HUGH MILES, 26, wants to see your smiles. Founder of 'Pocket Smiles', Hugh has created a small book that has the sole purpose to make your day better. Using his own experiences of battling mental health, the consequence of a shocking accident where he was coward punched on a night out, Hugh has turned adversity into an incredible advocacy project. Pocket Smiles is as likely to put a smile on your face, as it is to make a difference to mental health across Australia.
TOM DUNN: Who is Hugh Miles
HUGH MILES: I’ve done 26 space laps, I’m 1/4 marine creature, like to make things like surfboards, art, music and adventure fun times, I’m a part time mental health advocate, business owner, tour guide, and a real go getter, with a run on sentence problem...
TD: To start with a bit of context for the readers, what’s you history with mental health?
HM: Here we go!
World Mental Health Day 2015 I was coward punched by some bozo at a friends party on the Goldcoast QLD. I was left with a mild haemorrhage on my brain and a killer head ache. I left hospital and assumed life would go back to normal. Soon after I started to notice a difference in my behaviour, and mood. Also, I lost my sense of smell for a few years... Highs were higher and lows were lower. I had a lot of trouble with memory and concentration, and planning was really hard. After a month or so I experienced my first anxiety attack, which you can only know how much they suck if you’ve had one. I’ve had them to the point where I've punched 000 into my phone, ready to call, because it was so painful. Then the depression kicked in and stuck around like a shadow for a few months. It got to rock bottom and I was sick of it.
At rock bottom you’ve only really got 2 options. I chose to learn about this thing “Mental Heath” and try and turn this thing around. I knew I was worth it. Without really thinking about it as a decision, I became more vulnerable to the people around me, to professional help, and towards myself. Until then it felt like I had been breathing in, and in, and in for so long, and that was the start of the breath out.
Over the next few weeks/months I learnt more about mental health, mindfulness and trained my brain to recover from the damage that had been done. The biggest surprise that I found was how much information there is out there and how accessible it is, but no one seemed to know much about it, and if they did, they didn’t seem willing to talk about it. Such an important topic and no one addresses it. That’s where I saw an opportunity to do something about it. I didn’t want anyone I know or love to have to go through something even close to what I had if there was something that could be done.
TD: What is 'Pocket Smiles' and where did the idea come from?
HM: Oh-O I sense a pitch coming...
Pocket Smiles is a not for profit mental health awareness campaign that is designed to make people smile. Even the term “mental health” is daunting to a lot of people. We aim to break mental health down into it’s most simple and pure form -smiling. Smiling (even forced or fake) releases chemicals in our brain that make us feel good, and if it is genuine it enhances the feeling of happiness while also being contagious.
Pocket Smiles is a A6 pocket book filled with jokes, quotes, things to try, and art designed to make you smile. Every joke and quote is accompanied by a custom artwork from a different artist. Currently we have brought together 50 different artists that are contributing to Pocket Smiles. We are proving that happiness is not the end destination of a long hard road but rather moment to moment and sometimes all it takes is a smile :)
The idea came from a series of events that started with one day in 2018. I had to do a rescue in the surf that ended up being unsuccessful, the guy had a heart attack and died before we could get him in. That night I had a friend visit and we talked about life and what is really important. We talked about how if you’re doing something you don’t enjoy you’ll never do as good of a job as something that you’re passionate about. That in it’s self creates more opportunities (He had just pushed aside a career in engineering to buy a van and go rock climbing. I got word literally yesterday that he just got a great job that somehow involves both and is happy as Larry!). Feeling very inspired the following day I wrote “How to make my life my job.” I started a mind map below it and wrote down my 4 favourite things: Creativity, Adventure, Surfing, and Helping People.
I wanted to put together another mental health awareness campaign because I had such a great experience doing my first one.
As mentioned above there is so much information out there around mental health that you can get lost in it. The most helpful tool that I learnt to help with my mental health was to re direct thoughts through mindfulness and learning how to be present.
“You have brains in you head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” Dr. Seuss
So with my knowledge of mental health and direction from the mind map I came to the idea that I wanted to make people smile through a book that included art and jokes that could help with mental health awareness.
TD: Many people have ideas but what was your drive to action? What made you go from having an idea to preparing for production?
HM: I really don’t think about things too much haha. If I like the sounds of something and it kinda makes sense I’m going to do it.
This comes from a combination of inspiration from a few big adversities I’ve faced and probably listening to too much punk rock as a kid.
I’d rather dream big now, rather than later in life when I have more to hold me back. There’s less risk now when I’m young and broke.
TD: You've previously raised $10k for mental health with your 'Death to Goldilocks' campaign. Tell us about the campaign and what was your takeaway from that experience?
