Gratitude: The best cure for unhappiness is gratitude. Gratitude is about focusing on what we have and what’s working well in our lives vs. what we don’t have and what’s not working. Research has shown the positive impact of gratitude not only on our mental health but our physical health as well. Practicing gratitude is simple and doesn’t cost a thing and simply sitting down every single day to write out what you’re grateful for is the best bang for your happiness buck.
It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tess Brigham.
TESS BRIGHAM (MFT, BCC), dubbed the ‘Millennial Therapist’ by CNBC, is an expert psychotherapist, certified life coach, and public speaker. She specializes in helping millennials discover their unique life path in order to go out into the world and make an impact. Tess’ acclaimed one-on-one coaching empowers young adults to gain the confidence they need to create their dream life through concrete and actionable steps. Tess is a vital resource for those who may be feeling stuck, uninspired, or uncertain by where they are in life. She has written the Quarter Life Crisis Handbook, and also works with parents in helping them “launch your millennial”. Her keynote speeches and workshops include topics such as: millennials in the workplace and parenting your millennial children. She’s worked with companies including: General Assembly, The Bar Method, Newport Academy, and Better Up, to name a few. Based in San Francisco, California, Tess has over 15 years of experience helping thousands of people find their purpose, develop their confidence, and create a life they’re excited about living. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, ThriveGlobal, HuffPost, Thought Catalog, Insider, Yahoo! News, Bustle, NBC, Real Simple, and more.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in a small town about 100 miles north of San Francisco called Ukiah. When I was 10 my mother and I moved to Berkeley, California. Growing up in Berkeley definitely gives you a unique perspective on the world and I’m grateful to have been surrounded by so many different types of people. In Berkeley everyone is accepted, and you’re allowed to be whoever you want to be.
My father is an attorney and my mother is a teacher and they both instilled in me drive and determination to work hard and believe in myself. My older sister, Brooke, is also an attorney and actually works with my father so I’ve spent most of my life listening to legal analysis.
I went to college on the east coast and graduated from Boston University with a Broadcasting & Film degree. My original dream was to work in the entertainment industry. I interned in the PR department at Columbia Pictures the summer before my senior year of college and then got another internship my senior year working at Warner Bros Pictures doing local PR and promoting films to other college students.
After graduation I returned to the San Francisco bay area and worked for 2.5 years at a local talent agency. When I was 24, I moved to Los Angeles and worked as an assistant at a mid-level talent agency and then after a year got a job working for a top talent manager.
While I should have been on top of the world, I was miserable. At work I would go into the bathroom and cry because I had no idea why I was so unhappy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was going through a quarter-life crisis. When I was 27, I decided to leave Los Angeles and my Hollywood dreams and return to the bay area.
When I returned home, I tried to figure out what made me happy. I kept going in circles about what it was about my former jobs that I really loved, and it always came back to my love of helping our clients. I really enjoyed talking to our actor and writer clients, helping them problem-solve and finding their purpose.
This inspired me to go to graduate school to become a licensed psychotherapist almost 20 years ago. Today, in addition to being a licensed psychotherapist, I’m also a board certified coach and specialize in helping Millennials/Gen Zers find their own passions and purpose
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
It was a tragic event that inspired me to pursue my current career. When I was 27 and back in Hollywood trying to figure out what to do with my life, I learned one of my good friends and college roommate, Heather, had passed away suddenly.
After Heather’s funeral I returned to Los Angeles and everything became crystal clear. Life was too short. I wasn’t going to wait one more day to be happy and I was going to honor Heather by pursuing what was important and meaningful to me.
