Goldie Hawn’s Compassionate Calling

UPDATED: May 21, 2024
PUBLISHED: July 11, 2014

Goldie Hawn is all worked up. She’s talking about her Hawn Foundation, which helps students around the world fulfill their learning potential. “This work ignites and excites me,” Hawn says animatedly during our interview. “It is my priority.”

The Oscar-winning actress revels in the role of energetic evangelist for the foundation, which she established in 2003 and continues to underwrite. Helping children “has taken me by the heart and soul,” Hawn told the Vancouver Sun in May 2013, when she was in Canada to address the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education’s inaugural heart-mind conference. “The most interesting thing I have done to this point in my life is what I am doing right now.”

The Hawn Foundation, through its research-based MindUP program, improves the academic performance of pre-kindergartners through eighth-graders by nurturing their self-confidence and enlightening them about their emotions. To that end, the foundation enlists educators, scientists, researchers, clinicians, volunteers, parents, other children’s advocates and mindfulness practitioners to coach kids in developing calmness, a positive outlook and empathy for others.

Schools can ask the Hawn Foundation for assistance with one problem, such as bullying, or seek guidance for addressing students’ behavior on several fronts. MindUP’s social and emotional instruction is woven from cognitive neuroscience and positive psychology. The program has 15 specific lessons in which participants learn how to regulate their own behavior and interact positively with peers and teachers.

And MindUP has chalked up impressive results: After being steeped in positive-thinking lessons, the kids are tested for behavioral shifts. According to findings at the University of British Columbia, children who took part in the lessons substantially increased their levels of optimism while their attitudes of aggression declined.

MindUP also earns high marks from educators and participants. “The teachers in my school are happier in their classrooms because they have more time to teach,” a school administrator says. “The students are more focused, engaged and eager to learn.” A third-grader’s assessment of MindUP’s lessons: “I am better at writing. I am persistent. I am calm. I have perspective to be still and be a friend. I am happy. It helps me be healthy. I am smart. It helps me read.”

The multifaceted program is already providing educational support to tens of thousands of students in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Australia. “I’ve watched children change from being frightened to feeling excited [about life],” Hawn  reports.

Those exhilarating transformations are driving the ardent philanthropist to reach a considerably wider audience. Already an accomplished author (10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children–and Ourselves–the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happy Lives and her memoir, A Lotus Grows in the Mud), Hawn is working on at least one more book about attaining happiness and getting inside a teenager’s mind. So I ask her what, in a few words, she wants to tell all children. The answer: “Don’t feel stress. Find a safe spot. Become self-aware and resilient.”

That advice is a natural for Hawn, who walks the walk of a healthy, optimistic lifestyle.

She tries to exercise four times a week. At home in California, she likes to bike with her mishpucha, she says, dropping the Yiddish word for family into a sentence punctuated by a ripple of laughter. (Hawn was raised in suburban Washington, D.C., in her mother’s Judaism; her father was Presbyterian.) “I’ll bike up the mountain, or I’ll do Pilates or spin,” she said recently. “I do eat a lot of greens. I eat healthy, but I’m not a vegetarian.”

Physical acumen remains important to Hawn, 68, who tells SUCCESS that she still thinks of herself as a dancer. Those roots go deep: When she was only 19, the blonde boldly left home to launch her showbiz career with a dance gig at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. “Being a dancer is my metaphor for life, because you have to know your body,” she says earnestly. “Being a dancer and paying attention to fitness is all about moving
in balance.”

Given the emotional components of MindUP, it’s not surprising that Hawn looks after her mental fitness, too.

She’s a high-profile participant in the happiness/positive psychology movement. Hawn connects with others in the movement—and spreads its positive-emotion tenets—by attending events, participating in training sessions and speaking at schools that are using the MindUP program. (For instance, she recently met with the National Education Association in Washington to brainstorm about ways to reach students.)

In addition, Hawn is a huge proponent of mindfulness and meditation, which she relied on for overcoming stressful times during her 20s. The acclaimed Hollywood actress-producer believes everyone can benefit from daily meditation, even in spurts of only five minutes. “The benefits of meditation are as helpful to you psychologically as the benefits of exercise are to your muscles,” she  maintains.

Hawn—who has a meditation room in the home she shares with her longtime love, actor Kurt Russell—dispels the notion that meditation requires adhering to some sort of mystical belief. “It’s really about self-empowerment. It’s not the idea of a particular religion that’s important. It’s the development of a spiritual life, because spirituality creates well-being, health and happiness.”

I push her a little more about her take on happiness, a priority in her personal pursuits as well as those of her foundation. “The best thing is when you really know yourself,” she responds. “Whether you’re successful or not, you’ll never actually feel the joys of accomplishment unless you love yourself. Success can be very difficult to deal with. You have to stay in the center. If you let your success define you, then you’re really just setting yourself up for failure.”

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