Tracking down Marie-Claire Ashcroft is an adventure in itself. Her Out Of Office tells you she "can’t wait" to read your message but that she might be "out photographing a rockstar bride, gatecrashing the houses of parliament or eating curried crickets". I am smiling before we even get to speak.
Ashcroft is a self-described 'happiness ninja', giving talks, mentoring and putting on "silliness parties and workshops". She’s also created an Academy of Awesome, an online membership to help feel more confident and have more fun in life via talks, videos and a private online community. Ashcroft is part of a growing industry geared towards making us happy; adult colouring books, meditation apps, laughter yoga, specialist teas. And lord knows we could use them at the moment.
In person she exudes giddiness but Ashcroft is no stranger to unhappiness. She’d been living with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety for as long as she could remember. After quitting her job, she’d set up her own photography business. "Little did I know at the time that setting up a business really is the biggest personal growth tool you can ever imagine," she says, "It takes you to the heart of who you are and what is possible."
One night, she says, "I just dared myself to be happy. I recorded an I Dare You video, sent people dares, started writing about mental illness, shared the things I learnt about myself openly and people began telling me just how inspiring I was and how much I’d helped them."
Next thing she knew, she was giving talks, "accidentally mentoring people" and changing their lives.
Ashcroft believes that we’ve lost the art of feeling happy and this is why there’s an increase in takeup of activities geared towards finding it. "As soon as we leave the fun part of school where you fingerpaint to your heart’s content, carefree and without a worry in the world, you go on to learning what you’re told to learn about," she says, "You prepare for exams in the future that you have to do well in so that you can get that good job, so you can get that house and everything else that goes with it. Life becomes plotted out so you just keep looking ahead chasing that next thing and not enjoying what you want now."
The key, Ashcroft says, and central to the service she offers, is developing core happiness. "This comes though an understanding of the self helps with something I call 'bouncebackability', so when bad news strikes or things don’t go to plan, we can handle it much, much better. By learning about our strengths instead of feeling beaten down by our weaknesses, we can do things to make our immediate circles better."
Ashcroft’s clients fall into two types, she says, "The umbrella term I use for my creative businesses is Professional Rebel so I tend to attract people who rebel naturally or those who don’t currently but want to feel a little bit naughty."
Her work includes encouraging people to play more, let go more and cheerlead themselves. She says, "I show them that sometimes all you need to do is chuck your problems in the 'fuck it bucket' for an evening and get covered in glitter to give yourself a break from it all."
And as for what makes the happiness expert happy: "Spontaneity - particularly going on adventures and trying something new. Oh and a bit of silliness too - I always have a bag of googly eyes in my handbag to transform something for a giggle. I also love dancing, especially to fat dirty basslines, going to the beach, laying about in hammocks in the sunshine."
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