Heather’s death helped me make the decision to leave Hollywood and pursue not a life I thought would look good to other people, but a life full of meaning and purpose. This is why I work with young adults today. The 20-something years into the 30-something years are so important. It’s the decisions we make during this time that shape our lives. It was Heather’s death that shook me awake but I don’t think we have to experience a tragedy to discover what’s important.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Honestly, I have to say it’s my parents. My parents taught me the value of hard work and they impressed upon me so many of the values I try to instill in my own child. I feel incredibly blessed to have parents who told me I could be whomever I want to be. They never stopped me from pursuing any of my dreams and they went out of their way to support me, financially and emotionally.
I never understood how much my parents did for me, or the sacrifices they made, to ensure I was provided with a good education. They really did give me everything I needed in order to become a productive and successful adult. Even today they’re still making sacrifices by helping me pay for my son’s education.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Probably the most important mistake I ever made was believing that since I didn’t have years of experience in something, my opinion wasn’t very valuable. After I left the entertainment industry and returned to the bay area, I started working for a production company. This company produced short videos/ads for a large retail store, and I didn’t have a lot of experience in production or advertising. While I had been working for several years, I didn’t have a lot of direct experience.
I remember being in a meeting with one of the heads of the company and everyone was talking about these pitches and I didn’t think he would want to hear from me so I was not prepared when he turned to me and said, “What do you think Tess?”
I don’t remember what I said exactly, I just stumbled over my words and made an excuse about how I didn’t know, and I didn’t have any experience. I cringe every time I think about that moment.
This taught me when you’re in the room, have something to say. You don’t always have to say it and you won’t always be called on but be prepared to say something. It also taught me even though I might not have direct experience, my opinion matters. Really, we were talking about ads for a retail store — of course I have some experience — I’ve been to the store, I shop, I’m a consumer.
No matter how much experience you have and no matter how old you are, you have something to say.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
For the past decade I’ve been working primarily with young adults and there isn’t enough help and guidance for navigating your 20’s into your early 30s. I’ve been creating materials for years to address the problems young people struggle with in a world that is full of uncertainty.
Currently I’m working on two projects, an e-book called, “Like Now” as well as an online course called, “True You: Finding Your Path.”
The e-book is a guide to learning how to “like your now, now.” It’s so easy to focus on what you want your life to be like next week, next year or in five years but if you want to build a life you love, it’s all about focusing on what you can do today to improve your life. In “Like Now” I provide you with the concepts and exercises that have helped my real-life clients achieve confidence and clarity which helped them make big changes in their lives.
“True You” is an online program for young adults who feel overwhelmed by everything that’s going on in the world and want to feel more in control of their thoughts and feelings so they can make decisions they feel really good about. Over the years of working with hundreds of young adults I’ve found there are six (6) most common issues my clients struggle with and in this program I deep dive into each topic and teach you the techniques I teach my clients to manage these same struggles.
My goal for both the e-book and the course is to empower young people to stop looking outward for the answers to their problems. Between social media and the internet which provides a vast amount of information, it’s really tough to know what it is that you, the individual, wants for your life. The post-high school/college years aren’t about simply focusing on finding a job, partner or building a family. These years are about the journey of learning who you are and what you want for your life and these products are designed to help young people answer these questions for themselves.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
1) Empathy: One of the most important traits for all leaders is empathy. The ability to stop and put yourself in someone else’s shoes is critical for anyone who is in a position of authority. Practicing empathy has taught me how to slow down, listen more and not make assumptions. Empathy helps you build connections with other people and in order to be a good leader you have to build their trust. Practicing empathy is the best way to create and strengthen trust which in turn makes people feel safe. When people feel safe to make mistakes or take risks, that’s when you can really make big changes.
2) Letting go of the outcome: There are a lot of “recipes for success” but what I’ve learned over the years is that success is never overnight, and it doesn’t ever look like what you fantasized about years earlier. A big part of success is learning to let go of your expectations and simply focus on moving forward step by step every single day. As a leader you’ve got to help manage the expectations of the people you lead as well as praise and embrace the process vs. the end point. Leaders are celebrated for the end results but if you want to lead a team to produce amazing end results, you’ve got to help them stay engaged in the process because “end results” are a moment in time.
