Where’s your happy place?” asks one of many wellbeing-inspired doodles on the walls of Shoreditch’s The Canvas, part of the Happy Cafe Network.
Answers penned by customers – surrounded by bubbles, scribbles and comments in a variety of languages – suggest everything from Bali to time spent on the sofa.
Owner and creative director Ruth Rogers gestures to one scrawled confession.
It reads: “I’m trying to make being in my own head my happy place, but it’s hard being with my thoughts.”
These kinds of honest and supportive declarations are at the core of my career, says Ruth.
She began as founder of self-esteem charity Body Gossip and was inspired by musings left on her white sofa canvas at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The first Happy Café was launched in Brighton in October 2014 and Hanbury Street was added to the chain earlier this month, the first in London.
Supported by Action For Happiness it is somewhere East Enders can explore mindfulness and issues at the heart of a meaningful life.
“All the questions are designed to remind you of a time when you were happy, or ask questions of where you would like to be,” said the 34-year-old.
“I know it’s a bit gimmicky but we are not just asking people to write on a wall because it’s cool – it really does make people feel better. It’s cathartic and reading it can restore faith in humanity.
“It encourages conversation and I want it to be a place where you are welcome, and it’s not weird to talk to strangers. London’s a very lonely city.”
There is also a packed calendar of events focussing on self confidence and esteem that reflect statistics showing just 30% of the capital’s residents rate themselves as “very happy”.
Sessions include lunchtime yoga, singing, free comedy screenings and a “10 points to happiness course” run by the charity.
“I don’t think people find enough time in their day to just exist in the moment,” said Ruth. “Everywhere we go emails find us and because of that digital connectivity there’s the expectation of ‘why are you not answering at 9pm?’.
“It’s hard to find serenity. You have to seek it and make it for yourselves.”
Go to thecanvascafe.org or 42
Hanbury Street, Shoreditch for more information.