Matt’s healing journey: ‘I’m my own cheerleader now’

The radio star fought his way out of sadness and is now sharing his secrets
Photos: Emily Chalk

For broadcaster Matt Heath it was a real low point. He was sitting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu feeling deeply sorry for himself and the dark, cold water was starting to look pretty good.

A few years previously, Matt had lost his beloved mum Rosemary and, shortly afterwards, his 16-year relationship had ended. Now he couldn’t seem to get out from under a heavy load of sadness.

“I used to talk to my mum about a lot of things,” shares Matt. “She was the ultimate cheerleader in my life. That day in Queenstown, I realised I was going to have to recreate that for myself. So late at night, I made a plan to read, listen and study my way out of not feeling great.”

An old photo of Matt as a baby in a pram, with mother Rosemary crouched down in front of him
Baby Matt with mum Rosemary.

A self-confessed geek, Matt did a deep dive into the writing of some of history’s greatest thinkers, reaching all the way back to Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. He also examined scientific papers, listened to audiobooks and basically consumed anything he could get his hands on that might make a difference.

“I kept trying to read my way out of the situation,” he says. “We don’t really have a guide that tells us how to live a good life. That was what I was trying to find. And immediately I started getting great results.”

Five years on, the Radio Hauraki host, writer and sports commentator has written the book A Life Less Punishing: 13 Ways to Love the Life You’ve Got. It’s candid and funny, since Matt, 51, isn’t shy of detailing some of his more humiliating moments. It’s also packed with wellbeing strategies.

“This isn’t a book to help someone who’s got really serious problems or clinical depression,” cautions Matt. “It’s for people who have quite good lives. That’s what was troubling me at the start. I didn’t have any major problems. I had two wonderful, healthy kids, a good job, great friends and I was still a miserable bastard. It seemed so wrong.”

But as Matt continued on his quest, he discovered some simple and effective ways to feel better. Early on, one of the more important lessons was how to deal with his anger.

With his sons Charlie and Barry.

“I’d get angry about some small thing in my professional career, some feedback perhaps,” he recalls. “And I’d never before contemplated the idea that when you start being angry, you don’t have to continue. You can choose not to be.

“The funny thing was when I looked into all the neuroscience and philosophy around dealing with anger, it told me the same sorts of things my mother used to say, ‘Take a few breaths, count to 10 and reset where you are.’”

Writing the book meant revisiting his research. The process of putting it all into words was more challenging than Matt had envisaged.

“When I told my dad I was thinking about writing a book, he said it would be really, really hard and I was like, ‘No, it’ll be fine! Then about six months later, I was on the phone to him admitting he was right.”

Matt is proud of the finished book – far prouder than he was of the movie he made or the TV shows – and he’s excited about sending it out into the world. The whole process of creating it has changed both his thinking and his habits.

Matt with Jeremy Wells, who says he can see a huge improvement in his colleague's mental health
Matt and Radio Hauraki co-host Jeremy.

The new Matt takes cold showers, goes to the gym every day, and gets the tricky task done first instead of procrastinating because all those things have a positive influence on the reward centre of the brain and lead to greater life satisfaction. Basically we need a bit of pain to balance out pleasure.

He also makes an effort to connect with friends, resists any craving for junk food, doesn’t let silly things wind him up and is more mindful when spending time with his sons Charlie, 17, and Barry, 14, instead of being distracted by his phone or rushing on to the next thing he wants to do.

“I was talking to my radio co-host Jeremy Wells about it,” says Matt. “He spends four hours every weekday broadcasting with me on Radio Hauraki’s breakfast show and he said I’m so much better than I used to be. Much less moody, less stressed and I come into work with a smile on my face.

“I hope that people read the book and have the same results that I had while I was researching it. Because if you’re not feeling good, it makes sense to try to feel better.”

Help is here

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).

Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757, free text 4202 (to talk to a trained counsellor about how you are feeling or to ask any questions) or visit depression.org.nz/get-help.

Anxiety NZ – 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)

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