3) Humor: Being able to laugh at the absurdity of life is what keeps me going and is a big part of how I engage with my clients and how I lead. There is this misconception that therapists are these super serious people who never laugh and that therapy = crying. There are moments when making someone laugh or laughing with them as they tell you a truly funny story creates the “aha” moment or builds a connection with another person.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?
As both a licensed psychotherapist and certified coach, the topic of finding joy is something I’ve been learning and teaching for many years. The science of happiness and joy are topics I’ve been paying attention to for the past 15 years. I’ve listened to thousands of individuals tell me why they aren’t happy and what they think will make them happy which has taught me the keys to understanding happiness and joy.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?
Here in the United States we’ve always had the wrong idea about what will bring us joy. Our culture is very individualistic, and the focus has always been on, “What do I need?” “How do I get ahead?” “If he or she has more than that means I’ll have less.” Between this pursuit of individual goals and the boom of technology, we’re very isolated from one another. Instead of living in vibrant communities, near our families and the people who love us, we’re living alone or with our immediate family, working long hours and scrolling through social media in our spare time.
This has created a false sense of what brings happiness. If you scroll through social media it would seem like taking fabulous vacations, having a perfect bikini body, earning millions of dollars only working 2 hours a day, hustling day and night, and hobnobbing with influencers/celebrities is what you need to accept happiness. While most people know that what they see on social media isn’t the complete “truth” it still creates this feeling like you’re not good enough or you’re not doing/achieving enough and once you figure out how to get your life to look like the lives you follow on social media, you’ll be happy.
What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
One of the biggest myths about finding joy and happiness is that there is something or someone in the future that will make you happy. If you earn more money, find the love of your life, lose 30lbs, become famous…then you’ll be happy.
While finding someone to share your life with will make you happy, it won’t look like what you expected, and it won’t last as long as you think it will. Clients come to me all the time because they want to “fall in love” and get married. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to meet someone special but the problem arises when they equate every challenging aspect of their life will be “fixed” when they meet “the one.”
The truth about marriage is that being married does make people happy but that initial “happiness” boost only lasts the first two (2) years. After that the initial excitement and butterflies when that person walks into the room disappears because you can’t sustain passion forever. When that fades it’s easy to start to look elsewhere for that passionate love or believe you’ve failed in some way of finding “the one.”
You can see how someone can easily get into the cycle of “chasing happiness” whether it’s a new relationship, job, friend, or house. Then finding joy becomes all about the “new” thing or person which puts all of the onus of happiness outside of yourself as opposed to finding happiness within yourself.
In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
The main mistake people make when trying to find happiness is only focusing on the future. So many times, I’ll hear someone say, “When I meet someone I’ll take that vacation” or “When I lose 30lbs I’ll get a new job” or “When I earn X amount of money I’ll finally relax.” The problem is life is happening now. There is no certainty in life, and we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. This means that what you have complete control over is how to think about today.
I think that is one of the biggest lessons people took away from this past year and a half living with Covid. When Covid hit and everyone had to slow down and sit with their thoughts, so many people realized they didn’t like the life they were living. They realized they didn’t really like their jobs, their partners, the city they lived in or how they were treating their overall health.
So many people think that once they earn a certain amount of money, they’ll be happy at work and the thing is work is what we do every single day. So, if you don’t like the tasks you do every day, the people you interact with, the projects you work on every single day, no amount of money you earn is going to make those tasks/people/projects more interesting to you.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)
1) Gratitude: The best cure for unhappiness is gratitude. Gratitude is about focusing on what we have and what’s working well in our lives vs. what we don’t have and what’s not working. Research has shown the positive impact of gratitude not only on our mental health but our physical health as well. Practicing gratitude is simple and doesn’t cost a thing and simply sitting down every single day to write out what you’re grateful for is the best bang for your happiness buck.
