Goldie Hawn is an actress and comedienne much admired by many of us. Her infectious smile and good humour has delighted the world for decades. So it’s difficult to imagine her unable to experience joy.
Yet in 1972, when she was at the height of early fame, Ms Hawn has talked of how she lost her signature laugh. Stress and anxiety left her on edge, she has said, and sent her on a nine-year journey of exploration into psychology, meditation and neuroscience in an attempt to understand what was happening in her mind.
Even as she regained her sangfroid, however, Ms Hawn stayed fascinated in how human brains are affected by emotional stresses and strains. And after 9/11, alarmed by the rise in US teenagers being medicated out of their fears and depression, she commissioned scientists to create a programme which could be used in schools as an alternative to dispensing prescriptions. Moreover, the educational system had to be prophylactic too, building the sort of healthy self-esteem and cognitive understanding in the young which would last a lifetime. On Goldie’s watch, no one else would lose their laugh in hard times.
The scheme which she helped to developed is called MindUP; it has been validated by academics and is now studied across the US and Canada and in the UK too. Ms Hawn is giving a talk about her work in London this month for the Pure Land Foundation at China Exchange, a programme of events designed to enrich lives through creativity, spirituality and self-expression.
One of the key elements of the 15-stage MindUP programme is “brain breaks” – moments of mindfulness and wordless breathing exercises which Ms Hawn also encourages parents to do with their children at home.
“Sit with your children for 10 minutes a day,” she urges in her book 10 Mindful Minutes. “Focus on your breathing, then ask your children to sit comfortably with their hands in their lap, and close their eyes.”
Ms Hawn also encourages families to engage in “mindful listening”, which requires parents to collect a variety of familiar household items (pencils, papers, coins), put them in a pot, then shake the pot and ask children to focus on the sound that makes.
Interestingly, Ms Hawn has passed on her passion for mindfulness to her own daughter, the actress Kate Hudson, who has written a book, Pretty Happy: Healthy Ways to Love Your Body. “During one particularly difficult time in my life,” Ms Hudson said recently, “when I was feeling overwhelmed, it was meditation that brought me back to me. At the time, a tough decision left me feeling completely upended. I could not stop my mind from racing. I could barely sleep. And I felt trapped by my anxiety.
“My mom told me to just start simply, by calming down and bringing awareness to my breaths,” Hudson added. “She told me to follow my breaths in and out, remembering that the thoughts would come, but to just watch them pass, and to always come back to a simple breath.”
Those techniques – which combine what is best in ancient philosophy and cutting edge neuroscience – have passed through the Hawn family, and are now shared via MindUP around the world. Ms Hawn’s gift is not just to make us laugh, but also truly to be happy.