Jewel is a multiplatinum-selling singer/songwriter who’s been delivering soulful tunes since her ‘90s hits including “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “You Were Meant for Me” catapulted her to stardom.
But she had a loftier “career” goal even before then—since she left home in rural Alaska at age 15 in an attempt to break the cycle of emotional abuse in her family and give herself a shot at happiness.
“I made myself this promise that my No. 1 job would be to continue to learn how to be a happy human. And my No. 2 job would be to be a musician. And I’m really proud. I’m 47 and I never let that promise down,” she says.
“The reason I stopped at the height of my success after my second album Spirit was because I wasn’t psychologically adjusting very well to the level of fame I achieved, and so I quit for two years. I’ve made pretty radical decisions in my music career that may or may not have been good for a music career but were very good for my happiness career.”
While she hasn’t followed the traditional pop star trajectory, Jewel’s path not only helped her to heal but prompted her to share the wellness wealth, working to elevate mental health for others through an ever-expanding canvas of outlets. Outlets, she says, that are more important today than ever.
“I refuse to call where we’re at ‘progress’ as a society if we’re killing ourselves at rates we’ve never seen before,” she says. “As a community, as a society, as a country, as the world, we need to find ways of integrating emotional intelligence and mental health hygiene into the systems we already have in existence.”
There’s the Inspiring Children Foundation, which Jewel founded in 2002 to provide at-risk youth dealing with scenarios including anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation with a development model centered around mentoring, project-driven education and a tennis academy. And Jewel Inc., launched in 2017 as an umbrella for her endeavors including JewelNeverBroken.com, a nonprofit “emotional fitness destination” website.
There’s the “Whole Human” mindfulness-focused curricula she’s developing for both school-age children, which debuted in a public school system in Ohio, and the corporate world, which she’ll soon launch in a partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue’s SaksWorks branded co-working hubs.
And there’s her newly minted partnership with nonprofit brain health and advocacy organization One Mind, through which she’s helping develop campaigns to advocate for universal access to quality mental healthcare for children and young adults, and for funding to improve recovery rates for those with mental illnesses. Among their projects, Jewel and One Mind are exploring opportunities to create content including documentaries and podcasts.
“It really dawned on me then there were two types of inheritances,” Jewel says looking back at her extreme decision to reshape her life. “I knew the emotional language that I inherited was going to lead to painful outcomes. It was daunting to feel like my life was predestined because abuse had been passed on generationally.”
Her intention was to chase mindfulness the way others might chase a hit record. To do so, she experimented with techniques to literally help rewire her mind, and she stuck with it even through periods of homelessness.
“I think we’re still just learning about how our emotional habits can impact our biochemistry and our physical bodies in really scientific ways,” she says. But even back then she noticed some exercises were undeniably working, that neuroplasticity was enabling her brain to change and adapt to repeated practices.
“The most counterculture thing I could do was figure out how to be happy, and that’s what my life was about. It was a new, and oddly exciting time of me figuring out for myself through an internal dialog, through introspection and curiosity and being really results-driven,” she reflects.
As she started to see results, she realized she was indeed on to a radical concept: The democratization of happiness.
“One of the most daunting things to me when I was 15 was the idea of, Wait… if happiness wasn’t taught in my home, did I miss the boat? What if I don’t have the traditional tools, what if I can’t get to a therapist and what if my family didn’t have the skills? Am I just out of luck?,” Jewel says.
“And that interested me because happiness is so universal. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or you’re poor, what nationality or color you are. But… if you actually need to learn to be happy, that’s going to require a re-education, and education costs money. So where misery is equal opportunity, happiness can actually be elite.
“I was really interested in seeing if the exercises I used could be used by other people who were falling through the cracks of the system,” she says. “Children that were having issues that did not have access to the traditionally supportive family unit, or traditional support systems like therapy.”
Today, those children face even more daunting obstacles as the global mental health crisis continues to mount: One in four individuals will develop a mental health condition in their lifetime, and between 100,000 and 300,000 young people are developing a psychotic illness each year, according to recent data from One Mind data.
Jewel believes some of the problem is rooted in our collective and steady march away from intrinsic validation in favor of external thumbs up.
“We’re entertained extrinsically, our self worth is typically extrinsic, it comes from outside of ourselves by likes or by job titles or by money. And even our happiness in some form is starting to be outside of us,” she says.
“We need to start creating tools that help people live from the inside and have a sense of self worth that won’t be taken away if you get fired or you don’t have a hit single. There’s a long way to go. I think we are in a lot of pain right now as a society. The opportunity in that is pain does inspire you to grow and change. So I hope anyone in the mental health community is scaling and being very thoughtful about how they meet that challenge.”
Everyday mindfulness—which Jewel defines as “being consciously present. That’s it; nothing more magical than that”—is a key component, she says, and can be fortified through any number of practices that work for the individual during daily endeavors from walking to brushing your teeth.
And in her case, meditating. But Jewel wants to set the record straight: You’re not failing at meditation if you start ticker-taping your grocery list 15 seconds in.
“Most of us have an actual distraction addiction, where your nervous system is screaming at you to check your phone, check your text, what did you forget?,” she says.
“The value in meditating is even if every millisecond you realize you’re thinking about something else, when you realize it and you come back to your breath or your mantra or whatever. That’s your little bicep curl for your brain. That’s your win.”
Hollywood & Mind lives at the intersection of entertainment and wellbeing, and features interviews with musicians, actors, sports figures and other culture influencers who are elevating mental health.