2) Connection: To experience more joy and happiness in life, building happy and healthy relationships is key. The quality of our lives is truly about the quality of our relationships. In our isolated social media lives, we tend to forget the importance of spending time with people who make us laugh, think and feel loved. Covid and having to shelter in place has taught so many people the importance of our interpersonal relationships and how much we impact each other.
3) Challenges: As much as we think we want our lives to be a non-stop vacation, we need to be challenged. Living a happy and joy filled life isn’t just about being “content” all the time, it’s about creating challenges for ourselves to overcome. We see this with lottery winners and even people who inherit a vast amount of wealth, without personal challenges we don’t receive the same satisfaction vs. when we accomplish something on our own and overcome a challenge.
4) Laughter: When clients get overwhelmed by the news and all of the difficult things happening in our world, I always encourage them to turn off the news and watch their favorite standup comedian or watch one of their favorite sitcoms. So many people binge watched sitcoms and other favorite TV shows during Covid because they needed to laugh and be able to see the absurdity of life. I think we should all try and laugh as much as we can because it reminds us we are capable of feeling lots of different emotions at the same time.
5) Giving Back: One of the best ways to feel good is by giving and helping other people. There are so many different ways you can give back and it doesn’t have to be big or cost you a lot of money. Like gratitude, giving back is also very beneficial for our physical health and studies have shown giving to others reduces stress which improves physical health and longevity. It also takes us outside of ourselves and allows us to stop focusing on what’s not working in our lives and focus on something greater than ourselves.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?
It’s so hard when you have someone in your life you really care about and they are struggling with a mental health issue. The best thing you can do is approach the person and share with them that you’ve noticed they’ve been really down lately, and you want to know how you can help. It’s really important you use “I” statements as opposed to saying, “You’re depressed you need to get help.” That will put them on the defensive and not want to talk about how they’re feeling.
You want to be able to have a conversation with your loved one so you can learn more about how they’re feeling. By saying, “I’ve noticed you seem really down lately and want you to know I’m here if you need my help.” This way you’re not telling your loved one what they’re feeling, and you leave it up to them how to proceed. It’s about building trust so your loved one feels safe enough to share.
Asking questions like, “How can I help you?” or “What resources do you need right now?” allows your loved one to tell you what it is they need. After this first initial conversation, keep it going. Instead of saying, “Call if you need anything” I would urge you to say “I would like to check in with you in a couple of days. Would that be OK with you?” When you text or call you can let them know you’re thinking of them and they don’t need to respond.
It’s about building trust and practicing empathy and once your loved one feels like they can talk to you, they’ll begin to open up and you can help them get the support they need.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Every single interaction we have with another person is significant. Whether it’s with the people we live with or the person behind the counter at our favorite coffee shop. Every single person we come in contact with is affected by our energy and how we treat other people has a ripple effect. Throw a stone and it sinks, but the ripples remain. You are the stone and your energy and attitude are the ripples.
What if each of us makes the conscious choice to be more aware of our energy and make adjustments accordingly. We’re not responsible for making other people happy or giving them money or solving their problems. This is about realizing you’re in a nasty mood and taking a few moments before you order your coffee to calm down and recognize the barista isn’t responsible for your bad mood. Even if the barista is rude to you, not to take in that energy or give it back as a punishment but to simply recognize you’re only responsible for your energy and whatever the barista is going through has nothing to do with you.
Everyone tends to focus on making a huge impact and what they can do to change the world but if you work on being self-aware and learning how to create positive energy just in small interactions every day, you can influence so many people.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Brene Brown! She is my favorite author/speaker and I love the work she is doing to help all of us be more vulnerable and let go of our shame. Her research has been so influential for me and I recommend all of her books, Ted Talks and her podcast to my clients.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can learn about me on my website: www.tessbrigham.com. I also have a YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjI9IB39wZK2ZuowijDzCFQ
Or you can follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tess_brigham/
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!