Episode #39: Hugh van Cuylenburg Speaks on Gratitude, Empathy, and Mindfulness

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Our guest today travelled all the way to the far northern parts of India where he had a life changing realisation of what it takes to be truly happy. He joins us today to talk about what he discovered and how he’s been working ever since to share the secret with the world.

The founder of The Resilience Project, author and host of the The Imperfects Podcast, Hugh van Cuylenburg grew up in a happy, stable family in Melbourne, Australia. As a teenager, his younger sister was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa which ravaged his whole family and he started searching for ways to find happiness. His journey led him to a small community in India with no water, no electricity, the poorest of conditions and the happiest people he had ever met.

In this episode, Hugh shares about his experience teaching in India and what he discovered to be their secret to staying happy when they had so little. Boiling it down to three core principles of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness, Hugh now spends his time teaching and training others how to implement these methods into their own lives so they can live more happy and fulfilling lives.

Hugh talks about how we can learn from the community in India by appreciating things as they happen and shares some practical tools for how to incorporate gratitude into our everyday lives. He shares his thoughts on what we are doing wrong as a society, the impact of social media and the fact that we spend too much time thinking about the future and worrying about the past.

There isn’t a soul on earth who wouldn’t benefit from this episode. Hugh’s down to earth and open disposition will leave you feeling inspired to think about the things that really matter and make some practical steps toward true happiness in your life.


[4:30]: How as a teenager, Hugh’s sister was diagnosed with anorexia which deeply affected his entire family. He realised that they weren’t happy anymore and started questioning what made people happy.

[6:15]: At age 28, Hugh began volunteer teaching in a small community in the far north of India and didn’t want to stay for the 2 full weeks because the conditions were so poor

[7:20]: How Hugh met a kid who was the happiest person he’d met so he decided to stay as long as it took to work out what made him so happy so he could share it with his sister

[8:30]: The community did 3 things every day which Hugh studied when he got back to Melbourne so that he could teach it to other people: gratitude, empathy and mindfulness

[9:30]: Hugh started teaching these things to his students and made a massive impact so he decided to take it around to other schools

[11:20]: Hugh talks about the little boy who showed him what real gratitude looks like and how he stopped to take in the moment whenever he enjoyed something

[13:10]: How COVID taught Hugh that a lot of us take things for granted 

[14:30]: Gratitude takes practise. Instead of asking yourself what you’re grateful for, write down 3 things that went well in your day. It can get boring if you’re repeating yourself.

[15:30]: By doing this practise every day, it rewires your brain to look for the good

[17:25]: How Hugh felt the pressure to be ok during lockdown but it’s unhealthy to pretend and it’s normal to be struggling. 

[18:50]: Do your best to get into a habit but don’t get down on yourself if you don’t do it every day.

[20:10]: How deep down so many of us feel like we’re not worthy of love and affection

[21:50]: Research says that we spend a large portion of our day thinking about the future and the past but we need to focus on what’s happening right now. Social media and devices pull us away from the present.

[23:00]: So many of us live by the “If and then” model of happiness. This makes us look at the things we don’t have and feel like we won’t be happy until we get it. 

[24:30]: Try not to tie your identity up in things that are external but things that are internal. Joy and happiness comes from doing things for other people.

[26:00]: What parents can do for their kids to teach them resilience - we have to let them fail and make mistakes and fight their own battles.

[29:30]: How Hugh’s sister is now doing really well and is a great advocate for gratitude, empathy and mindfulness 


Instagram: @hughvancuylenburg 


The Imperfects Podcast

Finding Happiness Through Gratitude, Empathy & Mindfulness

Thanks for listening to another episode of It Ain’t Weak to Speak with Sam Webb. Please rate the show and leave a review if you enjoyed it. 

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