Over the course of her decades-long career, Dr. Robin Engelman’s work has spanned myriad disciplines, from working with adolescent teenage substance abusers in residential treatment facilities to running mental health clinics and serving as a licensed psychologist for more than 20 years.
But few of her experiences can match the perspective she gained from working with ‘lifers’ in a maximum-security prison, where she counseled inmates on the “Honor Yard,” a privileged area for inmates with good behavior. “These guys had figured out how to thrive in what we would think of as hell,” Engelman says. “They walked with pep in their step, they smiled, they were often generous and kind.”
Her exposure to the “Honor Yard” inmates set Engelman on a path of happiness research. “I was intrigued,” Engelman says. “If they can be happy, why can’t we? I began looking closely at their behavior, choices and attitudes, and indeed there was something there. The reason these men were able to thrive in such an unstimulating setting is that happier is not something to pursue, it is something to decide and then practice.”
Those realizations led Engelman, who has appeared as a featured psychologist on an Oprah Winfrey Network series, to her latest venture, “The Happier Hour,” a workshop-centered practice focusing on the simple hacks to a happier life. “It has shaped how I approach my own well-being as well as helping with theirs,” she says. “It’s about creating good habits and breaking bad ones.”
Engelman draws on her time as an addiction specialist and uses her expertise in cognitive behavioral science and habit formation to help her clients create new healthier routines. “By pairing these two modalities – science-based ways to improve happiness with evidence-based habit formation techniques – I’ve enjoyed positive results in individual therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, drug rehabilitation centers, and mental health clinics.”
Born and raised in West Chester, Pa., Engelman attended the University of Delaware and California State University, Northridge and later earned her PhD from Alliant International University. She started in private practice in Santa Monica while living there. Her husband was in the entertainment industry, and as his career wound down, the couple sought a relocation. They had family in the Bay Area and northern California, and on a trek through Marin, they drove down East Blithedale toward downtown Mill Valley.
“My husband loves to tell the story that, as we drove down Blithedale, I just start weeping,” Engelman says with a laugh. “It was oddly, weirdly familiar with the trees and the landscape – it reminded me of where I grew up up. I felt more at home here before I even moved here than I had anywhere else. It just is the place for me.”
Engelman says she’s enjoyed evolving her business into “simplifying small habits, and if we do them every day, then they are going to be there when we need them.”
One of the goals of “The Happier Hour” is to “take the new woo woo out of well being” by making it for everybody, Engelman says. “This is about creating little habits that anyone can integrate into their business day.”
Check out the explainer video below: