Stephanie Harrison
Stephanie Harrison

Stephanie Harrison is the founder of The New Happy, a community devoted to pursuing happiness for all beings, everywhere. She translates the latest research into actionable insights and inspiring stories to help people to change the world and find happiness, at the same time. Stephanie has spent her entire career focused on how we can improve the world of work for the better. Currently, Stephanie is the Director of Learning & Client Experience of Thrive Global.  She has a Masters Degree from the University of Pennsylvania in the study of positive psychology, where she later taught alongside Martin Seligman in the graduate program. Prior to Thrive, Stephanie spent five years at LinkedIn, where she worked in multiple functions including training, client consulting, sales, and product marketing and launches. She also spent three years as a management consultant with Deloitte Consulting, specializing in HR transformation and organizational development. She lives in Menlo Park with her partner Alex and their dog, Cleo. 

I begun to notice that Western society was sold on these values of pursuing things that were outside of us, the constant gratifications of the self and obsession with achievements and acquisition. I wanted to see from the research and the data how this impacted us, and if there was a different way to happiness… there’s this disconnect because we have been so caught up in serving ourselves, but the reality is that this individual focus is actually harmful to ourselves and to the greater world.

I think it is a powerful shift to ask “what can I contribute?” as opposed to “what I can gain?” So, what can I share and who can I help? Asking that question helps pinpoint your greatest value area to focus on, and it gives you the answer to a purpose: by finding a way to use your strengths to contribute to others, you will inevitably become happy.

Have you ever found yourself syncing to the same wavelength with someone almost immediately? I was surprised in the best way since connecting with Stephanie at the start of this year through an introduction from our wonderful friend Patrisse Chan. Between following Stephanie’s work in well-being and community building, I have felt an undeniable synergy between our thoughts, ideas, and life approaches. Whether it’s philosophical or psychological qualms we have about Western society or talking about work-life balance and career pursuits within the context of our personal or professional lives, Stephanie has become more than a friend and mentor, she has become a role model; one that I believe paves way to great progress into re-thinking our perceptions of well-being, happiness, and success.

C: I’ve been extremely grateful to be connected with and seeing the work that you’re doing. It’s been an incredible and of course challenging journey thus far for you. But I would love to start with hearing more about the “why” you do what you do. How have you committed to your passions of helping to change the world of work and well-being for the better through initiatives you’ve started such as the New Happy?

S: My journey of starting the New Happy began many years ago., in a pivotal moment of my life where I came to terms  with what success or the acquisition of societal success meant for me. In university, I worked incredibly hard to achieve, because my career was a top priority. It also became where I stored my identity, which meant I evaluated my self-worth according to these metrics of success that were defined by what our society views it to be. I ended up in an amazing dream job, beginning my career as a consultant at Deloitte. It was a job that I considered at the time to be very prestigious. However, after a few years, I was burnt out and realized that I was deeply unhappy. I came to the realization that the things I directed my purpose to and how I shaped my life were in pursuit of my own needs, and that pursuit did not fulfill my soul. This realization propelled me into a new direction as opposed to just focusing my energy and life on what I wanted and needed.

I left New York and moved to San Francisco where the next several years, I focused on figuring out my values and my purpose, specifically trying to figure out what I could contribute to the world. This led me to discover positive psychology and instigated my interest of social well-being. I spent five years working full time at LinkedIn during this time, and simultaneously for part of it, I was also doing my Masters in Positive Psychology (PP) at Penn.

I begun to notice that Western society was sold on these values of pursuing things that were outside of us, the constant gratifications of the self and obsession with achievements and acquisition. I wanted to see from the research and the data how this impacted us, and if there was a different way to happiness. That question resulted in my thesis, which ultimately took about 180 pages to propose a new definition of happiness based upon what I learned. There’s this disconnect because we have been so caught up in serving ourselves, but the reality is that this individual focus is actually harmful to ourselves and to the greater world.

After I wrote it, I spent a while wondering what I could do with this new research and knowledge. I knew that I wanted to find a way to share it but most importantly, to make it actionable. With the encouragement of many people, particularly a big push from my partner, I started the New Happy. My goal was to create a community that extends upon my personal mission of helping to change the world of work and well-being for the better.

The New Happy is all about connecting people, specifically the people who are already living in this way of empowering those around them and using their unique passions to contribute meaningfully to this world. It’s essentially, a movement to change the way we think about happiness, especially in Western culture. Society defines happiness as resulting from the pursuit of gratification for ourselves. But the goal is to help people find different journeys to happiness and in doing so, also pave a way of creating impact for others.

It’s been an experience of creating magic as this path has always been about tapping into the unique strengths of others who are contributing to the greater good and fostering that collective happiness. It’s a movement of people who are willing to transform our world for the better.

