What makes us happy?

We ask Hugh van Cuylenburg of ‘The Resilience Project’

We were so excited to sit down with Hugh van Cuylenburg recently, after being fans for years. Mental health is such an important issue, affecting almost all of us in some way. Hugh is the founder of ‘The Resilience Project’, an education program that has now reached over 300,000 Australians. In a world of uncertainty, meet Hugh van Cuylenburg, founder of The Resilience Project and beacon for improved mental health.


“Our key pillars for wellbeing are gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.”


What inspired you to start The Resilience Project?

Hugh: When my sister was 14 years old, she was diagnosed with an eating disorder and ever since that diagnosis, I have been fascinated by the question, “what makes us happy?” For me, on a basic level, I just wanted to make my mum and dad happy, and make sure my little brother was able to enjoy the happy childhood that I had experienced. It wasn’t, however, until 12 years later that I felt like I had a more complete answer to this question, after spending a few months living in a remote underprivileged community in the far north of India. I returned to Australia and commenced work on my own programs for schools which incorporated all that I had learnt in India. The Resilience Project was born.

“Social media is screaming at us that we must be perfect to be happy…”


One in five adults will experience mental ill-health throughout the year, which is a staggering statistic. Your mission is to help people become happier by teaching positive mental health strategies…

what are some strategies you would recommend?

Our key pillars for wellbeing are gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. The research says that by practicing these things, you improve your mental health and feel happier. Your mental health is like any other skill, if you want to be good at it, you have to practise. The good news is it’s not a huge time investment. The simple practice of writing down three things that went well for you, completing a daily breathing exercise and looking out for opportunities to be kind to other people is all it really takes to start to feel changes.


We’re huge fans of the Imperfects podcast (our favourite was the interview with Ryan) where you talk about topics which are often considered taboo and really need to be talked about. By discussing them openly you provide comfort as we are able to connect and realise we are all the same struggling in some way with our imperfect lives.

Which interview has provided you with the biggest lessons?

Thank you, that is very kind. It’s been a wonderful journey, working on The Imperfects podcast. We all struggle from time to time, we are all insecure… basically, no one is perfect. This modern world we live in however, is experiencing a perfectionist epidemic. Social media is screaming at us that we must be perfect to be happy. Our podcast is trying very hard to break that down. Anyway, I haven’t answered your question, I’ve just plugged the podcast! It’s a tough one to answer. I really love every person we have had on. Missy Higgins was a difficult one for me as I’ve had an enormous crush on her for a long time. If I had to choose one though, I think I would also choose Ryan’s episode. As well as being a very helpful interview for those struggling with issues around jealousy, lack of purpose, and battling insecurities, it was a really nice exploration of our friendship. From me unashamedly bailing him up in a cafe to take a selfie with him to where we are now, where I quite genuinely see him as one of my nearest and dearest friends. Why stop there. I love the man. He is a beauty.


“The food we put in our body has a massive impact on not only our physical wellbeing but also our mental wellbeing.”


You mention your sister’s diagnosis of anorexia nervosa as a teenager in your book, would you have any take-aways for dietitians when they are working with those individuals and families impacted by eating disorders?

Wow, what a beautiful question. I am so happy you asked this. I do actually have some advice for those of you who are working with people with eating disorders such as my sister’s. It’s pretty simple…. don’t take it personally if they don’t listen to you. They might smile and nod and say all the right things, but then completely disregard everything that you say. There is very little you can do when someone is truly in the grips of a horrific eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa. Not to say you don’t do all that you can to help them, but don’t get down on yourself if they are not listening.


There still seems to be some stigma about seeing a psychologist and we love that you are normalising this.

How do you think we can encourage Australians to see qualified health professionals including psychologists and dietitians?

Again, great question. Modelling behaviours is the most powerful way to impact on the people around us. Talk openly about the help that you are seeking to improve your life. We should all see a psychologist. Ryan Shelton (from the podcast, the man that I love) sees a psychologist. He’s not experiencing a mental illness, but wants to be a better version of himself. He views the consultations as a one-on-one lecture on psychology where he is the subject. We should all be seeing a nutritionist. The food we put in our body has a massive impact on not only our physical wellbeing but also our mental wellbeing. I spent four days on the Port Adelaide Football Club pre-season camp and I didn’t leave the poor nutritionist alone. I learnt so much from her that has helped to make my life so much better. You do great work guys! Keep it up.



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