“Have you ever looked up the word happy in the dictionary? You should. It’s the strangest definition,” says famed brain scientist, Dr. Bankole Johnson, as he guides a sneak preview of his soon-to-be-opened Miami wellness spa, Privée Clinics.
Johnson’s interest in happiness comes from the belief he can, indeed, help people be happier. He wants to do this by utilizing his incomparable expertise in the brain sciences to connect the dots in the beauty and wellness spaces to help people achieve overall wellness with a brain-first mentality. He calls it: Where science meets wellness.
In order to understand his mission, it’s first important to understand his background.
Dr. Johnson was a fully-practicing MD by the age of 22 when he became an intensive care doctor. After that, and after completing the necessary schooling, he became an anesthesiologist, and then a psychiatrist. He further pursued higher education with the completion of two more doctorates in addition to his MD, and a Masters Degree in neurological disorders and computational mathematics. While practicing medicine and making groundbreaking discoveries in the areas of psychopharmacology in the treatment of addiction, he rose in academia as Alumni Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, followed by a similar role at the University of Maryland where he was Chairman of Psychiatry and Professor of pharmacology, medicine, psychiatry, anatomy, neurobiology, and neurology.
What does all this have to do with the wellness spa he’s creating?
At its core, Privée Clinics is a medical center and offers the usual checks to monitor the body like blood tests, physical examinations, and nutrition services, but differently than a typical medical clinic, Dr. Johnson’s clinics place heavy emphasis on happiness, self-esteem, and mood regulation.
MORE FOR YOU
“Most people are coming here to optimize their wellness and an important part of wellness is happiness,” continues Johnson. “And unfortunately traditional medicine doesn’t deal with happiness. Doctors are not trained to keep people well, they are trained to treat disease, and because we are disease-focused, we are very good at diagnosing disease and we are very poor and developing and maintaining health.”
He knows that by tying together everything he understands about the brain and applying it to wellness, the end result would be happier people. How? He understands this happens through the combination of varying treatments and modalities which when, applied together, improve both internal and mental wellness along with external beauty. Which is why at Privée, guests can equally get injectables or EmSculpt treatments, in addition to more traditional medical treatments like psychological therapy and neurocognitive assessments.
“It’s very hard to get people to have high self-esteem if they don’t feel they look good. Our perception of ourselves, how we believe our inner core to be is to look at whatever reflection comes back at us and take that in as it is a part of ourselves,” he says. “Even though it’s not a part of ourselves, we still attribute how we look as a part of our personality.”
Which goes back to his prompt of defining happiness. The doctor begins to search on his phone various online dictionaries and comes back with several definitions, all of which he believes to be flawed.
“Everything to do with the definition of happy in any English dictionary is external, and it’s one of the hardest definitions in any language. Definitions talk about feeling pleasure or excitement. If happiness is only pleasure, does that mean if you are not having pleasure that you are not happy?” he asks.
“The way to make people happy on a brain level is not to focus on trying to create pleasure but trying to create a set of positive experiences, and it’s those positive experiences that translate into a more enduring view on happiness.”
According to the doctor, these positive experiences hardly have to be major events or undertaking, they can be very small ones that add up to this overall feeling, like taking a long shower, using a cream that feels nice, or listening to music.
At Privée, he’s curated a host of services and modalities to help create this set of positive experiences, many of which can result in guests feeling good about their appearance.
“Everyone needs some attribution and validation of how they look or how they perceive themselves. So if you can do small things to enhance their beauty you will actually improve their mood,” says Johnson.
Until Privée Clinics officially opens its doors, Johnson has opened an intimate pop-up space in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami where he administers EmSculpt Neo treatments—which is an EmSculpt machine, but more intense for more rapid results—to clients to give them a taste of the clinic’s point of view towards service and wellness.
Once the clinic is fully open, guests will be able to choose from a wide array of treatments that span IV Drips, estrogen/testosterone pellet treatment, vampire facials, Hyperbaric Chamber sessions, DaVinci infrared light therapy, and much more. He has also developed an all-natural skin care line that includes ingredients like crushed rubies and diamonds and an all natural soap line which is designed to give a sensory experience (see below) through scent. Johnson also plans to launch a biometric device in the form of a watch that will be able to read facial expressions and decipher the wearer’s mood.
“Happiness is centrally important to all of us to be able to negotiate the world, and also to have the best outcomes from the world,” says Johnson.
There are ways to improve brain function in daily life, and following this are some of the doctor’s suggestions to kickstart the brain journey towards happiness and wellness at home:
- Brain optimization: “The brain works in such a way, that even if it’s not a muscle, it needs to be optimized, it needs to be challenged.” According to Johnson, in order for the brain to stay optimal, it has to experience some sort of mental gymnastics and he understands that the most powerful way to optimize the brain is to learn a new language.
- Mood Regulation and Emotional intelligence: “We all live in a very stressful world which is why we need to continue to develop emotional intelligence, or the removal of negative influences, to regulate mood and stress.” Dr. Johnson suggests taking at least 5-6 minutes of every hour for oneself. He also suggests to try to listen to your heart throughout the day, which relieves stress because it takes one out of their conscious focus. He also suggests something he calls the 8-1 rule, which is most useful in interpersonal relationships. It entails saying 8 positive things before conveying a negative thing, which reduces the intensity of the negative thing.
- Nutrition: “A lot of people are used to eating a lot what they want to eat, but they don’t focus on nutrition, which is important for brain health.” There are essential foods for brain health which include items like plant products, nuts, and different types of fish which, according to the doctor, are important to give the brain certain trace elements like chromium, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. He estimates that more than 3/4 people are deficient in necessary elements.
- Personal Development: “Individual development is an old art and if you don’t develop individually or on an intellectual level you can’t really be happy, that’s my point of view.” Johnson suggests small things can add up to big things in terms of personal development. It can be as simple as taking in a play and learning about its creator or its actors, reading a book, or learning a new skill. Individual development also entails developing better mood regulation, like learning how to react more positively to difficult situations.
- Self-Esteem: “This begins to hinge upon beauty because how we feel about ourselves effects self-esteem.” According to the doctor, how one perceives themselves is critical to self-esteem, and as mentioned earlier in this article, it can be achieved by small enhancements to beauty like wearing a new scent, getting a haircut, or using a lotion that makes one feel better about themselves.
- Sensory Perception: “We are very much governed by our perception of our natural environment.” According to Johnson, all the different things we take in from our surroundings matter to brain health and mood. He is focused very much on smells at Privée Clinics because it is the fastest of senses in its journey to the most sensitive part of the brain, from nose to frontal lobe, and also has strong association to memories and events. Through positive smells, like candles and other fragrances, people are able to create positive sensory experiences.