The path to happiness is difficult and complicated. What do you need to do to get started on this journey? In this episode, Dolores Hirschmann sits down for a conversation with happiness guide and Gestalt therapist Sonia Weyers. Sonia shares the experiences that placed her on the path of the happiness therapy and talks about what happiness means and what achieving it requires. Tune in for an inspirational conversation here.
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
Happiness And The Self: A Journey With Sonia Weyers
Sonia, I’m so excited to have this conversation with you to connect. I always call it the clarity journey and some people are like, “It wasn’t that clear.” Tell me about that journey that brought you to this moment, maybe for clarity.
Dolores, I’m thrilled to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me. It was indeed a long journey. My journey of clarity is ever-emerging.
We have the thread of moments, decisions or circumstances that at the end of the day got you to this moment in this interview.
I should start from the very beginning. There was something amiss in my relationship with my mother through no intent of hers but left me unsure who I was, what I liked and what I wanted. It was a long journey for me. Even ordering food from a restaurant menu was a struggle sometimes. I went along a path where I was competent. I was good at Math. I was a serial student. I studied Engineering. I got a Master’s in Statistics. I got a PhD in Business with a focus on Economic Analysis and Policy.
I could feel that it wasn’t fulfilling for me. It was a very prestigious path but it wasn’t fulfilling. Sometime in there, I decided, “I wanted to change the world, writing these academic papers that five people read or I wasn’t going to do it.” At some point, I decided, “I was going to change the world with the kids I was going to have. I was going to raise them to be good people. Through the ripple effects, that would change the world.” That appeased me a little bit and that’s when I had my first child.
I went to the end of that. I finished my PhD and I even got a job teaching and doing research at a business school near me. Eventually, by the time I had my third child, I had gone to the end of that path and I was ready to do something else. Somewhere in there, I had gotten into personal therapy to help me along my path of self-discovery. I was not a very happy teenager and that’s an important step. Now, I call myself Your Happiness Guide. It didn’t fall in my lap. It was an earned title. I’m going to fast forward a little bit here. I spent a few years being a scrapbooking consultant helping people do creative photo albums.
That’s a tangent I wasn’t expecting.
A lot of people didn’t expect that like, “You did all those degrees for that?” It was a little bit entrepreneurial, social and creative. It brought people some happiness to enhance their photographic memory. Looking back, that was the premise of my activities to help people find happiness and fulfillment in their lives. Along the path, I trained as a therapist. I started in 2008 practicing therapy. I’ve been broadening and developing more personal development programs. I’ve been trying to get some visibility and that’s how I met you at an online conference about getting on stages. That’s how I got here.
Happiness is a loaded word. It’s supposed to uplift you on bringing to the higher vibration but for many of us, it could be one of those things that are too complex to even wrap our head around it. Let’s start with that. What is happiness?
It’s up to you to decide what happiness is to you. I can tell you what it is to me or how I think of it. I think of it as each person has their own mix of peace, meaning and joy. Some people are more into joy. They like to laugh, joke around and have fun. The place I like to be is when I feel peaceful, I’m not stressed. I feel like I can handle things. I have a sense of inner peace but then also some amount of meaning. Meaning is also a loaded word. I’m working for a goal that has meaning to me and when I’m talking about helping people that it’s meaningful to them too. That’s how in a nutshell, I would say.
Also, it’s easy to say you’re happy when everything is going well. You’re this happy or that happy. You might want to be happier even when things are going well, but it’s in those circumstances where you don’t think happiness belongs there that I found in my own journey the real rewards of all my personal work. I’m thinking in particular at the end of my parents’ lives. My mom, with who I had the relationship, that something was wrong. I’ll tell a short story about how that ended.
It’s up to you to decide what happiness is to you.
It’s about December 15th, 2018. It has been a rough year. My mom had a cognitive decline. My dad had many surgeries. The more my dad was in surgery, the more my mom declined rapidly. It was a dreadful year. I moved them from Belgium, where they were, to a retirement home near me. It has been a tough year and I’ve invited them over for tea. My mom doesn’t talk anymore at this point. She is inside in her own silence. My dad who is both exhausted from his surgeries is also deeply sad about this.
