Have you heard of the Museum of Happiness? It is a real thing, it is in London, and it is beautiful.
One of the co-founders, Victoria's journey was a bumpy one, but she is grateful it was. It lead her to where she is today; inspiring people to find happiness.
Her mum suffered from mental health challenges while she was growing up, she had an absentee alcoholic father that passed when she was 13, and they had money struggles. Her mother tried to take her own life through the pressures of poor physical and mental health. Victoria felt guilty that she had not been able to see the signs. Through all of this, she says, her family was rich with love. Her mother she claims is one of the most inspiring people you will ever meet. She bounced back, rebuilt her strength and they are now closer than ever.
When Victoria went to university, she didn't know what she wanted to do, so she took a stab in the dark and tried events management. The path of study felt empty however; it didn't bring any meaning or purpose to her life. Then, there was a turning point, she says, "Doing events for hospice care and cancer events, I fell in love." Volunteering helped her stick with the course and find her passion. "It brought so much reward and happiness to my life, I began to prioritize it over everything else." It got to the point where she was going to fail uni if she didn't start putting more time towards her studies.
"What I learnt is that you can be in poor mental health without having a mental health condition. I felt like if I stopped volunteering that everything in my life might fall apart. It was the one thing bringing me happiness."
After getting by enough in university to keep volunteering, she went traveling. During her journey she found a new sense of purpose and meaning when she literally stumbled over an opportunity. She had been looking for something to give her time to, when she tripped over a poster. It had a photo of 50 smiling orphans, asking for volunteers. She jumped at the opportunity. "All my fears and worries were dissolved upon arrival to smiling faces. These orphans had been through traumatic things, and yet they were rich in happiness. They had an amazing sense of community."
What was supposed to be a one week trip turned into 2 months. She helped to build schools and housing in Takeo. She found this time to be an absolute dream job. Upon arriving back in the England, she took on a similar role running youth programs with young people in UK. It was extremely rewarding, but also highly stressful and exhausting. She wasn't sleeping, and felt a heaviness, like bricks on her chest.
"They teach us so many things in school but they don't teach you resilience and how to cope with stress."
Her manager sent her to a session with a life coach. Taking an hour out of her day at first added to her stress, but then she began to learn how to change her mentality. In that first session, she walked away with the knowledge that:
- Thoughts aren't facts
- Stop to notice your own breath when feeling overwhelmed
- Treat yourself as you would a good friend
"I felt so much stronger and more resilient after 60 minutes. The circumstances hadn't changed, I did. Then I became kind of angry! Why didn't they teach us this in school? Algebra has never gotten me out of a tough situation."
She did not have $75/ hour to continue the coaching, but she took it upon herself to continue the work. She took advantage of living in an age of so many resources. From lectures to books, she began to teach herself, and then started sharing these techniques with as many as possible.
Then, she met her happiness partner in crime at a cake table.
Shamash shared the same passion for wanting to spread happiness. She ended up attending a retreat he was running in Morocco only a few days later, on mindfulness. On the retreat, her life changed. She Learned acceptance, compassion, how to be kind to herself, and how to forgive herself, and others. "Somethings really magical happened on that retreat". Victoria was able to let go of the guilt and sadness that she had held onto for so many years, let go of her future and let go of her past.
Coming back to the UK, they would have day trips to brainstorm how to spread happiness. Shamash had been running courses and retreats, and she was teaching young people. The idea for a center for happiness started to evolve. "The clouds parted and the sun came shining through and we laughed and saw it as a sign". When they went their separate ways for a couple of weeks, her to Glastonbury and he to a Dalai Lama event, they both came back more inspired than ever. Community, love, and world peace were themes at both of their events.
Glastonbury, Victoria says, is so much more than a music festival. "It was people from all walks of life coming together with a sense of community." The last day, she had been feeling a little broken. She separated herself from the crowd, and came across a Glastonbury Press, filled with only good news and accessed various different drop in services such as meditation and laughter yoga. She began to think about how great it would be to be able to escape from the chaos London on any given day in that way.
Shamash’s inspiration came when he met Alma at the Dalai Lama event, who ran a Museum of Nonsense in Austria. This changed idea of museum for him. It was funny and creative with things like Laughter Yoga.
When they returned from their adventures they had it.
"There are museums about art and science but happiness is so important, why shouldn't it have one? That's it! That's how we are going to do it. Let's start a Museum of Happiness. So we did."
They started by testing it with three different events, and they found that it had an energy of its own. "Before we knew it we had this wonderful community of friendship and love." So, they decided to do a bigger pop up. They never imagined that 7,000 people would show up for the event.
"At that point, we knew we would need to find the Museum of Happiness a proper home. It didn't need to be a shed collecting dust it needed to be out in the world!"
They found their home at the Canvas Cafe in Shoreditch. There, they now host mindfulness meditation, laughing yoga, and people of all ages and walks of life can come in to top up their happiness levels.
"Why wouldn't anyone want to be more happy?"
Exploring the science and fun of happiness, people can learn to let go, do something different, remove the pressure of their ambitions. This was just an idea a year ago, and now there are thousands involved. The Museum is a beautiful place where people can come to recenter, and reflect on what really matters; their own happiness, and the happiness of those around them.