Training and education startup, Haptivate, is on a mission to make happiness and wellbeing accessible for everyone, believing that “you don’t have to be a master of zen to lead a life you feel good about”.
To achieve this, its founders have created a series of accessible workshops and courses using the very latest scientific research to help individuals, organisations and communities to lead happier and more productive lives.
We recently caught up with Haptivate’s co-founder, James Pacey, over a cup of mint tea to chat about the science behind wellbeing, the wonders of laughter yoga and how his company is helping people back into employment.
James Pacey, Creative Works coworking member and co-founder of Haptivate.
Hi James! So what inspired you to start Haptivate?
Haptivate has existed for about a year in its current form, but my business (and ‘real life’) partner, Rosa, has been providing wellbeing skills training based on scientific research for over three years.
Just about everyone would like to feel a bit happier and the statistics you see in the news about stress-levels and other mental wellbeing issues make for sobering reading. We’ve been lucky enough to come across the research that’s out there on tools and techniques that can help you to feel a bit happier. It’s a shame that most people don’t know this information is out there and we believe this needs to change. So we set up Haptivate as a way to give more people the opportunity to develop happiness and wellbeing skills. We’d love to see this on the school curriculum some day!
I was also inspired by what’s going on in the tech and startup scene – that’s where I was working before we founded Haptivate. This space has become really competitive in terms of attracting and retaining talent. Everyone wants to have a culture that sounds amazing on paper so the best candidates come to them. You might win that race, but then you’re faced with the even bigger challenge of living up to those ideals.
Maintaining a culture where employees are happy, productive and motivated is really difficult. So, there’s a risk of a big disconnect between what a company is saying about its culture and the reality of working there. New-starters can be in for a nasty shock and employees can quickly grow disillusioned. It’s not enough to simply talk a good game and it can really backfire!
So one of our big goals is to help businesses cultivate an authentic company culture with employee wellbeing at its heart. We’d like more companies to have amazing culture that truly embodies their values and ideals, where employees are really happy to come into work every day.
It’s a huge task, but there’s a whole host of wellbeing at work tools and techniques that are science-backed, practical and accessible. When you get entire teams using them, it can make a big difference to culture.
Your workshops are rooted in scientific research. Do you conduct your own or do you draw on other sources?
Everything we do is based on established research in fields like neuroscience, positive psychology and mindfulness. We also like survey people before and after they’ve taken part in our workshops to figure out which techniques people are finding most beneficial.
Wellbeing is a very popular concept at the moment and there are a lot of people out there embracing things like yoga and meditation in the workplace. These practices have great benefits to mental and physical wellbeing. However, there’s also lots of other things people can try to bring more positivity into their daily routine. We like to open people’s eyes to all options so they can find the techniques and tools that are right for them.
Starting out by focussing on the science behind concepts like mindfulness is a great way to open people up to trying it. Once they understand that a technique has been shown to have a beneficial effect on their brain chemistry, they’re usually keen to give it a go. From there we get into breathing exercises and meditation – in many cases people are experiencing them for the very first time. It’s always great to see the reactions people have – it can be a real eureka moment!
Are people generally receptive to the idea of ‘mindfulness’, do you think?
If you bowl in and say: “let’s do some mindfulness and meditation!”, some people immediately put barriers up. They have preconceived notions about what’s involved and feel that it’s not for them. But as soon as you dig a bit deeper and talk about the biology and neuroscience behind it, people start to find the idea really interesting.
Wellbeing means different things to different people and there isn’t really a clear understanding of what it actually entails. Some tend to think of it as an initiative designed to get people to eat more fruit, drink more water and maybe do a bit of yoga on the side, but in terms of what we do with businesses, it encompasses every aspect of every day.
It’s a mindset whereby you put the wellbeing of the people you work with (and ultimately your customers) at the forefront of everything you do in the workplace.
Our society is very driven by economic growth: most businesses, particularly larger ones, are ultimately having to deliver returns to shareholders. There’s a disconnect between the numbers and what it’s like to be part of the organisation. Striking a balance between the two is important. There’s a moral argument to it.
