Women on the Rise: Meet Nataly Kogan, CEO of Happier
Happiness is all the rage. We’ve got Pharrell singing about it, New York Times best-selling author, Gretchen Rubin, making money off of it, and even Stanford Business School offering a course dedicated to it. But it’s hard not to be a bit of a curmudgeon with all of this happy talk because, as we know, happiness can be elusive.
The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by the year 2020, depression will be, after heart disease, the second most debilitating disease around the world and by 2030 it will be number one. Given this sobering news, what can we do to get more happiness in our lives?
The answer, according to Nataly Kogan, co-founder and CEO of Happier, a digital wellness company, might not be as elusive as it seems.
“The science is in and the solutions are readily available to us,” said Kogan. “While there is no silver bullet to finding happiness, it’s really more simple than people think.”
According to Kogan, research has shown that happiness lies in committing to a daily practice of gratitude, having meaningful positive experiences, and sharing those experiences with others.
In other words, it lies within the Happier App.
Kogan, along with her co-founder, Colin Plamondon, launched Happier in 2012. Since then, they’ve managed to raise over $4 million in venture capital funding in an effort to build a lifestyle brand dedicated to happiness.
They started with the Happier App which enables people to collect and post small things that make them happy. People can share their day-to-day happy moments with photos and status updates. These can be as simple as a cuddle with their dog, an “atta-girl” from their boss, or a bite of their favorite dessert. Others can then “smile” and comment back to them. It’s like Facebook for the Happiness movement.
“Life is filled with all kinds of moments,” said Kogan. “If you can develop a mind-set that allows you to pause and appreciate the happy ones, you will be happier. I know this is true. I’ve done it myself.”
It all started when Kogan had, what she calls, her “Holy Crap” moment.
“It was the winter of 2012. I had spent two decades chasing the American Dream; doing a lot, achieving a lot, and making a lot of money. But I was burnt out and still desperately unhappy,” said Kogan. “I did extensive research and realized I had been doing it all wrong. I was chasing some non-existent form of happiness and missing all of the moments that made up my life. So, I changed my outlook and then I started this company so others could changes theirs.”
It all looks so easy, but Kogan doesn’t come by her happy as easy as some. As a Jew, she was forced to leave Soviet Russia in 1989 at the age of thirteen. “Between my parents and me, we had six suitcases and $600,” said Kogan. “We also had visions of freedom and so it only made sense for us to come to America.”
Kogan and her family moved to a housing project in Ipsalante, Michigan, right outside of Detroit. They lived on food stamps and clothing picked up at the local Goodwill. She learned English by watching television and listening to her teachers as they corrected her grammar and those of her mostly African-American classmates.
“The pain of what my family went through was so intense, I vowed I was going to live my life happy. I believed in ego-driven happiness based on achievement-driven success so I committed to being successful,” said Kogan.
She managed to graduate third out of 900 in her high school class and went to Wesleyan on a full scholarship. She graduated from there with the highest honors and got a job at McKinsey, the prestigious consulting company renowned for only hiring the “best and brightest.” Eventually, Kogan became a venture capitalist investing in a number of successful companies including Constant Contact, which went public in 2007.
But, she wasn’t happy.
Kogan shifted gears, wrote a book, launched a publishing company and then she went to Harvard Business School. After that, she joined Microsoft, working in it’s FUSE Labs division focusing on mobile solutions. She was recruited to join WHERE.com and when that was acquired by PayPal, Kogan decided to start her own company, WorkIt Mom!. She grew that company, claiming it quickly become the largest an online community for professional mothers.
But still, she wasn’t happy.
In her widely shared TEDx talk, Kogan said, “After two decades of chasing The Big Happy, I wasn’t happy at all. I was mostly exhausted. I needed a different approach and I realized I wasn’t alone.”
The richest data available on happiness comes from the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, a survey of Americans conducted since 1972. After 40 years of research, they attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values. In brief, 48% of happiness is genetic, 10% relates to isolated events at any given time (circumstances), which means we can control 40% of our happiness. That’s a lot of room to wiggle with, according to Kogan.
“We can’t always control what happens to us,” said Kogan, “but we can control our perspective.”
And that’s where Happier comes in. Today, the company claims to have 600,000 registered users who have engaged in over 4 million happy moments delivering 8 million “smiles” (similar to “Likes” on Facebook). The company has also launched online, bite-sized courses to help spread the happy.
For $14.99 you can listen to Deepak Chopra expound in a course called The Happier Resolution or for just $4.99 fashion guru, Carson Kressley, will give you a Happiness Makeover. The courses typically last no more than two weeks and can be repeated at no additional cost. According to Kogan, over 55,000 courses have been downloaded.
Happier community members are effusive in their appreciation for the company and what it has created. One Happier customer recently wrote, “I am so thankful and grateful that Nataly created this idea and concept and turned it into the amazing life changing app that it is… I drank the Happier Koolaid and will never stop drinking it. EVER.”
Kogan says she constantly gets these effusive messages. “What I’ve come to realize,” she said, “is that what I think we are really looking for is not actually happiness, but rather, hope. The first thing you have to feel is that it is possible to make change in your life. Once you have that, you have the true foundation for finding your very own Big Happy.”
A version of this article originally appeared on Smashd