The latest World Happiness Report released in March 2020 ranked cities around the world, and showed how the social, urban and natural environments are affecting our happiness, girls and women seeking a happy life. Having someone to count on, having a sense of freedom to make key life decisions, generosity, and trust are some of the factors contributing to happiness. We reached out to Dr. Novie Johan, a London based lifestyle consultant to learn more about living a happy life. “Each day I see 100 loving ways a girl can say yes to happiness. Women need to be happy first”, she says.
Dr. Novie Johan has made happiness the focus of her life. An agent of change herself, she believes that all women can love and can transform into happy women through the power of self-love.
Here she shares her own experiences, as well as her thoughts on how women can be happy in everyday life. “Health, happiness and success go hand in hand. Whatever we do in life, we are seeking the same thing – desire to be fulfilled and to live a life of contentment.” She started by reflecting on the source of her own happiness, and later on she researched the topic of transformation scientifically. The findings have now been published in one of the top journals in management worldwide: Academy Management of Learning and Education (September 2019): Informal and Incidental Learning in Liminal Space of Extended Independent Travel.
Her interest in people’s personal and professional growth and transformation continues to grow, as we are navigating challenging times. Here is her story, and how she lives her life based on her very own principals.
Happiness, an inside job
What is the most important transformation you experienced?
Since I was a child until my early teenage years, my extra-curricular activities were most important to me: I was busy dancing and acting, participating in modelling, operettas, dancing shows, advertisements and voice-overs for children’s and teenagers’ TV shows and audio stories. I really enjoyed all that I did, and I must say I wasn’t very studious at all. Then my mom took me to my first European trip. For the first time, I saw a different world than what I used to know. For two short weeks I was travelling to various European cities.
I loved it so much that I found myself inspired to study abroad! When I went back home, I suddenly started to study really hard so I could get good marks. No one, including myself, could understand this sudden change of heart. However, this change led me to study abroad and helped me later on with my academic discipline. On reflection, it was the first big transformation of my life, and it was completely unplanned: I never planned for it, and neither did my parents. Travel inspired me as a young teenager, and after that, life was never the same.
What does transformation mean to you? Can it lead to happiness?
Each person takes different meanings from their experiences. Throughout my life I have been transformed many times over, each and every time I travel, and each and every time I face new circumstances. Transformation, for me, was always a very positive experience. For that reason, I have always believed in transformation that is positive, is always available, and it is up to us whether we allow ourselves to observe and capture these opportunities to change.
For me, transformation is never a heavily loaded word. I change along the way, and every change is natural and almost happens instantaneously throughout my life.
We are born to adapt and change. We hear a lot about changing the world, as if it is a distant external goal, and there is a disconnect between ourselves and the change. The truth is that by changing ourselves first, we will inherently change the world. Becoming aware of our ability to transform into better people, makes us happier people. Each one of us is an agent of change.
How do you define an agent of change?
Anyone who is comfortable with change internally is an agent of change. I believe that when you allow yourself to be who you truly are, you become your authentic self and it is easier then to embrace change at the pace of its occurring without any interference from the outside. When it comes to personal transformation, change can only happen when you start loving yourself more.
I will give you an example. A good friend of mine used to cry on my shoulder about her being unhappy with her body. I couldn’t understand it fully because I think she was beautiful the way she was. She used to be slim, but after a difficult time with her family, she gained more weight and started to hate her body. She wanted her old body back, but even though she had been on a diet, eating healthy, and exercising, she couldn’t release any weight.
One day, when we were trying on new dresses, she complained about her body again. I moved her closer to the mirror so she could look at herself up close and asked her to say out loud: “I love myself and my body!”
She couldn’t say those words and big tears started to roll down her beautiful face instead. I continuously encouraged her to express her self-love and self-acceptance. About a month ago, in one of our video calls, she told me: “Surprise!”. And surprise it was: She has lost about 26 kg (from 93 kg to 67 kg) just by doing the same thing I asked her to do, loving herself more!
She finally found herself again and is feeling so much happier, as her body started to change for the better and she blossomed. The change continues as we speak, and she is getting her wardrobe ready for the upcoming season!