C: Yes! I love how candid you have been about pointing to this hamster wheel mentality of acquiring things and how Western society has this obsession with linear trajectories of more influence, power, likes, wealth, etc. It’s all about more, more, more and me, me, me. I remember coming across LinkedIn articles you’ve written on the dangers of “following our passions” or even the Happiness Myths concept that this linear trajectory towards more achievement is detrimental. How have you been actualizing this research and how exactly is the New Happy striving to revamp the way we think about happiness itself?

S: That’s a great question! I started The New Happy with a newsletter. Every week I write a piece  that incorporates research and practical tips; I see it as translating “the science” into meaning by providing actionable insights and key take-aways. The newsletter also highlights a variety of people’s stories; showcasing how they are living their lives and how they are propelling others to live fulfilling and generative lives. I love telling people’s stories as it makes things so much more accessible and it gives me an opportunity to highlight and amplify others’ work. The New Happy also has online community groups and I’m working towards creating in-person meetings too. As for future goals, creating a  conference or gathering to share and inspire people is something I’m looking forward to. I would love for this community to continue growing, as I only view myself as a facilitator, so to have others continue the movement or start their own hubs is amazing. I’m also planning to launch a podcast soon!

C: So I know we’ve talked a little bit about positive psychology given your academic background and research interests. Perhaps for some of the readers out there that want to make a distinct connection between the underlying approaches of the New Happy or your own life philosophies, what exactly is positive psychology?

S: Positive psychology is the scientific study of well-being in individuals, communities, and institutions. It applies research methods within the context of our lives. The history of psychology has focused on easing  suffering (addressing acute and chronic forms of pain such as helping people through the medicine model). But positive psychology focuses on creating health and well-being. It recognizes that promoting well-being is not necessarily the absence of suffering itself, but it aims to answer the questions of: what allows you to thrive? And how can we activate that?

The way we choose to view things is powerful. We really can make anything meaningful and to make the best with what we’re given or where we are.

C: Personally, I’ve been very invested in self development and due to my love of reading books or listening to podcasts, as of recent there’s been this the shift towards prioritizing positive psychology within our lives. Books like the Happiness Advantage or work by Angela Duckworth on Grit, or even numerous Freakonomics podcasts that explore the intersection between psychology and economics. How has the approach of positive psychology impacted you whether in major challenges or everyday life?

S: I draws on my studies everyday. I use it to cope with the small and big things. Recently, my partner has been tackling a mysterious chronic illness, and I’ve used it to help me cope in the face of that major challenge. Having the tool box and knowing how to use the tools within them has been tremendously helpful. It’s a lot about re-framing situations and the perception with which we view the world, people, and the circumstances around us. The way we choose to view things is powerful. We really can make anything meaningful and to make the best with what we’re given or where we are. I also use my tools to help support others, to try to be a good leader at work, and to take care of myself along the way.

It is a powerful shift to ask “what can I contribute?” as opposed to “what I can gain?” So, what can I share and who can I help? Asking that question helps pinpoint your greatest value area to focus on, and it gives you the answer to a purpose: by finding a way to use your strengths to contribute to others, you will inevitably become happy.

C: I love how you’re able to apply what you’ve learned every single day and use it to empower others as well. I’m so glad you have that tool kit and are always willing to share it. I know that our conversations revolve around issues bigger than ourselves. It might not just be about the burn out that we’ve both experienced or how we’ve related on that ambitious drive for a good career, but it’s about the underlying foundations to societal values. Values that are so engrained within us that they shape our lives completely. Do you want to speak to some of the challenges that people face in Western society?

S: I think that there is this desire for a very specific type of happiness that is focusing on what I want and need as the core focus of the individual.  A common example of this is the advice to “follow your passion” which I’ve written about on LinkedIn. Also, there are absolutely inevitably going to be times when things won’t go planned, or that you don’t end up where you thought would be, or where life expects more of you than you thought you could give. I think it is a powerful shift to ask “what can I contribute?” as opposed to “what I can gain?” So, what can I share and who can I help? Asking that question helps pinpoint your greatest value area to focus on, and it gives you the answer to a purpose: by finding a way to use your strengths to contribute to others, you will inevitably become happy.

C: Completely agree with this! What are some steps you would suggest for those would like to start enacting positive psychology within their lives?

S: First, take total responsibility for your own happiness! Secondly, start focusing on how you are able and can contribute unique and positive things for others. Thirdly, try to always be the more loving person. Give away love as freely as you can, and you will reap more rewards than you can imagine, and use that love to transform the world!

C: As we end here, I want to reiterate what I’ve learned from you thus far. You’ve taught me about the strength that can come from re-framing any and all situations. The conviction with which I have a choice always, in viewing things, people, or ideas. How others and I can make anything meaningful by taking action. Sometimes, we aren’t where we want to be but committing to the process and then figuring it out is so important. Taking action, putting in the work to develop our strengths, and all the while asking for feedback to better ourselves and those around us. At the end of it all, it’s about how serving others underlies our purpose. It’s about making the best of where you are, right now.

*To find out how you can get involved or looped into the New Happy Community, subscribe to the newsletter here. And to connect with Stephanie, find her on LinkedIn!


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