By Sarah Kuper
Finding happiness takes work. Just ask University of Alabama at Birmingham graduate student Ayushe Sharma.
Diagnosed with a serious illness in her mid-20s, Sharma was forced to take a break from medical school and seek treatment. After nearly two years weighed down emotionally and physically, Sharma decided to change her life by aggressively pursuing happiness. Now, she wants to help others in the area do the same.
Under Sharma’s guidance, a group called “The Happiness Project” is hosting bi-monthly meetings in Mountain Brook to help members focus on getting and staying happy.
“People have been through a lot. You see them in line at the grocery looking fine, but you have no idea what they are dealing with,” Sharma said.
Sharma will be leading the 70 members through “happy” healthy habits such as keeping a gratitude journal and achieving small, practical goals.
Some of Sharma’s goals for the new year are to set boundaries to protect her time, to declutter and to learn more about current events and finance. She also wants to laugh more.
The group is named after Gretchen Rubin’s 2009 book “The Happiness Project,” which is where Sharma’s journey started. Sharma read the book while she was sick and she decided to take action.
“I realized you have to find your happiness where you are and not wait until you get a certain salary, get out of a relationship or feel better physically,” Sharma said.
The book outlines how to concentrate on lifestyle changes that spark happiness and how to get rid of habits that deplete happiness. With Sharma’s educational background and research experience, a lot of what the author had to say made sense to her.
Sharma has an impressive alphabet of degrees that has led her to look at the psychology of happiness with an educated eye. A B.S. in psychology with a neuroscience concentration, coupled with a B.A. in philosophy has opened Sharma to the idea that a person must make a conscious effort to be happy. She said it takes work and dedication, but it is worth it.
While dealing with her illness, Sharma tried many tactics to find happiness. She said she stepped back and saw she had a hard time just being herself because she didn’t know who she truly was.
Now, through journaling, reading and meditating, Sharma says she has come closer to finding her identity. She started exercising more regularly but found that, even then, she needed to be more realistic in her approach.
“It took me years to figure out running doesn’t make me happy. So I don’t run,” she said. She said spinning is a healthier alternative for her because it doesn’t make her miserable.
Recently, Sharma’s health has improved and now she is ready to help others strive for happiness by leading “The Happiness Project” group. She already organizes a book club in town and was a leader on campus at UAB during her undergraduate years, so she said she is comfortable leading and encouraging others.
She said her educational background, dealing with her illness and researching happiness has led her to her best self. But some of the best advice Sharma has heard comes from her grandmother: “If a decision isn’t a ‘Hell yes!’ it’s a ‘Hell no!'”