Academy-Award winning actress Goldie Hawn grew up in Washington, DC, attending American University for one year before starting her career in show business. “I loved being there,” she says of the university, to which she returned in 2002 to receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.
As an AU student, Hawn was cast as Mrs. Bürstner in a performance of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. She praises a professor and mentor for putting her in the role, for which she won an award on campus. “I always look at that and go ‘who would have thought that girl would end up doing what I did?’” she says. “It was the first drama I had ever done.”
The summer after she began as a student at AU, Hawn, who had trained as a dancer since age three, landed a job as a dancer in New York, which launched her career. “I was always going to do something in show business,” she says.
Hawn is known for starring roles in movies that have entertained audiences for decades. Her focus, though, on her foundation’s work, occupies much of her time these days. Hawn speaks passionately about MindUP, an organization she founded to help children thrive in school and in life. “I was looking at this emotion called happiness,” she says. “I thought people needed an uptick in understanding how important this emotion is to our health.”
Traveling the globe, Hawn says she realized that people in much poorer countries often were happier than citizens of wealthy nations. “They didn’t have money,” she says, “but they had other things…My big ‘aha moment’ came when I went to the mall. I looked at people’s faces, looked at them in their cars when they were driving, and there was just sort of this dead look.”
Hawn, long focused on health and wellbeing, decided to make a documentary about searching for joy. “I started doing it. I researched it. I was going to travel the world in search of joy, make this documentary…and that’s when 9/11 happened,” she says. Feeling the world had changed forever after that day, Hawn turned everything she had learned about happiness, sense of purpose, and wellbeing into MindUP.
Specifically, Hawn says that realizing the third leading cause of death among American 10- to 15-year-olds was suicide (and that it was second among 15- to 22-year-olds) cemented a decision to help address the problem. “And my passion just grew and grew,” she adds.
The challenges brought about by Covid-19 intensified Hawn’s motivation for addressing mental health, and she continues expanding her support for the wellbeing of children and those around them through MindUP. While she remains keenly focused on positively impacting the lives of children, she also is expanding the work of her foundation’s signature program to include parents, teachers, and medical professionals. She says the program, which provides curriculum and resources for dealing with stress and anxiety, has helped people cope during the pandemic.
“I think we’ve suffered PTSD from this [pandemic],” she says. “We have been given a great dose of fear…There has to be an awakening of some kind where we actually add more things into our society that bring us wellbeing and a sense of belonging rather than disparate and cracked relationships. We’re weeding out what matters.”
Hawn also recognizes good things that have come from the global pandemic. “The other part I see is families have become closer,” she says. “We’ve learned not to feel that you have to go somewhere. We have learned to sit down and that maybe this is better and healthier.”
In her own family, she notes great relief at seeing her grandchildren being able to return to school, saying “They’re having a much better time.” And her own family and friends have been among those doing lots of cooking during the pandemic. “My son and I cooked every night,” she says. “I never cooked so much in my life!”
Hawn’s focus on improving the lives of others is rooted in a longstanding belief in the importance of pursuing happiness. In her 2002 commencement address at AU, she shared with graduates that, as a child, whenever she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer was “happy.”
Some things never change. And it’s clear that her work today brings the kind of joy and happiness that Hawn has pursued throughout her life.