This is the first in a regular series of interviews looking at the approach different people take to creating A Life Worth Living. This interview is with Andy Cope, author of a number of books including The Art of Being Brilliant and The Art of Being a Brilliant Teacher. Andy is currently studying for a PhD in “Happiness” and delivers workshops and seminars via his company The Art of Brilliance. Enjoy the interview.
1. What prompted you to write your book “The Art of Being Brilliant” and who is it aimed at? What has been the response to your book?
‘The Art of Being Brilliant’ is basically all the best bits from my PhD research. I’’ve been studying ‘happiness’ and ‘flourishing’ (basically, I’’ve been seeking out happy people and bottling their secrets) and some simple principles were crying out to be shared. I’’m delighted to say that the response has been brilliant. ‘The Art of Being Brilliant’ has reached a global audience and I’m working on book 2
2. What led you to undertaking studies in positive psychology?
I studies ‘Psychology’ at Uni. and it was interesting, but always about ill people. I learned about disorders, anxiety and depression. And then I came across the relatively new field of ‘Positive Psychology’ which was pitched at the opposite end of the spectrum. And, bizarre as it sounds, we’d never really studied happy people. And that piqued my interest. I noticed that too many people were in a default whinge/moan/pessimistic mindset. Why is that? And wouldn’t it be cool to find people who were different? And find out what they were doing?
So I did!
3. You are working on a PhD in “Happiness” – what topic specifically is your PhD looking at?
I’m looking at what I call ‘flourishing’. In a nut shell, I’ve been studying people who are happy and upbeat and (and this is important) whom other people are noticing are more happy and upbeat. In short, those who shine and who impact positively on those around them
And my research is targeted at those who are working in the public sector. I thought this would be particularly challenging, in times of re-structuring, low morale and budget cuts. Yet, some people remain happy and upbeat!
4. If you could change the world in any way you wanted what 3 things would you change?
Just 1 thing. I’d change education. There aren’t enough words in this article that allow me to do justice to the changes I’d make. Suffice to say, I’d pretty much tear up the current model and start again. We’re preparing children for a world that no longer exists!
5. Who is the most inspiring person you have ever met and why?
Crikey! Good question!
I’ve been fortunate to meet a good selection of awesome people. I’d better go for my colleague and co-author, the fabulous Mr Andy Whittaker (cos he’ll probably read this!). He’s the nicest bloke on the planet and has really inspired me by proving that when you play to your strengths, anything’s possible
6. How do you spread your message of happiness?
We have a really cool workshop called ‘The Art of Being Brilliant’. Plus various books and CDs. But the best way to spread the message is to take it into schools and train kids to deliver it across their community
7. Tell me about your 2%ers event?
A ‘2%er’ is my shorthand way of describing the people I’ve been studying. It isn’t actually scientifically correct but is merely meant to imply that happy, positive, upbeat people are a minority group. 2%ers are people who are significantly happier than average
And we have gatherings of 2%ers. Basically we cram 400 happy people into a room and deliver some workshops for them. It gives me a chance to try out some new material on a friendly audience
8. I believe we should all do something every day to make us feel proud. (Cue Heather Small) What are you most proud of?
My family. The biggest results I’ve had with ‘positive psychology’ have been at home
9. What has been you greatest life lesson to date?
The biggest discovery of my PhD (and the most obvious!) is that 2%ers actively and consciously choose to be positive. I describe this as common sense but not common practice. I also describe it as simple but not easy (there’s a very important difference!)
10. Tell me about your involvement with schools and why you choose to work with them?
We delivered ‘The Art of Being Brilliant’ in businesses for a number of years before we twigged that teachers and children need these messages too! So we re-jigged the content and we now deliver what we call our ‘embedded model’, where we take a year group through the messages and task them with designing their own curriculum that they take across school (and the wider community). Young people get such a hard time in the press and this is an attempt to redress the balance by getting teenagers to inspire their communities.
Quite simply, the earlier you can embed positivity and happiness in your life, the better your life chances
And we choose to deliver in schools because it’s absolutely the right thing to do! In fact our business model is set up in such a way that we charge quite hefty fees to deliver in businesses and we use the surplus to subsidise our work in schools.
11. Is it easier to teach happiness to young people or adults? In other words can you teach old dogs new happiness tricks?
Our’s is an incredibly simple message. Adults get it. And younger children (age 9 to 12) get it
Teenagers are more of an issue. Quite often, we find that teens are already indoctrinated into negative mind-sets and some of them can be very difficult to work with. Invariably, these habits have been learned from home. Sadly, if you’re a British teenager, it’s not cool to be your best self. We are working hard to change this culture in the schools that invite us in.
12. Who or what is the greatest source of happiness in your life?
13. Which 3 books would you take to a desert island?
Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (Roal Dahl)
Success Intelligence (Robert Holden)
‘Spy Dog’ (by me…and I’d take this book along just to remind myself that I can write books)
14. Who is the happiest person you have ever met and what have you learned from him/her?
In 2005, I interviewed Britain’s happiest man. Not only did he put his happiness down to a conscious choice. He also made that choice after a terrible tragedy when many people would have given up on life. We hear so much about ‘post traumatic stress disorder’. This guy showed that adversity can make you stronger (which is called ‘post traumatic growth’, btw). You don’t have to dwell on bad stuff.
15. When was the last time you experienced an explosion of joy (controlled or otherwise)?
I was driving home from doing a talk. And the night sky was filled with stars. I pulled the car over, got out and gazed at the sky. I can’t never remember seeing so many stars! And that got me thinking that here am I, a flickering dot of life on a tiny rock in the solar system. How cool is that!
16. Can you remember the happiest moment of your life and what made you happy?
Sounds corny, but I reckon the happiest moment of my life was when my wife and newborn daughter came home from hospital. Sophie was premature so things were a bit dicey for a while. Getting my girls home was a huge relief and an immense source of happiness that has lasted 18 years.
17. Have you tried any of the Happiness Experiments? What was your experience?
We’re just recording a series where we experience a range of ‘happiness remedies’ and report back. So watch this space. We’re experimenting with meditation, getting drunk, being grateful, watching a funny film, walking in the countryside, doing random kindness, etc. It’s meant to be light-hearted reporting but with a serious message
18. Do you have any Happiness Experiments of your own to recommend?
I tend to give a ‘top tip’ that I found useful when re-training myself to be more positive. Wake up in the morning being really grateful that you haven’t got toothache. Genuinely appreciate it. It works really well on cold, dark winter mornings. Or, on a bigger scale, appreciate that your kidneys are working and your heart’s still beating. And get out of bed like you mean it! (I think this is a twist on the often-quoted ‘attitude of gratitude’)
19. The aim of The Happiness Experiment blog is to show people ways to live a happier and more meaningful life. What brings meaning to your life?
For me, meaning comes from having goals that connect with the world. So to continue to grow ‘The Art of Being Brilliant’ and to get it embedded in the school curriculum, gives me a very strong sense of purpose and meaning. Because it means more and more young people will get to connect with being their best selves. That means I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and I have more energy than I’ve ever had in my life
20. If I were to ask you to think about “a life worth living”? What constitutes a life worth living for you?
One in which I feel loved. And one in which I feel I’m adding some value. I rather like this story from our book…
Posted by Shona Lockhart on 15th May 2013