The average person spends 80,000 hours of their life at work and if, as an employer, you can make that more enjoyable – great!
Is there evidence to suggest that investing in the wellbeing of your employees benefits your business’ bottom line?
A lot of research shows that if people are happier and more content at work they’re more productive, more likely to stay in the job for longer, will take fewer days off work – and so on. There’s a big return on investment and companies with happier employees have better share performance.
What are some of the zanier techniques you’ve used in wellbeing workshops?
Rosa was doing a stress management workshop with execs at a big bank in Canary Wharf and one of the group asked about laughter yoga. She explained that, of course, everybody knows that laughter is good for you – it releases endorphins, reduces stress, etc. The inventor of laughter yoga was inviting people to meet up in India and telling lots of jokes in a bid to make them feel good and relax.
Eventually he ran out of new jokes, and thought: hang on a minute, if I just get people to stand around fake laughing, will it have some of the same effects and benefits? And it turns out that fake laughter has just the same physiological effects as real laughter. The message spread from there, and it’s now becoming a bit of a global phenomenon.
The group said they wanted to try it right there and then and soon we had room full of banking execs just laughing at each other! It can be a rather surreal experience and I’ll admit that the first minute can be a little bit awkward. But, inevitably somebody gets the giggles and then it’s just contagious and the whole room loses it.
You heard it here first! Laughing maniacally in your colleagues faces relieves stress, improves mood and is highly contagious!
Why did you choose Creative Works as your base?
Firstly, I live 5 minutes away! I did take look at other coworking options in the Walthamstow area, but they were bit smaller and hadn’t really developed the same sense of community as Creative Works. I wanted somewhere with great facilities and other people around, as well as the opportunity to separate home from work.
Creative Works has a relaxed atmosphere, the kitchen’s always stocked, and having yoga included in the membership is great. I’d recommend yoga to everyone – it’s great for improving both mental and physical wellbeing.
Can you tell us a bit more about your charity outreach work?
Our training and away day venue and is based in the largest homeless hostel in the UK in Camden. We’re based there because a lot of the work we do is designed to help people to get back into work and become financially independent after a period of unemployment.
Haptivate’s Teletubby-friendly HQ at Arlington House, Camden
There are programmes out there to help people with CVs and find job opportunities, but if you have poor mental wellbeing, it can be quite difficult to engage in those types of programmes.
Research shows that unemployment can be very detrimental to your personal wellbeing. The effect can be lasting too – so even if you go back to work the memory of unemployment can linger and be inhibiting.
The probability of someone with poor mental wellbeing finding a new job is also lower. It’s a vicious cycle whereby the unemployment and the poor mental wellbeing feed off each other.
Haptivate intervene in an attempt to break this cycle. So if someone’s dealing with low confidence or self-esteem, or if they have a lot of anxiety around the process of trying to find work, our workshops are designed to help them.
People who are homeless can also come in and take part in things like guides meditation.
If you’re reading and you’re involved in a charity or frontline service, we give away a free workshop every month. These workshops tend to focus on stress-management and relaxation techniques. We also do this with doctors, nurses and surgeons in the NHS.
Interestingly there’s a huge overlap in the terms of the types of challenges and worries that people in the charity and private sectors have: we believe that both are in need of support.
In your opinion, do other countries ‘do’ wellness better than the UK?
Nordic countries usually perform better on wellbeing measures, generally speaking and they have more socially democratic approaches. The amount of tax people pay is higher but they have better public services, mental health services and more of an emphasis on community.
A really interesting country to look at when it comes to a population’s wellness is the Kingdom of Bhutan. They measure their performance as a country not by GDP but by a metric called Gross National Happiness!
…One more thing before you go. In the spirit of laughter yoga, what’s your favourite joke?
Why do you never see hippos hiding in trees?
Because they’re very good at it.
If you’d like to sign up for a workshop or just want to find out more about the science behind happiness and wellbeing, contact the Haptivate team.