As a self-described ‘happiness hacker’, Penny Locaso is on a mission to teach millions of people how to intentionally adapt in order to future-proof their happiness and bring more joy to their everyday lives.
But it’s not a mission that comes easily in this pandemic year — especially now that Penny is launching her new book Hacking Happiness, from lockdown.
She’s on a 25-acre farm in Victoria caring for a friend’s animals and says she feels like she’s in a bubble, which has aided her creativity and is enabling her to connect with her son. But she feels guilty feeling some joy, particularly when speaking with friends currently in Melbourne.
Still, she’s also taken the opportunity of lockdown to create the world’s first ‘Virtual Hacking Happiness’ event, sharing a series of micro retreats with hundreds of people all over the world — in locations experiencing varying levels of uncertainty, restrictions and hardship during the pandemic.
Penny got into the happiness space after experiencing a massive personal shift within a short period of time. She had worked a successful corporate career until the age of 39 when she found herself yearning for something more. Within a seven month period, she left that career, left a relationship of 16 years and moved her family across the country.
Penny started examining happiness and developing tools for measuring progress. She learned that pursuing happiness can be like a yoga practice: if you show up everyday and experiment with different positions, you will find out what does and doesn’t work.
“Everyone has as hack,” she explains. “The more we can share these little things that inject a lift in our day and focus more on the progress we are making — on being rather than doing, on what we do have rather than don’t — that’s where we should put our mindset.”
Happiness is not necessarily about what you do, but rather what you are avoiding, says Penny.
“We all have things we long for, it’s an interesting thing: If you have longed for something, clearly it is important to you and has some significance, otherwise you would have let it go.
“So ask yourself, what have I longed for, yet avoided? And when you look at the avoidance piece, ask yourself why? I guarantee you it comes down to fear and the level of discomfort you know you will experience if you make that transition, even though you know it could make you happier.”
Penny has already put so much of what she’s learnt into her new book, but having just run this virtual retreat and being committed to always learning new tools and techniques, she shares some of the happiness hacks she’s just come across.
The first is the Progress Jar: Get a jar, put it on your desk, and for every 15 minutes of focused work that you do on one thing that is meaningful to you, drop in a paper clip. Get to the end of the week, and you’ll see a visual reminder of progress.
“It’s a beautiful way to focus on what you have done, and not what you haven’t,” says Penny.
“A lot of us are beating ourselves up because our productivity has decreased. We’ve come from an environment of being in offices and productivity I always say, had become our disease. It’s what we value the most. The busier we were the more important we felt.
“Then we went into COVID and many of us were feeling extremely uncomfortable, because we needed to homeschool, to work and navigate life, and our productivity feels like it’s gone backwards and understandably so.
“This beautiful practice of a progress jar is about letting go of having to have every moment of every day full, and just recognizing that you are making progress and that is all that matters.”
A second, related, happiness hack Penny has just learnt is The Pride Jar.
At the end of the day, get a sticky note, and write down one thing that you were proud of achieving that day. It could be as simple as saying you spent five minutes playing cards with your child, or even just about putting the dishes away.
It’s an opportunity to reflect on your small accomplishments.
“At the end of the day, so many of us right now are challenged around all the things we haven’t gotten done. You go to bed feeling shittie because the to-do list is endless and you get stuck in this cycle of not getting it finished.”
Angela Priestley spoke to Penny for The Women’s Agenda Podcast where Penny explained more on overcoming the fear of getting started on the things you long for, on pursuing happiness hacks even during a pandemic, and the need to reset the ‘always busy’ mantra that might be standing in the way of what you really want.
Listen to our recent podcast with Penny here, and learn more happiness tips from Penny below.
Secrets of happiness? Penny Locaso shares three
Secret 1 – Happiness is often found at the intersection of what you long for and what you are avoiding
My average day on the farm consists of meditation, journaling, yoga, a HIIT workout, home schooling, blocks of deep work, feeding chickens, collecting eggs, stoking open fires, hand feeding calves, a hot spa, a family dinner, gratitude and often a board game. Honestly it feels more like a retreat than lockdown and it’s come with extreme guilt. I’ve longed for this life yet I’ve avoided sharing to much of my joy (until now) out of shame that I’m not suffering enough at a time when so many are doing it tough.
Over the years my journey has taught me that the secret to hacking happiness is often found at the intersection of what you long for and what you’ve been avoiding (and I’ve been avoiding my guilt!). We suppress exploring the intersection of longing and avoidance because it can feel so overwhelming to deal with. Why? because it is alerting us to what truly matters and where the key to unlocking more joy can be found. Why not consider carving out a little undistracted time with a pen and a paper and write down what you long for (on one side of the page) and what you have been avoiding (on the other). Observe it, notice where you feel it in your body, sit with it and give yourself permission to move through the discomfort if awareness into a space of possibility.
Secret 2. There is no perfect plan when it comes to hacking happiness – just start
In the early days I was searching for the perfect plan to start my Hacking Happiness journey. I was afraid to move forward without it because my past experience had conditioned me to believe that not having a plan was a risky move, it meant I might choose the wrong path or worse still, fail.
I soon learnt in the realm of Hacking Happiness there is no perfect plan, there are no wrong paths and failure, well, that’s where we do our best learning. Waiting for the perfect plan to appear only holds us back from making a start.
This idea of a perfect plan feeds our desire for certainty and in the space of Hacking Happiness certainty is an impediment to growth. Embracing the unknown is where the magic lies. So, take your journaling from above and gift yourself permission to take just one small action in a direction that feels right for you. Trust me when I say each action you take will breed clarity on which action to take next.
Secret 3. Happiness is a practice not a goal
I spent years ticking boxes I’d been told would make me happier only to realise at the age of 39 that happiness was not goal it’s a daily practice. Too often we direct our energy around the accumulation of what we don’t have when what we all have (our mindset and behaviour) is where our hacking happiness opportunities lie. Assuming the role of the imperfect experimenter to embrace uncertainty and take action is where the possibility is found. Try experimenting with a small 10 minute daily ritual or practice that brings you joy. It can be anything 10 minutes dedicated to learning something new, a walk, undistracted quality time with your child. It’s our daily practices that provide the opportunity for us to dial up our happy moments and the frequency of them.
It’s these secrets that have enabled me to own my Covid guilt, process it and come out the other side just a little better than what I was before. It’s likely you will now notice more farm joy being shared in my social feed in the hope that it may bring joy to someone else in some small way. I’m choosing to let go of the fear of judgement about enjoying this time and embracing the idea that sharing may inspire another to hack their happiness.
Hacking Happiness, How to Intentionally Adapt and Shape the Future You Want is published by Wiley and available at Booktopia.