I was asking her, “Mom, do you want some tea? Do you want some sugar in your tea?” My dad was like, “Don’t bother. She is not going to answer.” I was like, “Dad, I’m not talking to her so she is answering. I’m just talking to her.” On that day, my mom wasn’t talking. I asked her if she wanted tea. She said, “Yes.” I asked her if she wanted more. She said, “More.”
She said yes and no to something. She said more and said a bit. My dad was moved to tears. After all that, I sat down across the table from her. I could see that she was looking at me but she was looking a little bit confused. I lifted my glasses and then she smiled at me. Had I not done my personal work, this moment would have been totally out of my reach.
The personal work journey, which we all can do in our own way and I know you are one resource for people and for women specifically. A lot of people say, “I’ve done a lot of therapy and nothing has changed.” The reality of the personal work journey is about expanding our capacity to be in this world like you said, “If I hadn’t done my personal work, I wouldn’t have noticed neither appreciated nor be moved,” because you were moved by the moment that your mother smiled to you. You would have missed it.
The other thing you said, which you may not have intended it to say or I’m just putting things together, is that when you were finding your path, there was a little bit of emptiness inside and all the PhDs were not cutting it. You went into the scrapbook project, however you want to call it. You were saying how in some ways, by organizing and arranging memories, which is what a scrapbook and photo album is, you were reinforcing happiness in your customers or in the people that participated. Here’s what I’m curious about. What is the role of images or photographic memory in the building of almost like happiness well?
I pieced this path backward because now I’m all about helping people find and experience their true happiness. In looking back, it seems that that was the beginning of it but I haven’t taken the photo albums with me. It’s certainly one avenue. It’s funny that you bring that up because it was the activity I asked people to do when I ran a happiness challenge. I gave them daily activities and it was around photos. I don’t have an answer to that but I personally love my photos. If you’ve asked that question, maybe you do, too.
Usually, the photos we keep are the memories we love unless we find some comfort, joy or peace in a memory. Even in a difficult situation, we wouldn’t keep that photo necessarily or at least not properly tucked away in a nice album. It might be somewhere forgotten. In some ways, unconsciously, a photo album will always have happiness incited because we curated only the moments that we wanted to preserve.
I call it superficial. That’s not bad but it’s in the moment. It doesn’t change anything underneath. To have an envelope of photos that have people that you love who you don’t see often or memories that you like that were happy memories, it’s certainly one tool to elevate your mood almost instantly is to interact with those images. That’s an interesting question.
One of the things I love to do with my work is I believe that in the stage of my life and many of the people I work with and my clients, it’s all about coming whole and integrating. It’s like a moment in our life where we are running businesses where we want to impact and personal fulfillment. It’s all about integrating. I believe that whether they make sense or not, every single thing we did through our journey somehow makes sense, even though it might sound crazy.
It’s easy to say you’re happy when everything’s going well.
I like helping my clients and I always see how we can integrate past experiences to make the work that we do now even richer because it becomes unique. There are not many PhDs, engineers, data scientists, gestalt therapists and happiness coaches who also did photo albums and scrapbooks. Not leaving anything behind allows you to stand out in the marketplace. Of all the people you could help, who do you love and focus on helping? Why?
I have two answers to that. When I work with clients one-on-one in therapy, those are the people who find me. I tend to work with young women who are in their high-20s or low-30s and who are still early in their adult life. I find that’s a good place. They have grown up enough and they have enough maturity. They’re able to look back to their experiences, to look in and to look at what and be willing and be able to do the work. In the therapy work, that’s what I prefer.
I have a line of also personal development programs. I enjoy working more with mature women who are maybe in a similar stage of life to mine. Maybe you have had some kids who are not all out of the house but also who have some flexibility in their time. It’s business owners who have some flexibility in their time so that they can put in the time to do because everybody has got online programs that people can buy but if they don’t do them, it doesn’t change anything. I have two slightly different audiences depending on the kind of work or favored audiences, which was your question.
Let me ask you this because I want to make sure that if anybody is reading and that this resonates, that they reach out to you. What do I need to be feeling to reach out to you? What do I need to be experiencing to say, “Sonia is the perfect person for me?”
If you’re feeling like there’s something missing in your life like things on the outside are looking good, there’s a bit of a void and things aren’t quite as fulfilling as you would like. Also, if you have relationships that aren’t fulfilling because I have a very relational approach. Relationships are also some of the biggest determinants of a life well-lived, it turns out.
