WORDS: Alexis Teasdale
Turia Pitt inspired the nation with her story of survival and extraordinary resilience after she was caught in an out of control grass fire while competing in an ultra marathon in 2011. She suffered burns to 65% of her body, and then went on to, as her website says, ’defy every expectation placed on her.’
Turia shows life who is boss. She’s a best-selling author, athlete and mindset coach. A two-time Ironman and has raised over a million dollars in donations in her role as an ambassador for Interplast. She has motivated us with her business savvy and entrepreneurship, moved us with her public speaking and made us LOL with her hilarious wit. She’s also had two beautiful babies with her husband Michael and she keeps her motherhood journey real on social media, regaling followers with the ups, downs and in betweens of being a modern parent.
Turia’s new book Happy (And Other Ridiculous Aspirations) is out now and the pick-me-up we all need right now. Not only does she sprinkle her own happiness secrets throughout the book, but Turia interviews other incredible experts and specialists who impart their wisdom too. And the best part is, it’s all practical! Easy to implement, baby-step-style bites of knowledge that will leave you feeling uplifted and inspired.
But enough from us, here is Turia Pitt and her take on happiness.
You mention you were pregnant with your second baby as you were writing this book, and then just after you handed in the manuscript to your publishers, the bushfires started tearing through so much of Australia, including your hometown. Then not long after that you welcomed beautiful baby Rahiti and seven weeks following his birth, the world realises it’s facing a pandemic. That is a huge start to the year! How did your research on happiness for the book help you during those times?
Getting out into nature, meeting up with friends and family and having those really healthy social relationships helps us with our happiness. Then through the pandemic, we weren’t able to go to, say, a national park and see friends and family, so I really wondered if (the book) would have relevance. But I realised that it actually has more relevance because everything I talk about, from showing gratitude, learning to savour the moments, really spending time with your family and being present – all of those things actually help us to be happier.”
“I think just as we have moments of light, and happiness and joy, and excitement, we also have periods of shade, where we feel frustrated or hurt or angry. And it’s all just part of the spectrum of life. All of those emotions are valid and all it means is that we’re human and we’re alive.”
You mention in the intro of the book that you are constantly being asked how you find so much happiness when you have gone through so much. How much did your own happiness practices and rituals inspire the book?
I receive lots of questions from lots of people all over the world, and one of the main ones I get is, ‘How are you so happy?” and I guess what people are saying is ‘how are you so happy given all of the shit that you’ve been through?’ I was always a happy person before my accident, then once I got burnt and I was in hospital, I realised I really needed to work on my own happiness and my own mental health. So I started doing things like gratitude practices and learning to relish the small moments and trying to be mindful and being kind to myself. So all of those little things were elements that I picked up along the way.”
During the research of this book I read a lot of cool papers and one of them was by a woman named Sonya Lybomirsky. The Happiness Pie (The Sustainable Happiness Model) is where 50% of our happiness is determined by our genes, 40% is determined by intentional activities and 10% is determined by life circumstances. So that means whether you go through cancer or you win the lottery, after a couple of years, you reach an equilibrium and you return to your pre-set state of happiness. So it’s both good and bad, because a lot of our happiness is determined by genes. That’s kind of bad. But the good news is that there’s a massive 40% that we can increase or improve our happiness levels.”
“I really think it is possible for all of us to be happier, if that’s what we want. Because, we all go through different stages in our life, and maybe you’re working really hard towards your uni degree, and might not make you very happy in the moment because you’re spending all of your spare time studying and working. But you’ll get a massive sense of satisfaction when it’s finished. I think we all just go through phases, and that’s why I call happiness a bit of a wiggle line. There’s no preset destination.”
Another juicy takeaway we found was when you talked about how making the bed in the morning can serve you throughout the whole day. What is one of your favourite tips from the book?
Yes, I never used to make my bed! And Michael, my partner is a neat freak. He sent me the link to the YouTube video, and I totally changed my mind because making a bed is like such a small foundational start to the day. If you can make your bed, maybe you can drink two litres of water. And you can drink two litres of water, maybe you can go to the gym. And if you can go to the gym, maybe you can, you know, fill in the blank for everyone.
But my favourite tip from the book is just asking myself every morning, ‘what would make today great?’ You can feel the change in your body because you are anticipating a pleasurable experience in the day. It’s not what you have to do for everyone else. It’s just what would make your day. So for me, it’s usually really simple. It’s meeting up with a girlfriend for a coffee, it might be baking choc chip cookies, going for a run with my son. It just makes me feel better about myself and about the day that I’m about to have.
“One of the things I learned through writing the book is that happiness is really found in our day to day life. It’s not these gigantic cataclysmic events like heading off to the south of France, or, you know, running the New York Marathon. Those things are awesome. But we need to be able to find happiness in our everyday lives. And I think that really rang true during both the bushfire crisis and the coronavirus pandemic that we are still experiencing the world.”
You talk about the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. What are your tips for tired parents to try and keep the tank full?
If I have a bad night’s sleep, I have to lower my expectations of what I can do the next day. I have to be kind to myself and say, ‘well, you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, not much you can do about it’. It’s about checking in with yourself. There’s a whole chunk in the book on self love and how we should be nicer to ourselves, and the inner critic that we all have. Think about how you talk to your kids. I would never say to my son, ‘you are a terrible runner, why do you even bother? You might as well give up now.’ I would never speak to him like that! I would say to him, ‘darling, you did your best, you did a great job. The race didn’t go your way. That’s fine. You’re only human, we can’t be perfect all the time’. So it’s just about talking to ourselves how we would talk to somebody that we really care about and if you’re a parent, it’s easy. Just imagine what you would say to your kid.”
Your mum pops up throughout the book, she sounds like such a happy, joyful person. You describe her as ‘perpetually sunny and bursting with optimism.’ What have you learned from your mum about parenting and about being happy?
My mum was really my first example of someone who is happy with their everyday life. She gets so excited about the really small things. So let’s say she buys a new cleaning product, she’ll be really excited about it! She can be really mindful and present in the moment. Spending time with their grandkids, she’s not thinking about all the other things she has to do. I really took a lot from mum – probably not when I was a teenager, because I found her insatiable zest really annoying – and now as an adult I see that it’s actually a really beautiful thing. It’s really hard to maintain that optimism and sense of joy and to be always thinking about others and putting others first.”
One of our favourite moments in the book is when you were younger and struggling with something like maths and you were so frustrated. And you said, ‘Mum, I can’t do it.’ And she said, ‘No, Turia, you can’t do it yet.’
She’s just a really wise woman. I don’t know how she knew to say that, but now I use it. If I ever tell myself I can’t do something or it’s too hard, I just say, well, you might not be able to do it today, you might not be able to do it yet, but it doesn’t mean that you might not be able to do it in the future. I think I’ll definitely be taking that into my parenting manual and what I’ll do with my boys.”
We know, right? Turia is an absolute vault of wisdom and this is just a snippet of the interview we did with her on our podcast KIDDO Chats!
Head on over to your podcast app and listen to Alexis Teasdale interviewing Turia, there is so much more magic shared on the topic of happiness!
Happy (and other ridiculous aspirations) is published by Penguin.