Joy Is Not A Bad Word

By Shabnam Mogharabi
2017 Women’s Leadership Conference Keynote Speaker

CEO & Executive Producer
SoulPancake

I trade in the currency of joy.

Which, in 2016, means my stock is low. Talking about joy this year can seem like you’re an out-of-touch, doe-eyed utopian. I mean, this was the year that gave us multiple terror attacks, police shootings, the crisis in Syria, Zika, severe floods, Brexit, and the passing of Prince, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman (I mean, Professor Snape – come on!)

A conversation about joy might seem like a waste of time when there are so many important, hard, messy things that we humans need to deal with right this second.

But I would argue that joy is one of the powerful and often overlooked forces on the planet, and if we want to change the world, we have to focus first on infecting millions of hearts with joy.

So why do I want to talk about joy? Because I run a company that has built its business on the infectious and completely altering power of joy.

SoulPancake is an entertainment and media company founded 8 years ago by actor Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight Schrute on The Office. Our story began with a very simple mission: to create inspiring, uplifting video content about the human experience for Optimistic Millennials. Some of it is deep, some is incredibly moving, but in the end, it’s always founded in joy.

When we first started the company, people smiled, nodded, told us the videos were amazing, and then subsequently passed on working with us because the content was “too sweet” or “too feel good” and that no one would watch.

And you know what? They were right. But they were also wrong.

At SoulPancake, we believe that people are actually THIRSTY for uplifting content. We all want to be part of something that matters and that brings us joy. But it’s also not what people on TV watch. So we’re trying to change that.

And I think we’ve succeeded. Today, SoulPancake creates original video content for digital, television, and branded distribution. We have 8.5 million social media fans and amass 250 million video views a year. We have created content for Oprah, MTV, Discovery, ABC, brands like Visa, Disney, Nestle, Coca-Cola, and even the United Nations. And we were recently acquired by Participant Media, an entertainment company that creates films and docs encouraging social change (films like Spotlight, Lincoln, The Help, An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc., and more).

Which brings me back to why I believe joy has the ability to change the world. In our experience, we have found again and again that people who view the world through a joyful lens are stronger, display keener intellect, and are less clouded when faced with challenges.

And let’s get one thing clear while we’re on the subject. Joy has nothing to do with the feeling of happiness. Happiness comes and goes. You find $20 in your jean pocket. You eat a Shake Shack burger for the first time. You swipe right and get a match on a dating app. All of these things will make you experience this elusive, coveted feeling of happiness.

And that type of happiness comes as a result of the choices we make and things we consume. Joy, however, is an internal state. A joyful existence allows you to let go, to be detached from the outcome of things, and to feel connected to something bigger. So it doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day at work, if you were in a car accident, or if your grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – you will experience the same sadness and hardships of life that all humans do, but your approach to dealing with those things will be markedly different.

I am so excited to join you in February and share more about what we’ve learned about joy, how it’s shaped our company’s mission and helped us succeed, and some specific ways to increase the amount of joy in your own personal and professional lives.

And I promise that by the end of our time together, joy will no longer be a bad word.