After emigrating from the Soviet Union, Nataly Kogan graduated at the top of her classes, went on to high-powered stints at Microsoft and McKinsey & Co., started a family and had the best baby stroller money can buy—but despite her success, she wasn’t all that happy. She switched gears in 2012 to found Happier, a Boston-based wellness company that offers mini-courses in mindfulness and a social platform for sharing moments of gratitude. She’s also publishing a book series, launching a speaking tour and, on May 9, dropping by Boston Business Women’s inaugural Innovation Conference, where she’ll appear alongside go-getting girl bosses like Arianna Huffington, Hill Holliday chairman Karen Kaplan and Self editor-in-chief Joyce Chang.
What is science telling us about happiness? We have to stop looking at happiness as a spontaneous emotion some lucky few can have, but rather as a skill that all of us have a capacity to develop as a practice, like we do of yoga or exercise or eating healthy. There has not been a single scientific study that has identified a demographic unable to improve their happiness—the bad news is you gotta do the work.
What’s one obstacle you had to overcome? I used to think it was a self-indulgent thing—especially after I had my daughter, taking care of myself felt wrong. We cannot give what we don’t have. One of the greatest inspirations for me to invest in my own well-being is my family, because I know that when I’m happier, I’m such a better human being for them. It’s the opposite of selfishness. I think it’s our responsibility to the people we care about. When I think of it that way, I’m much more likely to do the work; it’s not just something I’m doing for myself. Research shows when someone on your team at work is happier, you’re 20 percent more likely to be happier. Our happiness really affects people around us.
Any advice for unhappiness spurred by social media? The research is pretty clear: Whether [a social media platform] makes you happy or not depends on what you do when you’re there. If you’re passively observing, it makes you really depressed. You’re watching your friends have perfect lives, and you’re looking at your real life and going “Holy shit, my life sucks.” On the flip side, if you’re engaging, sharing your own things or commenting, having conversations, social media actually makes you happier, and that is because we feel more connected to people in our lives. It’s really about how you engage.
Is there anything that we incorrectly believe makes us happier? Many of us think it’s something that comes from the outside, this idea of “I’ll be happy when X condition is met. I’ll be happy when I find a new boyfriend or girlfriend, when I get that promotion, when I figure out what I want to do with my life.” But none of that actually leads to genuine happiness. That has to come from the inside. Life is always going to throw us some kind of storm. There’s always change. We have to learn to be OK even when things on the outside are not OK.