HM: ‘Death of Goldilocks’ came from the recovery from my incident and wanting to share what I had learnt about mental health with the people around me.
I shaved my long, blonde locks off that I was at the time recognised for to symbolise shedding the protective layers and being vulnerable.
I had so many amazing friends, family and businesses get behind me and was shocked to double the original goal of $5000.
Big shout out to Emily founder of the Serotonin Dealer in Burnley, Melbourne. Without her it wouldn't have been possible.
My takeaway from that was it was the most happy, positive experience of my life.
TD: You’re working with a handful of amazing artists for Pocket Smiles. How did they get involved and what do you hope they’ll bring to the project?
HM: All the artists have been exposed to me on over different platforms... wait, that doesn’t sound good...
Some of the artists I’m friends with, some are friends of friends, some I’ve discovered as the book has been in development and some I have been fans of for a long time. Social media makes it super easy to find and get in contact with everyone. Having a large group of creative people involved helps with getting the word out. All of the artists involved have a following and a different outlet to spread the message in a creative way. It’s a lot more interesting than reading it in a scientific study.
TD: What have been your biggest ups and downs so far through the Pocket Smiles process?
HM: There are SO MANY Ups!! The two best are:
1. I get to work with all my favourite artists! Everyone that has donated I am a fan of. Some of the artists I have only recently discovered but some of them I have been avidly following since I was pre-teens. Sharing messages with your hero's is one thing, but having them put together a custom one-off artwork for your project makes me feel like luckiest guy in the world!
2. I have had so many amazing conversations with friends, family, and even complete strangers about the topic of mental health. I have people saying that they have felt comfortable talking to me about it because of my approach to the topic. The purpose of this project is to get people talking and to raise awareness, so it is a reminder that I am actually making a difference.
Only down is that this is a not for profit project.(not that bit).
I don’t make much as it is to pay the bills so it has taken a lot longer than I originally planned. I like giving things 100% and it has unfairly taken time away from other life commitments.
TD: Pocket Smiles is a 'not for profit' project and you've chosen to support LIVIN through Pocket Smiles. Why LIVIN, and how will your initiative impact their organisation?
HM: Erm.. you suggested them haha
Livin’s purpose is to ‘break the stigma’. They focus on education and prevention around mental health which is what I’m all about. They seemed keen to help out too. Some of the other organisations I talked to, their funding was going towards the help-lines (phone call services) which is obviously an amazing and worthy cause but in someways is where someone ends up at the end of their mental health journey.
For this project I’d rather raise funds for prevention. The funds raised for Livin is going towards their education programs in schools, so that they can reach schools that don’t have the funding to provide this service themselves.
TD: What would make you consider your efforts a success?
HM: Honestly it already is. Spreading awareness of the benefits of smiling and mental health is all I set out to do, so anything else is a bonus. To maximise the message is the next step by getting the book out to the public and spreading the message even further.
TD: You mentioned earlier about the benefits of smiling. What is it about humour that's so good for mental health?
HM: Pocket Smiles is based on the science that smiling makes you feel better. It releases endorphins and serotonin that tell your mind that you are happy. The more we smile the better we feel. Humour makes things approachable. Humour boosts mood and diminishes pain, It makes you feel better and more connected. Humour is a great ice breaker to topics that we might be uncomfortable with, just look at comedians! Humour creates a positive emotion that you can share with someone when talking about something serious rather than a negative emotion.
Frida Kahlo - “Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light.”
TD: In your opinion what is the most important thing relating to mental health?
HM: Great question! It is hard to give one answer.
I try to keep to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) when it comes to mental health. I try to simplify situations to figure out where I should really be channeling my thoughts. Mental health is one tier of our Wellbeing. We also have physical health and spiritual health. There are models that have more tiers but I think of it as 'Mind, Body, Soul'. I think the most important thing is to be vulnerable to yourself to understand which aspects you may need to focus on. It’s all a balancing act.
TD: What can we expect to see from Pocket Smiles and yourself in the coming 12 months?
HM: This book will be finished and I will be trying to get it as far and wide as possible.
I’ve also started a Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health course through University of Sydney. Then I will be focusing on my surf tour business - Dreaming Since.
TD: What advice would you give someone who had their own idea for an initiative but weren't sure how to take it to the next step?
HM: Keep it simple! Solve each problem as they come and don’t look back. No better time than now.
TD: Any final thoughts to leave us with?
HM: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” - Dalai Lama
Get in touch with Hugh Miles
Facebook - @pocketsmiles.vol.1
Instagram - @pocketsmiles.vol.1
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: @kickbackdesign
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