand for myself, the Happyologist, and began writing a blog. At the end of August I quit my job at Sony and began my Masters in September 2012.”
While she was still at Sony, Susanna undertook a three-month coaching accreditation with the International Coaching Alliance. This gave her the skills she needed to begin practising as a positive psychology coach. “At first, I just practised with friends but, as I became more confident and experienced, I began to promote it via my blog,” she explains.
A balance of positive and negative
Positive psychology is a relatively new field that was founded around 10 years ago by Martin Seligman & Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It focuses on how to make humans flourish and live happier, more fulfilled lives. Susanna says:
“Positive psychology coaching is based on the belief that every individual has the resources within them to find happiness and contentment. It is not about ignoring the negatives – people need a balance of positive and negative but, ideally, there should be a ratio of 3:1, positive to negative – in other words, three times more positive emotions than negative ones. In the workplace, positive psychology can help employees to become more productive as happier workers perform better.”
Susanna has succeeded in shaping her life in the way that she envisioned it in her coaching session in 2011. She is now in the final year of her Masters degree and is providing coaching support to small businesses and individuals who want to live happier, more fulfilling and productive lives. She also speaks to university students about finding their passion and living an authentic life that fits with their personal values. When she is not working, she spends time with her two horses, Ollie and Mickey, and enjoys competing in dressage.
Passionate about following your passion
As her final thesis, Susanna is researching the impact that doing what you love has on you. “I am focusing on passion,” she explains, “because I am passionate about people following their own passion.”
In our culture, there is tendency for people to postpone their pursuit of happiness until they retire. There is a belief that we need to make money now and think about our happiness tomorrow. The truth is, none of us knows if there will be a tomorrow so we need to be doing something that makes us happy every day. The work I doing is about helping people to identify what they love and then encouraging them to do it.”
She advises: “Don’t leave your happiness until tomorrow. Every day, do something that makes you happy. At work, take responsibility for your own happiness. Examine how you could do more of what you enjoy and less of what you don’t.”
Susanna’s tips for finding your own happiness
1. Have the courage to follow your passion. Allow yourself to be the unique person you truly are. If we were all the same, there would be no creativity, no innovation. The differences are what make the world go around and if you live an authentic life, you will live a happier life.
2. Spend time with the people you love. The one thing most of the scientific research agrees on is the importance of positive relationships in your life. Make time for your partners, family and friends and you will all be better for it.
3. Take care of your body and mind. Exercise, eat right, sleep enough and make time to relax. If either your body or mind isn’t feeling well, it will affect the other one. Exercise is also one of the quickest, most effective positive mood boosters.
4. Invest in growth and development. You are happiest when you are learning and growing. Make time to try new things, challenge yourself and improve your skills (in pretty much anything!). A sense of progress will keep you motivated and happy..
5. Be grateful….for everything. From being able to wake up to another bright day to warm water from the shower and more. The more you appreciate what you have, the more you realise you have to appreciate.
Susanna offers one-to-one coaching, group workshops and inspirational talks to help you find your happiness and fulfil your potential. You can find out more about her here: http://www.happyologist.co.uk/
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