Remember, she said she couldn’t love herself for a long time, ten years of her life, but the moment she decided to face that very challenge and love herself more, she took charge of her own life and made the changes she wanted. I never even told her to change, in fact I accepted and loved her for who she was, but she wanted the change and so she did. This is why I believe in self-love, and how it changes people, but that transformation does occur only when you love yourself. Transformation is happiness. Change is a form of happiness that needs to be shared with the world.
What makes you happy?
As a business and lifestyle consultant, I lost count of the ‘aha’ moments and the men and women I helped to be happy. And, THAT makes me happy!
I previously have worked in different industries, in a number of countries around the world: from profit to non-profit organisations, from academic work to humanitarian work. Early in my career, in Canada, for instance, I worked with the universities and varying levels of Canadian ministers, councils, and agencies on some interesting projects such as assessing the needs for training and calculating the returns on such investments, and investigating travellers’ behaviours and level of satisfaction as well as their impacts on the economy. Also in Canada, I worked with a large non-profit governmental foundation in Toronto helping the young workforce to start and take off on their career pathway in the retail industry.
In the U.K., I have had a few interesting, happy roles such as working with an English mentee who worked for the Royal Household. I was mentoring him throughout the year, which included his service period during Kate Middleton and Prince William’s wedding, and preparation for one of the Queen’s summer visits to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. More recently, I also personally had one-to-one coaching sessions with a few international finalists of The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme who eventually met the Queen to receive their awards at Buckingham Palace, London.
You love helping young people, young entrepreneurs/start-up with their goal alignments and continuous motivations towards success. You worked with the finalists of Social Impact Awards Switzerland over the years. What made you happy?
One of the teams I worked with was Cuisine Lab, a non-profit organisation supported by the United Nations, who presented at the United Nations Peace Talks at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva and won 2017 Social Impact Award. I also attended the Social Impact Award Summit that gathered more than 150 winning entrepreneurs from across Europe, the Baltics, and some African countries to provide them with experts’ feedback about their new start-ups. For the local communities, I have contributed mentoring them when I was in Geneva as well as in London. And, again, that made me happy!
What do you do to maintain a happy work-life balance?
I pay attention to what makes me happy. I look at my own routines and schedules and keep myself flexible at the same time. This allows me to focus on health, sports and happiness more seriously. For example, I walk everywhere, and I like to do fun things like: dancing, wall/rock climbing or even ice climbing, and diving, even right now, when there are restrictions on travelling, finding the time for the things I enjoy and value in my everyday life keeps me happy.
Spending time communicating with other enlightening people, is nourishing to your inner self. I indulge in connecting with those in the same capacity of mind and heart, and enjoy spending time discussing various topics with them. Personally, I really enjoy spending time working on initiatives that help others, our environment and society, as I feel that I am bringing a positive impact to the people I work with. There are many things that could keep your inner-being healthy, you just need to discover what makes you happy.
You lived and worked in Switzerland, the U.S.A., Canada, the U.K., and Australia, and you have travelled to many other countries too. What is your favourite cuisine? What is your favourite dish?
Home is an important place to me. I am a curious mind and I love trying new recipes in the kitchen. Growing up in Indonesia was a blessing, I was surrounded by delicious cuisine with a large variety of dishes. One of my pursuits has always been to sample local cuisine wherever life takes me. I enjoy food that is both scrumptious and healthy, and the winners go to Lebanese, Greek, Japanese and Korean food. It is hard to name what my favourite dishes are, since I love them all, but I love eating well.
A quiet and serene breakfast is my favourite time of the day: the best way to start my day right. Eggs are my most preferred items – soft-cooked eggs (soft boiled or sunny side up), which usually are coupled with fresh fruit and tea. I make Eggs Benedict on special occasions. Alternatively, homemade oatmeal or granola, and fresh juices or smoothies are also my perfect breakfasts.
For lunch, I tend to keep it simple: any type of salads. I enjoy super ingredients, from quinoa to edamame, and like to play with seeds and dressings.
For early dinner, I tend to have a combination of small-size meals: bite size or varied small plates if possible – from assorted appetisers and canapes to seafood dim sum and gnocchi al Gorgonzola and sometimes a small cheese platter.
At any break-time, I enjoy my ‘whole rose bud’ tea from Savoy and my English finger sandwiches. I also like to end my day right, usually by having my hot chocolate or lavender tea before bed!
