Don’t worry, be happy (here’s how)

In the new book The Geography of Bliss, journalist Eric Weiner dubs Asheville “the happiest place” in America. Not to be outdone, ABC news show 20/20 investigated happiness as well, naturally turning to an Asheville resident for an expert opinion. In an online article, “What Makes People Happy?” the TV show interviewed painter Jonas Gerard. Anyone who’s met the gleefully flamboyant artist can attest that he knows a thing or two about bliss. “I am allowing the flow to come through me, and I am allowing the energy to direct my life,” he said.

If you’re happy and you know it: Sara McIntosh leads a local workshop on keeping a smiling face.

But even if you’re not tapped into “the flow,” you, too, can bliss out—perhaps generating your own prime-time coverage and best-seller status. In fact, anyone can be happy, insists Chicago-based personal-growth trainer Sara McIntosh. “I believe they have everything they need inside themselves to access this information,” she says.

Even though Asheville is reportedly awash in joy already, McIntosh will lead the first-ever Conscious Freedom Intensive course here this weekend, a workshop she’s created along with fellow trainer Spyder Carneol. “I love Asheville,” she tells Xpress. “When I’ve visited there, it’s a vibrant community. It’s a perfect place to start the program.”

The Conscious Freedom Intensive is a two-day interactive workshop where, according to a press release for the event, attendees “gain the tools and inspirations to access the natural state of happiness and well-being that is already inside of you.”

McIntosh describes her work as “uncovering unconscious negativity.” She claims that her experience and training as a hypnotherapist allow her to access a “mind map,” a sort of global-positioning system for the psyche. This understanding of how the mind works—the stuff of lectures by the likes of Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay—aims to allow individuals to break self-sabotaging habits and rise to their potential.

Of course, the mere idea that we should be happy is relatively new. Many of us grew up with maxims like “No pain, no gain,” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “Into each life some rain must fall.” Murphy’s law wasn’t created by Pollyannas. But McIntosh points out that there have long been professionals pushing personal-growth exploration. The Mayo Clinic advocated positive thinking for stress management; Norman Vincent Peale introduced the world to the faith-based concept of living life to the fullest; and mind-body guru Deepak Chopra gave us Power, Freedom, and Grace: Living from the Source of Lasting Happiness, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire and Whispers of Spirit & Happiness. Even Arts and Crafts movement booster and Roycroft founder Elbert Hubbard quotably stated, “Positive anything is better than negative thinking” most of a century ago.

But happiness as manifest destiny is a fairly new concept. “Recently, with movies like What the Bleep Do We Know!? and The Secret coming out through the larger media, and Oprah’s involvement with The Secret exposed these ideas to a larger group than just the New Age community,” McIntosh explains.

The latter is a film and self-help book about the law of attraction (in which adherents use positive visualization to draw wealth, success and romance into their lives). McIntosh builds on that concept. “I feel like the Conscious Freedom Intensive is a step beyond other programs because of the information about how your mind works,” McIntosh says. “We can actually decide what our mind gives us instead of having to deal with what a mind delivers.”

She adds, “There’s a state of mind I associate with conscious freedom, a sense of joy. We’re such a chemical factory. Every thought creates a chemical reaction in the body.”

McIntosh envisions the workshop as one involving humor and fun. While it’s available to anyone with interest, she describes the ideal candidate as “the individual who has done some personal-growth work and is intrigued by their own human potential.”

who: The Conscious Freedom Intensive
what: Weekend-long personal-growth workshop geared toward accessing happiness
where: Mystic Journeys (333 Merrimon Ave.)
when: Saturday, May 31, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, June 1, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ($225. E-mail sara@reachacademics.com or call (312) 608-6788.)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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