Life coach Barb Ryan provides her clients with tools to navigate the path to contentment.
arb Ryan’s favorite piece of advice to give students is to smile. “Smiling is a random act of kindness,” she says, grinning at a student walking up the steps to her home’s front door. Students shuffle into the tranquil space of Ryan’s living room and settle into a circle of chairs and couches for the first day of her happiness course. As they take their places, Ryan glides a mallet gently along the edge of a Tibetan singing bowl. The sound hums throughout the room and creates a stillness among the students. With that, her class begins. Ryan’s six-week program, “A Course on Happiness,” developed out of her Eugene-based business, Spiraling Toward Joy, in 2009. She focuses on teaching others how to find and maintain happiness in their day-to-day lives. Being able to understand the importance of random acts of kindness and how to move past difficult situations are just a couple of the tools Ryan arms her students with on their quest toward joy. These strategies include creating gratitude lists and practicing laughing yoga, an exercise in which students voluntarily laugh. This voluntary laughter eventually transforms into true laughter and builds a sense of glee throughout the group. By repeating these exercises, she says students can re-train their brain to develop feelings of contentment. Ryan’s main objective for her students is simple: She wants to teach them how to love and accept themselves in order to be happy with who they are. This, Ryan believes, is the key to happiness.
JH: What motivated you to help others find happiness? BR: I spent about 15 years—from ages 14 and a half to about 30—pretty depressed because I had a friend who suicided when we were both 14 years old. It took me a really long time to recover from that. I tried a lot of different ways of coping. Everything that has happened in my life up to this point happened so I could teach other people about moving through things. I have a daughter who deals with a chronic illness, and she is one of the happiest people I know. She is my inspiration for doing this work. JH: Did you face any obstacles on your own path to happiness? BR: Life just puts stuff in the way. What is more important is my response to everything that has happened in my life. Sometimes we don’t know any other response than to get stuck in the feeling that we are in. I went through using different drugs, trying different spiritual paths. I went through bad, abusive relationships. I went through a lot of different ways of coping that weren’t working. We move towards happiness in our lives and then stuff happens. As we are limited in our ability to cope or our ability to deal with things, we have limited ways of responding. JH: How do you define happiness? BR: There are probably as many different definitions of happiness as there are people, because each person is going to find what that means to them.