It’s a sense that you want more from life. That’s the perfect person for my personal development line of work. The people who call me for therapy, something is not getting at them in a way that’s interfering much more with their life. It’s a question of degree. It’s similar things but they’re more intense in the therapy world than in the personal development world.
What is Gestalt Therapy? What does it stand for?
Gestalt Therapy was founded by Fritz Perls, who was a dissident of psychoanalysis. If I put it very simply, where psychoanalysis seeks to understand why Gestalt is all about looking at how things happen and how the experience is. The Gestalt therapist tool in working with clients is, “What’s going on with me?” As I listen to this person, “What am I seeing, hearing, imagining and feeling in my body?” That’s going to inform me to often be curious, like cultivate the curiosity to get the other person’s experience but also be attentive to the way that they enter contact with me.
It’s not about doing anything right. It’s funny because a lot of people come to me and they’re looking for a manual for the right decision or other people are not behaving right. It’s not about that. It’s the more you can be aware of your own way of being and the impact that that has on the world and the more you have keys to impact and change that. It’s all about the space I between, looking at the space in between and what happens in there.
It sounds like it’s more connected with your heart and intuition versus the intellectual, logical processing. That keeps it up here but it doesn’t necessarily integrate it. We could talk about a lot of books but let’s talk about your book. You have a book.
I wrote this book in French and English. It’s Happiness Now! A Guided Journey. It’s a personal development book. You can get it on Amazon or you can ask me for a signed copy. If you pay for shipping, I’ll send it to you. You were asking me to describe my book. I take the reader by the hand through a first part that’s on mindset. You want more happiness like, “Why? What’s going on that you want that?” It’s not always going to be easy because the personal development work sometimes gets a bit harder before it gets better. You have to go look at what’s not working in that a lot of people are in denial.
It’s like cleaning a closet. Before the closet is nice, clean and organized, it’s very messy.
That’s a great analogy. There’s an element of pain that doesn’t come when you’re cleaning the closet. The first part is on mindset. The second part is four chapters. One is about your physical health. I’m not a doctor and I don’t pretend to be one, but there are ways to be mindful of your physical health and look at different aspects. I invite the reader to ponder some questions, your emotional health, relationships and then something around spirituality and meaning.
It’s spirituality light but still it’s the idea that we’re in a big world, “What is there beyond me and beyond us? What’s your relationship to that?” In the third part, there are 23 activities that people can try. There are sometimes as simple as a breathing exercise or talk about the morning routine. There are 23 activities that I suggest to people that they can try so that they can have their own menu.
If you don’t take responsibility for your own happiness, it isn’t going to happen.
I enjoyed our conversation. I love this journey of yours from this science, maybe a more exact space of numbers and logic. I’m hoping that will fulfill that little bit of a void and that the permission to go from the logic to the heart, into the more intuitive and feeling side of you to do the work that you’re doing. I want to celebrate how lucky the people that you will get to work with are. I usually interview people who fell into our journey or into the type of work but it sounds like you were very intentional in arriving where you are. That’s something worth celebrating.
I was certainly intentional about finding the light and finding something, but the further I got into my journey then at some point, it became rewarding. It didn’t start off that way right away. Now, I’m all about the journey. I’m available to explore your journey and the people who might want to explore your journey. I can listen to it all.
Anything else you would like to add?
I also have a freebie. That’s the 5 Things in the Way of Your TRUE Happiness if people want to download that.
What’s the URL for that?
My website is Eudokima.com/en. The other side is in French.
We’re all about clarity and action in Masters in Clarity. What is one action that you want to invite our readers to take as we wrap up this episode?
In true personal development form, I would like your readers to think about the relationships that are most important to them and then see which ones are working well in the way they want and enjoy that. The ones that are not working as well as they would like, I would like them to look inside themselves and see something that they could do.
The personal development work sometimes gets a bit harder before it gets better.
Maybe they need to ask for something, apologize for something or suggest something new. I believe happiness is an inside job and you can get others to help but if you don’t take responsibility for your own happiness, it’s not going to happen. It would have been so easy for me to say, “I’m unhappy because of my mom,” but if I do that, then I’m stuck being unhappy.
Thank you so much, Sonia, for your time and for showing up for our readers.
Thank you, Dolores.
- Happiness Now! A Guided Journey
- Amazon – Happiness Now! A Guided Journey
- 5 Things in the Way of Your TRUE Happiness