Why Happy Not Perfect Founder Poppy Jamie Wants You to Treat Mental Wellness Like Your Favorite Workout
Poppy Jamie is a 21st century Renaissance woman. The British entrepreneur is one half of the apparel brand Pop & Suki and has worked as a series host for MTV, ITN, and Snapchat; she's also delivered at TEDx talk on mental health. Most recently, she is the founder of the mental health app Happy Not Perfect, which is designed to prevent burnout by mediating stress, anxiety, and other negative mood states on a daily basis. Basically, there's a very good reason why she was named one of Well+Good's 2020 Changemakers.
Her passion for mental well-being has never been more relevant than it is now, thanks to the extreme stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. This month, Happy Not Perfect teamed up with Well+Good to create our Mental Wellness Challenge, which was designed to address the particular mental health challenges of sheltering in place. (The brand is also donating 50 percent of all proceeds from May subscription signups to the National Council of Behavioral Health’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, so seriously—sign up for the app using this link on your phone.)
Below, Well+Good talks with Jamie about what spurred her career pivot into the mental health space, how she's utilized dense science and research on psychology to create an effective 3-minute mood boost in the form of a "happiness workout," and what more is needed to eradicate mental health stigma going forward.
Well+Good: When and why did mental health become important to you, and how did that lead to the creation of Happy Not Perfect?
Poppy Jamie: It's so funny talking about the beginning of Happy Not Perfect, because it feels even more relevant now than it did then, given what we're all going through.
Primarily, it came out of a personal need, four years ago, to manage my stress and my anxiety—my mental health—better, and just feeling that meditation wasn't really working for me at the time. There was such little conversation out there, so few tools. I remember thinking that looking after our brain shouldn't feel boring; that it shouldn't feel like it's this thing we have to drag ourselves do. Exercise had suddenly become fun—Soulcycle launched, and all these barre classes and creative approaches to exercise—and I thought, "Surely there must be a creative approach to mental health," because our brain is just like any other part of our body. It requires training to work in our favor.
That's when I dove into positive psychology [the study of the positive traits people have that let them thrive], and there were all these books I found deeply healing. But most people have busy lives, and the last thing they have time for is reading dense mental health books that contain thousands of years of wisdom. I wondered how we could unlock that wisdom and actually make it accessible and actionable.
That's when I came up with the concept of gamifying a mental well-being ritual, and gamifying a mindfulness routine, and doing exercises like writing a gratitude diary and journaling worries to release them. These are the things that were easy for me to do and didn't take much time, but they made me feel instantly better. That was the beginning of the Happy Not Perfect app.
What do you mean when you say "gamify" mental well-being?
On Happy Not Perfect, you can complete the happiness workout, which is basically a daily basic gym workout for your mood. It's got seven key exercises to do based on your emotional state, which include breathing exercises, journaling, gratitude practice, goal-setting, etc.—based on the core pillars of positive psychology. Through the app, you're able to work on the "muscles" in your mind and build the resilience that comes from challenging your thoughts and seeing where there are faulty patterns in your thinking.
I've always wanted like Happy Not Perfect be a place where the content can really be personalized to what people find most helpful to them. Effective healing mechanisms vary per the individual—we're finally beginning to see that generic kind of solutions don't work for everyone. For example, with exercise, some people don't like HIIT, they just like running or they only like yoga, and we go, "Awesome, that's great you like this and I like that." I'm so happy to finally see the mental health conversation slightly moving there as well.
Where do you see the app fitting in to addressing people's mental health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mental health hygiene is even more important now, because we have to find ways to create safety inside of ourselves. When the world outside feels unsafe—and for many people it does right now—it is even more important that we create rituals and routines that help us feel safe, because that helps us move into rest and relax mode.
It's even easier for us to feel unbalanced when we are moving through great change, and I love thinking about how we can use mental health hygiene and mental health rituals to allow us to be more adaptable. To me, being adaptable is our greatest super skill, yet no one is born with the ability to be adaptable—you learn it.
The app's exercises are the opposite of numbing, which is how many of us cope. For example, I will dive into work and just get really, really, really busy, and that's my way of not addressing what's going on. There's fight, flight, or freeze, so for some people, they've just been frozen, and that's their way... Committing to a mental health ritual instead allows us to tap into to our own inner wisdom and then take some time off in the afternoon to go for a walk or whatever offers us a reset. Most importantly, it helps nurture and develop our confidence to show us that we will survive whatever is going on. All of us have the toolkit, deep inside, to be able to help us survive what we're all going through.
I think that's a really great message. It's about maybe just being aware of some of the ways that you can adjust your thinking and and help yourself get out of that dark headspace.
As the quote goes, "Nothing's good or bad, just thinking makes it so." ... [It's so important to be] conscious about what we're consuming during this time, because we are such a product of the consumption. For example, reading Well+Good always makes me feel optimistic afterwards, and makes me feel inspired to try different health things. But if I'm watching CNN and just looking at the death rates rather than the rate of people that survived, I'm obviously going to leave watching those programs feeling more concerned than when I arrived to them. It's important to stay vigilant and knowledgeable, but I think we can all do that in a responsible way to lower our sensitivity levels.
And again, going back to having a mental health ritual, it slows you down a bit so you're aware of when things are making you feel less energetic when you leave them. Mental health rituals really connect your body and your mind so you're able to be a bit more cautious of what you allow into your environment.
We have largely made some positive strides in the past decade towards addressing mental health stigma—what do you think needs to happen next in order to go further in terms of acceptance and understanding?
It's just about more people having the courage to talk honestly about how they're feeling. By freeing yourself in that way, you're actually freeing everybody around you. It's been amazing to see people being so vocal in the Happy Not Perfect community. To me, that's a sign of such green grass. When we normalize [mental health] like that, it gives people courage who maybe before were like, "No, not for me, I'm good."
If you've got a brain, you've got mental health. I've spoken to thousands of people and done loads of happiness workshops around the world and I still have not met a person who's like, "Yeah I'm good, everything's good. I'm perfectly perfect." That's what has been so healing for me, to be on this journey and to just realize that my struggles were so normal.
It sounds a bit cliché, but you're not alone. There are three main fears, and that's not being enough, not being lovable, and being abandoned—and we're all grappling with them. When we're working on mental health, it's our route to more freedom of thought and from those fears than we could possibly imagine.
What are some low-lift things people can do everyday for better mental health?
Go for a walk. Keep hydrated—hydrate before you caffeinate. Complete the happiness workout, which takes three minutes, because that is like a milkshake with all the goodness in it, and it's so quick. It basically combines all the steps I could give you into one little mouthful. So that's kind of my morning routine: go for a 20-minute walk, drink a glass of water, and complete the happiness workout.
Any parting words for remaining in good spirits in this dark time?
We are all so much stronger than we think. When we do get through this, we should hopefully feel so proud of ourselves, like, '"F*ck, I've survived a pandemic." Hopefully that is going to unite us, and whenever we hit challenges again it'll be like, "We survived the pandemic, we can survive anything."
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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