Interview: Mike Dyson of the Collective Happiness Project

Interview: Mike Dyson of the Collective Happiness Project

How happy are you? When was the last time you invested an evening into finding out what makes you happy or fulfilled in your life?

Mike Dyson, creator of The Collective Happiness Project believes we need to ‘check in’ with our happiness on a regular basis. For him, our mental health or happiness deserves just as much regular fine tuning as our bodies do.

We sat down with Mike to chat about the background to this project, defining real fulfilment and happiness and what you might expect from a session ahead of the first Collective Happiness Gathering at Stackwood.


You have a background in Chinese Medicine - is that right? How did you become interested in happiness/ mindfulness?

Chinese Medicine tells us that there are four pillars of good health: diet, exercise, rest and mindset. ‘Mindset’ has been translated a number of different ways: ‘positive mental attitude’, ‘calm and clear mental state’, ‘Good mental state’ I think, is the classic translation. And it’s my belief that good mental state underpins the other ones.

I’ve moved more and more towards preventative medicine and mental health through my practice of 10 years in Chinese Medicine. I’ve started to think about how we might become more preventative and proactive about mental health.

All this lead me to the field of positive psychology, reading authors such as Martin Seligman who's book Authentic Happiness was quite an inspiration for me. The philosophy of positive psychology states that our deepest sense of happiness comes about when we are using our individual, authentic talents in service of something greater than ourselves.

What compelled you to launch the Collective Happiness Project?

There aren’t a lot of spaces for people to connect with what’s important in their lives. I think our society rewards success, hard work and consumerist goals of collecting stuff.

But our culture doesn’t have a lot of spaces to stop for a moment, take a breath and check in with what’s really important in the bigger picture with where they’re at with the life they want to lead. So that’s what I’m trying to create, a space to do this.

Throughout human evolution people have sat around a fire at the end of the night and talked about what’s important. So I’m trying to create that, without the fire I guess (laughs).


How did you come up with the name Collective Happiness Project?

It’s taken me a while to fix on a name. Perhaps because its a new idea - I’m not able to fit it into an existing category; it’s not self help, psychology or group therapy, it not a spiritual group. It’s a bit like a philosophy cafe but there’s more structure to it. I was trying to come up with a name that would reflect the aim of what I’m trying to create.

‘Happiness’ refers to the deep sense of fulfilment that we feel when we are truly connected to whats’ important in our lives; to our values, passions, gifts, and how we plan on sharing them with the world.

The 'collective' part of it is about the fact that we’re trying to find that sense of happiness by gathering in a group and using the collective wisdom of the group.

A more accurate name might be ‘The society for helping people to connect more deeply with their greatest passions so that they might share them with the world’ but that’s not very catchy!

And how about the project part of the name?

Well it’s a work in progress, so it’s a ‘project’ in the sense that it will evolve and change. The idea is to start with the Collective Happiness Gatherings and move on to collective happiness retreats. I’m open to other directions the project might take to fulfil the basic aim, which is to connect people with what’s important to them.

Can you explain briefly the sort of activities I might expect at a collective happiness gathering?

Each week there will be a creative process designed to get people to think differently about a certain topic. Such as leadership, empathy, grief… You might be asked to draw a picture of what beauty means to you or to make your body into the shape of courage.

The aim of these exercises is to get people to think about particular topics and how those things show up in their own lives. They might think ‘Is this an obstacle for me?’ ’Is it getting in the the way of me sharing my gifts with the world?’ ‘Is this one of my particular gifts?’

Do I need to attend more than one to see a benefit?

The idea is that people will make this part of their wellness routine; like going to the gym, doing a yoga class, brushing your teeth, having your eyes checked once a year; these things that we do on a regular basis to keep ourselves healthy.

People are welcome to come for one session, they can come once a week, once a fortnight or once a month. The sessions aren’t consecutive, so you come as frequently as you like.

What challenges do you think people face when trying to work on their happiness?

I think, more than anything, people face their own internal limiting beliefs about themselves, and behaviours that may not be serving them well.

I practice mindful dog walking and drinking cups of tea with my wife and eating too much chocolate. Two of those things are healthy for me, one of those things is possibly not. I want to get people thinking about what their practices are. What they’re doing day-to-day and whether these thing are serving their happiness.

You mentioned our contemporary, consumer-driven culture and how this culture affects our happiness. Can you tell me more?

Basically we’re not socially connected in the way we have been for most of human evolution. In a larger sense our culture is built around rewarding the wrong things. People think they can purchase happiness through a flash new car, or moving to a nicer suburb.

To me, it’s about connecting with what’s going on with you right now, and dealing with that and then the other stuff should flow from there.

Can you tell me about the retreats you're planning as part of the project?

I’m planning retreats to get people to think a bit deeper about these concepts. I think sometimes people do need to get away to connect with this deeper stuff.

Again, our culture rewards a very shallow type of connection I think you need to get out of the normal way of thinking, you need to get away from answering emails and ironing shirts and doing the dishes to connect with what’s really important on a deeper level.

The setting also plays a big part. The retreats will be in a beautiful setting, because I think that’s important. Throughout human history we’ve generally lived in close connection with our environment. When you strip away modern conveniences, we get down to what’s essential, what’s important.


Please join us for the very first Collective Happiness Gathering on Wednesday the 28th of September from 6:30pm - 8:30pm. Everyone is welcome to these sessions which will continue each Wednesday at Stackwood, find more information here.

For questions and other enquiries, please email Mike.

Introduction and interview by Amy Snoekstra | Images by Bree Gaudette and Bo Wong

September 22, 2016 by Amy Snoekstra
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