So THAT'S what everyone's been talking about!

Want to know what really happens inside Mark Sham’s HAPPINESS Workshop? I didn’t. But I work at The Tryst, so my colleagues made me. And guess what? Together with a large crowd of strangers, I left feeling inspired – and deeply touched.

I left feeling like I finally understood all the fuss around Mark Sham…

He did something very rare: he made a real connection with his audience.

Seriously, what’s the big deal about this guy?

I was a bit nervous for the workshop, I won’t lie. I’ve worked with Mark for about a month but had never seen him speak publicly. He struck me as passionate, in control, and unafraid of a challenge. But also… what’s the big deal about this guy?

Apparently, my brain decided that those traits – along with his healthy physique – meant Mark was some sort of slavedriver. I say this, because the night before, I dreamed that I was at the workshop and Mark was making us use thick Crossfit-like ropes to pull ourselves up a steep wooden ramp, which had chunks gouged out of it.

In my dream, I somehow managed (in that surreal ‘this-is-the-longest-moment-ever’ way that dreams have perfected) to pull myself up the hard, scratchy structure. I swung my feet up and they landed on top – the place you then needed to stand on in order to slide down in a swoosh of victory. But as I was trying to gain purchase and steady myself, I lost my footing and fell. The height felt nightmarish and the fall felt cataclysmic. You know how heart-stopping those dream-falls are!

But what’s interesting is that although I felt deep shame as I was falling, I was also strategising mid-air about how to do better next time. #overachiever

So, how did reality match up with the dream? Terribly. The HAPPINESS Workshop was way harder than a Crossfit class and the delusion of ‘strategising’ flew – no, jettisoned – out the window as soon as Mark began to speak.

“Man plans and God laughs.” – So true Mark.

“Are you happy?” Why is that such a hard question?

It’s chilly but people start arriving early. When I greet them, I see that they’re professional people, wrapped stylishly in scarves and with a gleam in their eyes. They’ve carved out time for this. They’ve committed. They’re here on a Saturday – in the freaking blizzard – to make time and space to sit with the hard stuff…

Little did they, and I, know just how hard it would be.

"My life took a left turn to desitation f*cked."

As I sit at the back, I notice how quiet – and attentive – everyone is. Their eyes are on Mark as he paces the stage and, early on, delves into some very real, very raw stuff. They seem a bit nervous, a bit apprehensive. Like me.

“I’m talking to you human to human. Give me the space to antagonise you…
I just want to talk about the shit we won’t talk about,” he says.

The air in the room is still and sombre.

Mark talks about how life has never been more complex – and yet no-one has ever taught us how to deal with the complexity. He goes into the stats around death by suicide and opioid abuse and how they’ve skyrocketed. He talks about the education system and how thoroughly it’s failing our country’s children. There’s silence.

Then Mark says, “Thank fuck for Pythagoras; that really helped me during Covid-19!” and the room bursts into roars of laughter. Phew, comedic relief when we need it!

“I don’t think you can be happy if you can’t question your stories,” Mark says.

Here’s Mark’s theory: We all have a bastard roommate living in our heads. And this roommate is the mouthpiece for the stories we tell ourselves. Most of these stories are incredibly nuanced and believable. And most of them don’t serve us. He reckons we need to figure out which ones do and which ones don’t.

In a nutshell, then, HAPPINESS is directly related to the quality of the stories we tell ourselves.

“You’re a f*cking legend”

Before a break, Mark asks if anyone wants to share. Some brave soul stands up:

“My roommate is telling me I’m not going to be able to say this properly,” she says. We all laugh. Because we know exactly what she means.

We do all that voice in our head telling us stories: You’re not good enough, you’re going to fail, no-one loves you. You know that roommate, right? You know those stories. And here’s the clincher: Most of those stories aren’t even ours to begin with!

But there’s hope because, according to Mark, we don’t have to treat everything the roommate says as true or real.

Each time someone shares, the room is respectful. A handsomely dressed man stands up next (the sort of guy you look at and think, “Man, that guy’s got it all figured out…”). He shares his recent struggles with anxiety and depression and talks about seeking help from psychiatrists and psychologists. He’s trying to figure out what his stories are. Where they’re from. Whether they’re real. Whether he can begin to disbelieve them. If the room could get any quieter, it does. Yes, this guy is a fucking legend, Mark, we agree.

“Why do I say ‘shit’? Cos sometimes ‘Oh Dickens!’ just doesn’t cover it.”

We enjoy the coffee break, clasping the cups with our hands and trying to warm up. Some get a choccie or a breakfast bun (yum!). When we return, I can feel the mood is lighter. Strangers are chatting to each other and already Mark has created…something. I can’t quite name it but it’s special, whatever it is.

Great, so we know we have this roommate and we know that sometimes they’re our worst enemy. Now what? Mark gives some tips, thank Gawd, on how to spot this pest and how to start writing our OWN narrative.

An old story of Mark’s? “There’s no such thing as one drink.”

“Jeez, I got wrecked based on that one,” he says. And we laugh. But it’s subdued. He’s gotten into some very real and deep territory. And again the room is contemplative. Now, this is where my position as a colleague of Mark’s comes in: I see him up there, being raw, being real, and I know that that’s him. It’s not an act.

Mark covers a variety of ideas – many of which we know to be true, like the importance of rest, good nutrition and movement. But it’s the way Mark brings these concepts together that’s so insightful. And his brilliance goes beyond that, because, actually, the real magic – the real ‘value’ – is how he helps us experience and feel them. So that afterwards, we’ll act on these insights.

“We’re out of practice with sharing our emotions.”

The final exercise is sheer brilliance. There’s not a dry eye in the room when we’re done and so much of what Mark’s conveyed is beautifully encompassed in this one exercise: gratitude, sitting with the hard stuff, and prioritising mental health.

As we stand up, I can feel the sleepy warmth in the room. It’s that kind of feeling you have after a cathartic cry or a cuddle with a loved one. It’s the kind of feeling that says: We’re all fucking legends. And we can do this.

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