The key to happiness, according to eight Aussie celebs

What really matters and what makes people happy? Eight influential women tell us.

Art might not save lives – it might not cure cancer – but it is powerful.  Photo: Kieran E. Scott

Art might not save lives – it might not cure cancer – but it is powerful. Photo: Kieran E. Scott

MIRANDA TAPSELL - Actress

Art teaches empathy. When people see the way others live their lives, their perceptions change. I love being an artist because I saw what The Sapphires did to a non-Indigenous audience: it appealed to people across the board - grandmothers, mothers, daughters - who were able to relate, not just to the era, but also to the timelessness of the story. Young girls loved the film because, like them, the characters were young women trying to achieve their dreams and find their way in a very uncertain world.

Art might not save lives - it might not cure cancer - but it is powerful. It allows people to walk in the shoes of those who are marginalised and disenfranchised. Non-Indigenous people have come up to me and taken my hand, saying, "Thank you so much for The Sapphires - you have no idea what that story meant to me." This helped me really understand the power stories have to put people into someone else's shoes and allow them to understand what it means to live that person's life. This made a big impact on me, because I have to talk about race a lot.

SUSAN CARLAND - Academic

'The most happy and content life is actually the life that you give away.' Photo: Kieran E. Scott

'The most happy and content life is actually the life that you give away.' Photo: Kieran E. Scott

What drives me the most is service. But I don't believe service has to be grand; service is not only relevant on the scale of opening an orphanage, but includes those tiny acts of everyday service, whether they be to your own children or to your neighbour. Because the most happy and content life is actually the life that you give away.

There's a great quote attributed to Muhammad Ali that goes something like, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth." That really makes sense to me and is something that I've tried to live within myself, though I fail regularly. I'm always telling my children to look for opportunities to help, even if it's just when they see an older person struggling with a trolley in the supermarket. Because, in the end, a life of service is the only life that makes sense.

CARLA ZAMPATTI - Designer

"I learnt to be independent at a very young age." Photo: Kieran E. Scott

"I learnt to be independent at a very young age." Photo: Kieran E. Scott

"I learnt to be independent at a very young age." Photo: Kieran E. Scott

Independence makes me happy. I learnt to be independent at a very young age. And with independence comes control, because without control, you're not free. As a fashion designer, I wonder if my contribution to society is frivolous. But, when women talk to me about how my clothes make them feel, I understand that it's empowering. Women say to me, "I met my husband wearing your dress." Or, "I went to an interview in your clothes and I got the job."

One woman told me she had gone to Russia to audition for an opera and got the part because she was wearing my evening dress. The main thing that matters to me, though, is my three children and nine grandchildren. I'm proud that, in spite of my working very hard throughout their lives, we have wonderful relationships. I feel it's an example that women don't have to give up work and stay at home to have wonderful children. As long as you love them and give them special time when you're with them, it works.

KYAH SIMON - Footballer

'I've made some great friendships through sport.' Photo: Kieran E. Scott

'I've made some great friendships through sport.' Photo: Kieran E. Scott

Football brings me happiness - I'd be lost without it. As a child, watching Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Olympics inspired me to chase my dream, because she was such a strong, powerful, Aboriginal, female sports person. And I've made some great friendships though sport. Although female footballers come from many different parts of the world - so no one's story is ever the same as yours - there are always moments that resonate with all of us; we all go through the same stages as our careers progress, so we understand one another.

