Marie-Claire Ashcroft is a Happiness Ninja. Dotty Winters isn’t sure what that is but she wants one.
I first met Marie-Claire Ashcroft (Maz) as a photographer a few years ago. She’s an irrepressibly cheerful ball of fizz and energy and whenever I’ve bumped into her she’s been sprinkling silliness in her wake.
Spotting her at an event would instantly make me feel better about being there and we once had a very nice canalside walk in tutus (I can’t remember why). So, when I heard about her new venture, as a self-appointed ‘Happiness Ninja’, I wasn’t even slightly surprised, but I wanted to find out more.
So Maz, you are a Happiness Ninja these days… what is one of those?
Some people go through life with their shoulders hunched up round their ears, and they aren’t aware of that tension. Sometimes, it takes someone pushing on your shoulders to make you notice that you’re carrying all that unprocessed emotion. We hold onto things we could and should let go of. Tears are like farts – better out than in.
We can spend a long time chasing the idea of happiness based on other people’s ideas of what will make us happy. Once you are out of the vortex you can do good for other people. You can make way more difference to others when you stop giving a shit about this story you tell yourself about not being good enough.
I started the Happiness Ninja as a membership organisation to help people see their lives differently, help people to have more fun, more adventures and more magic.
What made you decide to make this change?
Things got really bad for me a few years back. I have been living with depression and anxiety for years and I got to a stage where I just wasn’t feeling anything. I was chasing happiness but I didn’t know what it was or where to find it.
One day I decided to try meditating, and I got the strangest feeling. It felt like a toddler was sitting on my chest. The feeling wouldn’t go away – it was constantly there. I started to wonder if the feeling had always been there, and I just hadn’t noticed. I put my hand on my chest and realised I was feeling pain. I burst into tears and just cried all these snotty, dramatic tears out.
It was the very first case of emotional baggage I had unpacked in a really long time. I committed to going back and trying to understand and discover more about myself, and allowing myself to feel things.
“One sleepless night I had a bolt of stupid, raw, divine inspiration – I dared myself to be happy.”
It took me 30 years to understand that every decision I made in my life was about making people like me, and not rocking the boat.
For too long I couldn’t see the impact I had on people; I couldn’t see the evidence that people loved me. I just heard this imposter cunt in my head. I wanted to help other people to learn to live better with the cunt in their heads and not let this voice stop them finding their own happiness.
Wow, I’ve always thought of you as such as happy person. I didn’t know that you were feeling that.
Most people who meet me think I am super-confident, happy and don’t give a toss, but it’s not really this way inside, but lots of people are like that.
As a photographer, I specialised in photographing events, nights out, club nights and occasions. I was always at the centre of a party. Photography felt like a visual gratitude diary – it helped me remember the good things, and in my own life it helped me access memories and process emotions.
People would tell me I was awesome, but I was shy and scared and I couldn’t hear it. It’s only now that I can see that I was having a positive effect on people.
You embarked on a journey to find your own happiness?
Kind of. It took a while. I had a bereavement, a bit of a breakdown, went into self-sabotage mode, wrecked some friendships, and threw myself harder into doing the things other people thought should make me happy. Then, one sleepless night I had a bolt of stupid, raw, divine inspiration – I dared myself to be happy.
I decided to share my story. I felt like suddenly I could see behind these masks we all wear. Suddenly I had an inbuilt bullshit detector and I knew that it was possible for people to change how they live.
The first thing I’d say is that if we want any year to be happier it’s worth trying to work out what would need to happen and what our part is in making that so. Aside from that, my top tips are:
• Learn gratitude. You notice more of what you focus on. Searching for good things in life will help you find more good things to be grateful for.
• Adopt a belief that life is working in your favour, not against. Look at life as successes and lessons – that way you can’t lose.
• Have emotions. Tune into them – they are your on-board GPS. If something feels shit, work out why. It might be a warning sign.
• Have more fun. It’s not just for kids. Be silly.
• Share, be generous, give things, commit random acts of kindness whenever you can.
• Forgiveness is important. Learn to let things go; don’t let people live rent-free in your head.
• My friend Richard Wilkins said on Twitter that we should “duck from the poo”. I love that concept. If someone throws shit at you, duck; don’t catch it and throw it back. That way, only one of the two of you has shit on their hands.
• Focus on your strengths. Knowing what you are good at and accepting that you are good at things is an act of rebellion.
• Ban the word ‘should’. That’s other people’s expectations, not yours.
• Ignore the cunt in your head. It’s not real.
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Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.