BERNIE Morris knows happiness, and the Braddon-based yoga teacher wants to share it with Canberra through her new course “Making Canberra Happy”.
“When we say happiness, what we’re talking about is subjective wellbeing, how well you feel in yourself,” she says.
“Happiness is 50 per cent genetics, 10 per cent life experiences and 40 per cent within your control. And it’s that 40 per cent that I want to focus on.”
With a medical science degree and a masters in public health, Bernie’s approach to happiness is scientific, she says.
“When I became interested in this topic, I realised I had the skills to evaluate the research that’s out there, choose the areas that had the strongest evidence and draw on those,” she says.
Having experienced depression as a medical student, Bernie began to research the psychology of positive thinking and discovered there were practical ways to improve wellbeing.
“When I was in my fifth year at uni, I started to spiral down,” she says. “It was a slow build, and for me it was physical. I had no energy, I felt teary, I wasn’t sleeping, eating or interested in hanging out with my friends.
“My GP referred me to a psychologist and I began taking medication. It was a long process; it took a couple of years to feel normal. I’ve had some shorter bouts of depression since then, but now I recognise the symptoms early and I know what to do. For example, I may not feel like going out, but rationally I know it will make me feel better. I tell myself that if I don’t feel better after five minutes, I can go home. But it always works.”
Bernie says she came up with the idea for the six-week course during the bleak Canberra winter, and ran the first one in August 2014 with a small group.
“In the middle of winter in Canberra, it feels like it will go on forever,” she says. “Morale here has been low with job losses – even people who have kept their jobs aren’t feeling safe. I wanted to boost Canberra’s morale, and designed the course for people who want to feel happier in their lives and are in a position to change their outlook.
“Even during winter it’s important to not hibernate, we still have to get out there, take walks and catch up with people.
“You go to work, come home and have dinner, get the kids to bed, collapse on the couch and do it all again the next day.
“It’s easy to get stuck in that but you can take control – you can still go out and do things.
“Canberra can be a lonely city, and there are many people who are trying to find that sense of community.”
Connecting with others and the community is one of the features of the course, says Bernie, along with meditation and mindfulness techniques, social interaction, light exercise, being outside, learning to be present in the current moment and practical workshops to train the mind into looking for positives rather than negatives.
“Another important thing is to recognise your strengths and use them to feel better about yourself,” says Bernie.
“For me, love of learning is a strength – reading and researching is a part of who I am; I’m a very driven, efficient person.
“I’ve recognised that its important to put aside time to look after myself, as it’s benefits the broader family as well.”
The next “Making Canberra Happy” course will start on Sunday, February 8 and costs $287, which includes three mini-retreats, six meditation recordings, email activities and worksheets, online support and walking groups. Bernie is offering a special price of $247 for “CityNews” readers. More information at makingcanberrahappy.com.au