PAULINE NGUYEN - Author and speaker

What matters right now is that we all decide to find the joy, the forgiveness, the peacefulness and the beauty in whatever we are faced with - in all things. Photo: Kieran E. Scott

What matters right now is that we all decide to find the joy, the forgiveness, the peacefulness and the beauty in whatever we are faced with - in all things. Photo: Kieran E. Scott

What matters right now is that we all decide to find the joy, the forgiveness, the peacefulness and the beauty in whatever we are faced with - in all things. Photo: Kieran E. Scott

What matters right now is that we all decide to find the joy, the forgiveness, the peacefulness and the beauty in whatever we are faced with - in all things. Growing up, I witnessed all the anger, fear and trauma in my father; all the emotional toxicity that built up in him over the years. He had come out of war, to a new country, with nothing - no house, no job, no money. He didn't know the laws or the language. I guess my father had nowhere to dump his anger, so he started to dump it on his wife and, later on, his children

There are lessons from my parents' lives that are positive, though. Everything they went through in coming to Australia reflects the values and the truth of my life now: courage, resilience and grit. They had such courage - the courage to take action. They had resilience - the ability to fall and get back up again. And they had grit - the stamina and determination to achieve their goal.

My father did the best he could with the tools he had at the time. He lives a very different life now, and we are friends, although it does require a lot of work on my part. Just as my father had a choice, so do I. We all choose.

EVA ORNER - Director/producer

'Telling stories, exposing injustices and educating people matters to me.' Photo: Kieran E. Scott

'Telling stories, exposing injustices and educating people matters to me.' Photo: Kieran E. Scott

Telling stories, exposing injustices and educating people matters to me. When I produced Taxi to the Dark Side, I was constantly asked what motivated me. So, at the age of 38, I confronted that question for the first time. Three of my four grandparents perished in the Holocaust, and I remember "Never Again" being a very strong message in the Australian Jewish community of the 1970s and '80s. But, at the same time, I was watching Cambodia falling apart on the news.

Being a precocious child, I asked, "Isn't it kind of happening again? It's close to us and we're not doing anything about it!" It really struck me, and I grew up wanting to do something that mattered. The work is hard, but I try not to carry it with me. I try to see beauty. Because living well matters to me, too - going to the beach, being in the sun, cultivating meaningful friendships and having love in my life.

LEIGH SALES - Journalist

I realised kindness is the most important thing, even though you shouldn't need a reminder! Photo: Kieran E. Scott

I realised kindness is the most important thing, even though you shouldn't need a reminder! Photo: Kieran E. Scott

Kindness is hugely important to me, both being a kind person and being grateful for the times when other people are kind to me. When I had my second son, it nearly went badly for us both. During that time, I realised kindness is the most important thing, even though you shouldn't need a reminder! When I was ill and the chips were down, the kind people - not the funniest people - mattered the most. The kind people were the most valuable.

I know it sounds a bit earnest, but I put a lot of effort into trying to be thoughtful and kind, and to thinking about what other people need. That goes for people I don't know very well, too; there's always something you can do for someone to make a little bit of difference to them. My sons are now two and four. Kindness and thoughtfulness are important in my parenting, as I try to ensure that they become their best selves and turn into people of good character.

STEPHANIE ALEXANDER - Chef and author

Some of my happiest times are when I am sharing a holiday close to nature and away from responsibilities. Photo: Kieran E. Scott

Some of my happiest times are when I am sharing a holiday close to nature and away from responsibilities. Photo: Kieran E. Scott

What brings me happiness is being around a table with people I care about. The table is central to almost everything I do and to a lot of what I think about. It was very important  for  me as a child. My father made our family table himself: it was a beautiful, round, polished table. There were seven of us - four children, my parents and my grandfather - and we sat around it in commune and discussion every night, eating my mother's exceptional food.

The table was an amazingly dynamic situation that combined my mother's creativity and my father's love of the great thinkers. It was the highlight of my day and was a circle that was never broken until 1956, when television arrived. Some of my happiest times are when I am sharing a holiday close to nature and away from responsibilities. Those times when everyone is contributing and sharing - going to a local market, cooking dinner together, then sitting and discussing what we've seen that day - are very, very powerful.

Edited extract from 200 Women Who Will Change the Way You See the World (Echo, $60), out now. Supported by Westpac. The 200 Women photographic exhibition opens at the Sydney Opera House on October 25.

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