“Pay attention to what you have, try not to dwell on what you don’t have.”
The Resilience Project founding director Hugh van Cuylenburg’s advice for people who want to be happier might sound simple, but it’s incredibly effective.
On a mission to “teach positive mental health strategies to help people become more happy” Hugh, who has worked as a primary and secondary school teacher, alongside project partner Martin Heppell, has spruiked the importance of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness to more than 300,000 Australians, 650 schools and 300 corporate groups.
While living and volunteering in far north India for a few months in 2008, Hugh was “continually blown away” by how happy the people were, despite lacking the everyday luxuries of the western world such as running water, electricity and beds.
“In a nutshell, I learnt in this desert village that practicing gratitude, empathy and mindfulness leads us to a happier more fulfilling experience,” he said.
It was this revelation and post-graduate studies that left Hugh thinking that there were “things that we need to be doing here in Australia if we want to be happier” which subsequently lead him to develop The Resilience Project on his return to Melbourne.
The project’s aim to help people be happier is prompted by revelations that one in five adults experience mental health problems each year, according to the Australia Bureau of Statistics (2008).
The project encourages people to use a gratitude journal, citing a University of Massachusetts study which found that within 21 days of starting a gratitude journal people were three times more likely to be positive and after 42 days were less likely to get sick, had higher levels of energy, slept better and had lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Practising meditation and mindfulness also goes a long way to achieving happiness, The Resilience Project maintains.
Hugh has worked with high-profile sporting organisations including the NRL, AFL, Cricket Australia, Australian Netball Team and Australian Women’s Soccer Team, experiences he said were “very humbling, especially as someone who loves sport”.
“Talking to the Hawthorn Football Club and the Australian Cricket Team have been highlights, since footy and cricket have always been a big part of my life,” he said.
Cricketer Steve Smith, AFL’s Dustin Martin and NRL’s Billy Slater are also among the athletes who have benefited from The Resilience Project’s practical advice.
The project involves presentations for player’s coaches, administration staff and partners to make managing the ups and downs of high-profile sport a holistic target so that players can “bounce back from adversity”.
“But at the end of the day it’s not too different to the school and community groups that we work with every day. The messages are always the same,” Hugh said.
The project also presents to corporate groups to help people obtain the elusive work-life balance, manage stress and anxiety and deal with failure, teaching the same principles to CEOs and primary school children.
Hugh said selling out large venues for public talks was the project’s biggest achievement.
“It is always such a thrill to talk to so many people, and our aim has always been to provide mental health strategies to as many people around the country as possible,” he said.