In this episode of the Social Lights Podcast, podcast host and Social Mediology founder Kate vanderVoort chats with M.J. Ryan, change expert, thought leader and one of the creators of the New York Times bestselling Random Acts of Kindness series and the author of The Happiness Makeover (nominated for the 2005 Books for Better Living award in the Motivational category), Attitudes of Gratitude, The Power of Patience, Trusting Yourself, The Giving Heart, and 365 Health and Happiness Boosters, among other titles. Altogether, there are 1.75 million copies of her titles in print.
About M.J. Ryan
M.J. is a coach, mentor and adviser to founders of startups around the world, as well as executives in organisations large and small. She also serves as the lead Development Guide for SheEO, a global community of women radically transforming how we finance, support, and celebrate female innovators.
She has appeared on The Today Show and CNN, and is a contributing editor to Good Housekeeping and Health. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.
M.J. shares with us that what inspires her is the possibility of helping others, using her ability to understand what other people are going through.
When we asked her how she created the publishing company, she said ‘’it was an accident completely and totally’’. The idea started, when a friend who wanted to be a book publisher, decided to create a company without any money, but luckily for them, the first book published was very successful. They started publishing books for women in the area of personal growth, self-help, inspiration and more.
When the idea of Random Acts of Kindness came up, it was a collection of stories of many different people, talking about small positive experiences that had been happened within their lives. She realized and started understanding the real power of those small encounters, then the book became a worldwide sensation.
BIG IDEA 1
“I had no idea how to be happy.” (3:36)
M.J. studied Psychology because she had a deep interest in how the human mind works and associated feelings. Looking to understand more, and going through therapy herself, she noticed that she wasn’t happy, but not just that, she didn’t know how to be happy. It was coming to this realization that she needed to start practicing what she wrote, these acts of kindness were the key to her happiness.
Building upon her first book, she wrote several more about gratitude and generosity. Every time she put what she wrote into practice her happiness improved. She wanted to explore this more and how it this could beneficially impact people. So, she started doing researching and working with other people, to understand as much as she could. It wasn’t until later on that the “Positive Psychology Movement” began to publish the research results that back up what M.J. had found anecdotally. She goes on to tell us that all the positive emotions exist to help us recover from the negative ones. If we experience fear, anger, sadness, etc we send our bodies into a negative state, physiologically and emotionally and when we practice the positive ones we bring ourselves back into balance.
BIG IDEA 2
“I decided what I wanted to do is work more directly with people rather than writing books only.” (12:22)
M.J. recognized that she didn’t want to be in her business anymore, she decided to sell her publishing company, so she could work more one on one with people. It was helping people that she was so passionate about. She started helping local businesses and their employees to achieve their goals, but this wasn’t enough. She told us that a focus on something that has major impact in the community, like tackling poverty, racism, and environmental change was the path she wished to take.
Simultaneously, M.J. also started working with start-up companies and one of the people she worked with several times was Vicki Saunders (Founder of SheEO). They had similar ideas, so Vicki asked her to with the ventures supported by SheEO. The ventures the SheEO network are funding are all social enterprises and this was exactly where she wanted to direct her focus.
BIG IDEA 3
“Just practising gratitude or kindness will make us happier.” (22:16)
Right now, in these difficult times, we are hungry for community and to try to find a connection. Her wish is that people actually start practicing self-compassion, because once we try it, we will see the change, and we can learn more and grow.
When she was doing her research, she come to the conclusion that the threat system in our amygdala (the part in our brain that is responsible for the fight or flight response) is what we pay attention to if something bad is happening. When you do something that you do not want to do, the enemy is yourself and you start to attack yourself. This system directly inhibits your ability to learn and grow. She goes on to explain if we activate the attachment system within the primate brain, which is stimulated from touch and kindness it releases oxytocin rather than adrenaline and cortisol. This physical touch and kindness helps soothe ourselves and set up the conditions for transformation and change.
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Thanks for your time and stay inspired,