Drugs, stress, tech sabotage American happiness

Betsy PickleFarragut, Get Up & Go

When the annual World Happiness Report came out last week, Alexia Georghiou wasn’t surprised to see that the United States was ranked 19th, down one place from the previous year, in citizens’ ranking of happiness.

“They cited that the United States isn’t doing so well as other countries because of the drug-abuse problem,” she says.

The No. 1 happy country, for the second year in a row, is Finland.

Alexia Georghiou

“They state that they’re very connected with nature, and that’s their key to happiness,” says Georghiou. “Actually, on their country website, they say, ‘While the rest of you go to therapy, we put on our boots and seek out nature.’”

Most Americans have access to nature, but too many choose to spend time on their tech devices instead.

“We are stressed,” says Georghiou, who describes herself as a happiness coach (“life coach is overused”). “We are so linked to our technology. We all need to take a step away and allow ourselves to play, allow ourselves to breathe and to take a minute. Even throughout our day, research is showing, take a 10-minute break; you’re going to be more productive. Your brain is going to relax. It’s going to feel more positive. You are going to be able to get back to work and increase that creativity and productivity because you took that break.”

Americans tend to read things like the Happiness Report, roll their eyes, and then return to their usual routine. Georghiou is trying to do something about it.

The daughter of immigrants, she spoke only Greek until she started school. The self-described optimist graduated from Farragut High School and then went to the University of Tennessee, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in social work.

She went to Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma to obtain a master’s in Christian counseling and a teaching ministry diploma and then lived in Florida before making her way back to Knoxville.

Her purpose in life became clear to her about a year ago when her faith, studies and training converged. She discovered Positive Psychology, pioneered by Dr. Martin Seligman, and formed the company Life Betterment Through God as an umbrella for her professional and community work.

She contracts with companies to coach employees to improve their work-life balance and teaches Positive Psychology and Positive Christianity in a class. She also leads a weekly support group that uses principles taught in the class.

Georghiou says her own heritage – and the impressions left on her as a young person by the multicultural 1982 World Fair – have made her welcoming to people of all cultures and religions. But her Christian faith is crucial to her life, and she says research on people who live close to their faith – whatever it is – shows that practitioners are “optimistic, and that leads to hope. Research says we are happier.”

One of her favorite tools is gratitude.

“God, in scripture, says, ‘In everything give thanks.’ He doesn’t say, ‘For everything give thanks.’ But he says, whatever you’re going through, give thanks.”

Studies using sMRIs (rather than traditional Magnetic Resonance images) over the past 10 years at major universities “have shown that when we give thanks and show gratitude, our brain is rewired. Let’s focus on that, and let’s help Christians live their faith with gratitude, get closer to God, and that will foster the ultimate happiness.”

Happiness coaching is a new concept, she says, but even some governments are embracing the importance of happiness.

“Not our government,” Georghiou says, “but United Arab Emirates, Australia and even the UK have enlisted the government to study happiness and the wellbeing of their citizens.”

This year, she launched the Knoxville Happiness Coalition.

“It’s a collaborative effort among everyone who’s interested in happiness,” she says. “We’re all alphas in the field of happiness to pioneer what is on our hearts. Every month we have guest speakers talking about their own happiness, what fosters happiness, giving tips and talking about their own business … We support one another with that and look at how we can all collaborate. It’s not faith based; it’s open to everyone.”

Read Georghiou’s article on Knoxville’s resilience during the recent flooding.

Read her eventbrite profile and find out about her well-being opportunities.


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