While we would all like to follow the advice of the classic pick-me-up tune “Don’t worry – be happy,” that’s often easier said than done. But one Latvian has worked out a system for putting smiles on our faces.
Joy to the world
Whether it’s due to long winters, lingering Soviet resentments or something else, many foreign visitors have remarked on the glumness of Latvians. On the other hand, a popular folk song urges us to “put your sorrows under a rock and pass over them singing,” so the culture has a resilience beyond those sales assistants’ scowls.
Over the last decade, Inese Prisjolkova has been teaching her fellow Latvians to follow that brighter path. In countless seminars, books and media appearances, she has become the nation’s number one self-help guru, spreading a gospel of happiness through choosing what to think about.
“I discovered that it all depends on ourselves - the information we dwell on, what we feed our brains,” she says.
Searching for meaning
Born in Jelgava in 1968, Inese has always been a high achiever. She earned a doctorate in education, then had a career in youth work, as a UNESCO official and in hotel administration.
But she felt unsatisfied, and her body started telling her she was on the wrong path. She suffered an ischemic stroke which temporarily made her blind, as well as migraines, which continue to afflict her today.
As part of her recovery, Inese began what she calls “happiness therapy.” This involved transforming her attitudes and habits, which gradually altered her personal energy, attracted positive people and led to success in all kinds of areas.
“Living itself is happiness therapy,” she explains. “Notice when you’ re in a bad mood in the morning. You can carry it around for weeks or try to change it – by taking a shower, listening to music, jogging. But don’t just accept it or growl “don’t come near me!””
Inese felt so good that in 2009 she founded the enterprise “Pavasara studija” (Spring Studio) and began holding seminars for small groups in her Jūrmala home. The next year, her first book “Ieelpo laimi un mīlestību” (which has been translated into English with the title “Breathe in Happiness and Love”), became a best-seller. And for the next decade, she criss-crossed Latvia speaking at corporate events and town halls, as well as publishing over 20 books, calendars, diaries, games and other motivational materials.
She insists that what she teaches is a not just shallow “Hollywood smile” stuff. Instead, she urges people to find deep, tranquil joy by embracing the entire spectrum of their experience.
“You should enjoy your wedding! And your divorce!” she laughs. “It is equally important to appreciate both light and dark, because I am convinced that the soul’s mission is to turn darkness into light. “
This philosophy has seen her through harrowing loss. At age 46, after years of trying to start a family, she finally became pregnant with twin boys. But they were stillborn at 22 weeks.
With the support of husband Toms, she cultivated gratitude for having had the chance to meet her sons, however briefly. And she transformed the darkness inside her to grow into a different person.
“I thought I would die from grief,” she says. “But then I let my thoughts rise to heaven and let God bathe me in love, then I descended again to go through this experience. Like a deep-sea diver – taking a breath then plunging in.”
A few months later, she became pregnant again. Realising she was filled with fear of losing this child as well, she used affirmations to generate positive feelings and believe in a beautiful outcome.
Their son Kaspars is now five.
Women comprise the bulk of Inese’s audience and she is passionate about femininity, believing that women and men gain wholeness when they embrace innate characteristics. Women can succeed in business, politics or any other field, but they do best when they draw on their female resources rather than becoming entirely masculine.
And there’s plenty that men can learn from her insights. She says there is a plethora of techniques which can be employed in happiness therapy. For example, no matter how bad a situation might initially seem, you can get a fresh perspective by writing down 20 things you are gaining from it.
The pandemic has impacted on Inese’s plans. Her latest book “Septiņas saules” (also translated into English as “The Seven Suns”) about the role of the chakras in our lives has not been printed because pandemic policies forced the closure of bookshops for several months.
But while she misses travelling and meeting people, Inese has taken to the digital world like a duck to water. She gives online readings from her books and conducts webinars on many subjects, including a 100-day program to lose weight. Some of her audio books are available on iTunes and she is negotiating to get them on Amazon as well.
And getting off the road means more family time.
“Being at home allows me to really see Kaspars growing up, which is fantastic,” she says.
Asked what advice she has for others in these trying times, Inese repeats that we should take responsibility for our thoughts.
“If you start your morning watching the news about how many people are infected or have died or what restrictions there are, and you let that fear into yourself, then you can’t escape from it,” she says. “But if you pay less attention to what is happening outside and focus more on your own life, you can, within the prescribed limits, lead a good life. “
Disclosure: Philip Birzulis has worked as a translator on several of Inese’s books.