Founder of The Happy Me Project, former actress turned self-development coach Holly Matthews visited Warwick Arts Centre on October 10, World Mental Health Awareness Day. Her talk, Holly Matthews in Conversation, was about staying well and happy in the modern world, emphasising the impact of social media and living life through a filter. In her own words, Holly’s mission is to help people “feel more happy and less crappy.’’
In the run-up to her show, I sat down and spoke with Holly about her work surrounding mental health, the challenges people of all ages are facing, and the steps we can take towards living a positive and more fulfilling life.
Starting with The Happy Me Project, Holly’s online and in-person self-development platform, I asked: “The Happy Me Project is obviously something you’re very passionate about. How did it come about, and where would you like to go with it?”
Holly’s work is heavily influenced by her past and the rough patches she has experienced along the way. An actress from the age of 11, Holly outlined how “being a kid on the telly was a big deal” and mentioned how it “was not the same as it is now.’’ Under the pressure of balancing being on TV with her school life, Holly did self-development personally for “many years.’’ She said: “I started to do personal development way back then. I just didn’t have a name for it”. Following what Holly described as “a series of things where it was difficult stuff”, including becoming a parent, home-schooling during COVID, and tragically losing her husband to brain cancer, Holly felt a need to “create, not consume.’’
“The Happy Me Project was the most organic piece of work I have ever done”
The Happy Me Project initially started as a “thirty quid course” and quickly picked up as Holly noticed a “thirst for simple self-development.’’ The aim was always to scale up, and once the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Holly’s online platform grew exponentially. Speaking of her past, Holly said: “The Happy Me Project was the most organic piece of work I have ever done.’’ In 2021, Holly struck a publishing deal with Bloomsbury which saw the release of The Happy Me Project: The no-nonsense guide to self-development. The book offers straight-to-the-point advice on ways to fill your life with joy and became a number 1 Amazon bestseller across all categories it covers. Holly intends to release a second book next year, focusing on “confidence and self-belief.’’
Speaking about her other ambitious projects, Holly would like to launch Happy Me TV, which would provide access to “simple self-development.’’ Holly hopes to give the “responsibility back to other people and give them the tools” to be able to live more fulfilling lives.
Considering the prominence of mental health projects, I then asked Holly: “Aside from your passion for the project, do you find it perhaps a little concerning that there is clearly such a need for it?”
Holly said she found it concerning that we “don’t have enough access to mental health stuff”. She spoke of the vastness of mental health challenges in this country and mentioned how it “cannot be a one-person job.’’ Holly said: “The worry for me is that people won’t get the support that they need, or they will wait a long, long time.”
“We’re so connected and yet so disconnected from each other”
Speaking more generally on how we can address the problem, Holly stressed that, in terms of teaching people how to deal with anxiety and depression, “all of that should be happening in school.’’ She said that the statistics surrounding mental health are “terrifying”, adding that in our modern world, we are “so connected and yet so disconnected from each other’’.
“That’s a genuine reason as to why, as humans, we get sad,” Holly said. Speaking of what more needs to be done, she stressed: “I believe that we as humans are resilient and should learn tools to support ourselves.
“And then people like me can come along and be that accountability, and those that really need the specific deep therapy work will then be able to get access.”
Alongside The Happy Me Project, Holly does one-to-one life coaching and is an NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) practitioner. Having been quite open about my experiences with mental health in the past, I’ve been quite shocked to hear that very few people my age have heard of NLP and are unable to distinguish it from therapy. I felt it right to ask Holly how she would describe NLP to someone who has perhaps never heard of it before.
In Holly’s words, it’s all about “recognising certain patterns we have in our brains, and the habits we have, and breaking the cycles of those habits down.” She gave a common example of “anchoring”, a technique that is all about invoking or anchoring a particular feeling to a specific situation. In the build-up to an upcoming talk, for instance, Holly may envisage the talk going really well, creating “a little button” between her finger and thumb to capture that feeling. The idea is that it “breaks the cycle” of the negative thoughts about the talk going badly and the anxiety that comes with that.’’
From my own experience, a common method of anchoring is imagining a fine line between anxiety and excitement. I was always told that “the symptoms are the same”, and envisaging that line helps in actively breaking the cycle of negativity and feeling more positive.
“I’m a huge believer in making scaffolding for our lives”
Speaking at a time when hundreds of thousands of students across the UK have made the move to university, I asked Holly: “What would your advice be to someone struggling to adapt to the changes of making the move to uni?”
Holly answered that she is a “huge believer in creating scaffolding for our lives.
“If you’re someone who struggles to adapt to changes,” she said, “I would suggest finding as many things that feel familiar to you as possible. Whether that’s bringing something that feels homely, scheduling a call with mum and dad, just really, really prioritising that self-care can go a long way.”
Holly also advocated implementing a “Definitely Maybe” system, which involves writing down what changes have been made for definite (who you’ll be living with etc.) and changes that might happen (what someone will think of me etc.). “There’s a level of control in even just listing that down,” Holly said.
“We have a right to live a life that feels good to us”
This year’s theme for World Mental Health Awareness Day was “mental health is a human right.’’ I wrapped up the interview by asking Holly for her thoughts on this and how the theme resonates with her work.
Holly said: “Mental health is first and foremost a human right. It’s not a case of being happy all the time, but I think we have the right to be happy more than we’re not.”
“We have a right to live a life that feels good to us”, she stressed, “and that is not going to look the same as everybody else’s.”
Holly’s talk at Warwick Arts Centre was all about the filtering side of social media and sparking conversations about all the embarrassing things that she has done. It focused heavily on grief and resilience. All in all, it was an incredibly open and honest conversation about mental health.
In times of increasing uncertainty and change, it’s crucial that we take the time to acknowledge ourselves, both the highs and the lows, be ourselves and take the time to invest in ourselves properly.
As Holly says herself, “Being your truest and realest self is the most liberating thing you can do.”