If you haven’t tried this delicious beverage, Indonesian avocado milkshake is my favourite beverage recipe (they call it ‘Alpukat jus’ in Indonesia). It is made by simply mixing milk (or milk alternatives) and fresh avocados with a little bit of ice crush and additional dark chocolate for garnish and taste. Heavenly!
Because of the Covid-19 outbreak, the world came to an abrupt halt this year when we were asked to stay home. How did you adapt in order to remain happy and healthy?
Since I was a kid, my favourite hobby has been reading books and quotes that are mesmerising about life and characters of people. My mom worked for a national publishing company, and one of the things I loved to do in my leisure time was going to the company’s many bookstores and get new books that talk about life, emotions, and people’s happiness. I remember my favourite book; it was a hardcover book that I truly cherished all my life: “100 ways to say I love you”. It was the first English book that I bought with my pocket money when I was about 12. I loved the way it looks at love, and it touched my heart forever.
I learned to surround myself with people who are exhilarating, not just to inspire myself, but also to contribute to their happiness and create a positive atmosphere around me. I love being surrounded by these kinds of people; it makes life worth living. It is so liberating to be able to discuss various things with them and at the same time it is so powerful to feel happy together with them. Indeed, each person’s life is an interesting book to be read.
On this basis, my stay-at-home plan was ready to go. I continued to work by meeting clients online and over the phone as arranged; I wanted to minimise the disruption for them as much as possible. On a personal level, the lockdown gave me the opportunity to try many new homemade recipes. That, and stacks of read-worthy books, as well as plenty of people, friends and family to be in contact with virtually. In addition, my yoga mat has been put to a lot of good use! What the whole experience has taught me is that life continues to be a happy occasion when you adjust to change and continue being happy, willingly.
What do you think makes a woman special? What could be her superpower?
In answering those questions, personally, I am the kind of person who is serious, but not too serious either. I love having a laugh, and I love comedy. Life should be lived seriously enough, but not being overly too serious that you forget about the purpose of life itself: to be happy. We come into this world to experience happiness.
It helps a lot if a woman can be positive, also if she can be sincere in feeling happy for others, and in helping others. I am confident that love is the proposition that can make people not only happy, but also successful in life. You can be certain that when you have pure happiness in your heart, you will also be successful in life. Your happiness is so important, and that is what I am standing for. I would like to be the case of happiness for everyone involved, and I think every woman should be the same for each other.
In answering your second question, considering that my first and favourite purchased book was about love, and I enjoy reading life quotes, I think to a certain degree I was also born a romantic and a thinker. What makes a woman unique and special is her life journey, and also the kind of belief that she has in herself. I personally made it through ‘living life’, travelling and meeting people along the way, and each experience helped me to see things differently. This can work in slightly different ways for different women.
A woman’s ability to understand love is what makes her remarkable. A woman loves others as much as she loves herself. This is exactly what we need in the world today: a true understanding of love.
Every woman has a superpower! I use my superpower to help women realise that, believe in that and do just that so they can enjoy much happiness in their lives. I want to leave you, the reader, with a simple question: What is your superpower?
About Dr Novie Johan
Dr Novie Johan Ph.D., M.B.A., B.A. runs a personal and corporate consulting and coaching practice. Her main areas of expertise is Learning, Transition & Transformation, Personal & Professional Development, Cross-cultural Analysis, and Career Management. She has published and presented internationally in the fields of Management, Education and Sociology, and Hospitality & Tourism.
Novie has worked and lived in Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America and has travelled extensively. She studied at the University of Cambridge (U.K.), University of Surrey (U.K.), University of Guelph (Canada), and Swiss Education Group (Switzerland). In addition, she lectured & researched at the University of Surrey (U.K.), Griffith University (Australia), University of Guelph and Ryerson University (Canada).
Novie is a Fellow of Higher Education Association, and an Affiliate of the Institute of Coaching (McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School Affiliate), a Member of Academy of Management and Association of Coaching. Travel and philanthropy are her passions as she continues to work internationally on research and projects that bring positive social impacts and transformations. During her time off, she enjoys yoga, dancing, rock/ice climbing, diving, and attending various sports and cultural activities. Contact Novie by visiting her website: www.noviejohan.com