MGSE academic shares expertise in new documentary, How to Thrive.

- Associate Professor Peggy Kern

Associate Professor Peggy Kern from the Centre for Wellbeing Science at MGSE is featured in a new documentary titled How to Thrive: a practical guide to happiness.

How to Thrive, which premieres this month, is a heartfelt and hopeful journey that follows the transformation of seven people who struggle with mental health issues. Its goal is to provide viewers with practical tools and strategies that will help them in moving towards lifelong happiness and wellbeing, regardless of where they are on the mental health continuum.

Associate Professor Peggy Kern contributed her broad expertise in wellbeing science to the documentary, which included evaluating the impact of the intervention.

She shared what it was like to be a part of the documentary, why she thinks documentaries like How to Thriveare important and gave us seven key tips for improving our own mental health and wellbeing.

I was asked to be a part of How to Thrive because of my expertise in wellbeing measurement. My main job was to create and implement an evaluation strategy. I collected quantitative and qualitative data on participants’ experiences during the intervention to help us understand the impact of the program.

I also provided my expertise around positive psychology and wellbeing science across the development of the documentary.

During the intervention period, participants made major changes in their lives and experienced numerous positive benefits. The greatest changes happened during the primary two-month intervention period. however, we did see continued improvements over the following 17 months.

On a scale ranging from high mental distress to completely thriving (figure 1), on average, participants went from about -3 (mild to moderate levels of distress) to above +5.

Figure 1: Participants went from about -3 (mild to moderate levels of distress) to above +5 during the intervention

Even a two-point improvement would be significant and here we saw over an eight-point difference, placing participants clearly in the thriving domain.

Across the intervention period, participants learnt skills to promote their wellbeing. These skills did not just happen—participants learned the skills and, in most cases, chose to apply them to their lives.

One participant went from deep grief and isolation to feeling loved and supported by others. Another went from spending time in a psychiatric hospital to overcoming an eating disorder and feeling loved and connecting with her family.

An exception was a participant who is a medical professional. He refused to engage in the exercises and restrained himself from connecting with the group. His outcomes showed that the interventions and connection with others only worked for those who leaned into the process.

Overall, participants improved their skills, resources, and motivation to live well. They felt more satisfied with their lives, more hopeful, engaged, connected and supported by others. They also provided more support to others and improved their physical health.

I hope How to Thrive brings more focus to the importance of proactively supporting mental health, compared to the extensive and necessary focus on mental illness. If we can give people skills to thrive, then that goes a long way in preventing mental illness.

Documentaries like How to Thrive bring to life the process of learning and adopting skills to manage mental illness. The stories in this documentary depict real-life struggles with mental illness, as well as strategies and sources of inspiration for moving beyond struggle to thriving in life.

Seven key tips from How to Thrive to support your mental health and wellbeing:

  1. Find a tribe to connect with.Throughout the documentary, participants developed a community. Human beings have a natural need for belonging. In contrast, loneliness relates to mental and physical illness and even early mortality. Find people that you can belong with, connecting at a deep level, beyond superficial “friends”.
  2. Engage in activities that are meaningful to you.Studies suggest that engagement in life is an important marker of healthy ageing. This means not simply gliding through life but sucking the marrow out of life. It involves finding and committing to activities that fill you up and give you a sense of life, rather than those that drain the life from you.
  3. Be accountable for your own wellbeing.
    If we want to maintain and build mental fitness, then it’s important to engage in activities each day that support your mental health.
  4. Be compassionate towards yourself and others.
    We are often our own worse critics. As humans, we are doing the best we can. Be kind to yourself and extend that kindness to others.
  5. Be optimistic and hopeful about the future.
    Things won’t always work out, but if we are biased towards seeing the possibility of what could be, then the results might surprise us.
  6. Nurture your physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing.
    Eat and rest well, engage in moderate physical activity, and actively engage in activities that make you feel and function well.

How to Thrive premieres on Thursday, 13 October with preview screenings from Thursday, 6 October. For a full list of national venues and showtimes, please visit

More Information

Zane Kingi
Communications Coordinator