We all just want to be happy. It’s part of the human condition. More and more, choosing to pursue happiness is a cultural shift that is bringing more than a smile to many faces as people tap into inner wisdom that reveals to us where happiness can be found. Gretchen Rubin wrote The Happiness Project back in 2009 and it spent two years on the New York Times Bestseller list. She’s followed up with other books on happiness selling more than two million copies according to her website www.GretchenRubin.com, and they have been translated into 30 languages. People all over the globe want to be happy.
“Contemporary research shows that happy people are more altruistic, more productive, more helpful, more likable, more creative, more lighthearted, more resilient, more interested in others, friendlier and healthier,” writes Rubin in The Happiness Project. Who wouldn’t want some of that?
Vague discontent prompts a search
Ten years ago Tina Garrity was talking with friends about what to do with the rest of her life. She has five daughters, and at the time, the youngest who are twins, were about 11 years old. She assumed that with her kids getting a bit older she would go back to teaching because she has a Masters degree in education and had been a stay at home Mom, but every time she got close to acting on that, something held her back.
“I had a lovely home, five beautiful daughters, a good marriage, so I had things in my life and felt very fortunate. I didn’t have to go back to work. So I felt guilty about the fact that, at 48 years old, I had all these things but was feeling unhappy and discontent,” she said. A friend told her about a Happiness Club that met once a month in Fairfield, Connecticut. “So I went there and it was fabulous. The speaker that night was Dr. Bernie Siegel. He is a wonderful speaker and talks a lot about the things people need to be happy. I loved what I heard and continued to go. I can’t say I heard anything new but it was like, ‘Wow, I hadn’t thought of these things in a long time – things like gratitude, being responsible for yourself, the law of attraction, those kind of topics.’”
Starting a Happiness Club
One of the speakers presented a workshop about visualization and Tina realized that was what she wanted to do, inspire others by teaching about happiness. “I think my inner teacher was coming out,” says Tina. “I didn’t know what to talk about and was afraid of public speaking. I loved the Happiness Club so much and I felt better about myself, and I wanted to bring that to others. I thought other people needed to hear these things.”
She spoke with Lionel Ketchian, the founder of the Happiness Club in Fairfield and author of The Happiness Formula and One Step Method for Happiness, about starting a club in Madison where she lives. He supported the idea, she overcame her fear of public speaking and in October 2006 Tina started the Madison Happiness Club with about 12-18 people in attendance. Now there are 50-100 people who attend the last Wednesday of each month at the E.C. Scranton Memorial Library, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. The meetings are free and include a bit of business, a short talk by Tina and a presentation by an expert of some kind on a subject related to happiness. She maintains an email list that has 1200 names of folks who want to stay informed.
“It has consistently grown over the years,” says Tina. “People want to be happy. I believe that’s something we are all after. Happiness. I had things but things don’t make you happy. It’s an inside job.”
The Reality of Dealing with Grief
Tina says, “Grief is real. If you’re going through trauma or difficulty in life you have to honor that. But I think when you choose to be a happy person, and lead a happy life, you realize that those moments of sadness and depression won’t last forever. There are tools at your disposal that you can use like being there for other people, like sharing your story in a way that might be helpful for others going through a similar thing. When you help someone you help yourself and it makes you feel good.”
Over the years she has listened to many speakers on the subject of happiness and there are a few key things she finds important like having gratitude about the little things in life. Taking responsibility for your own happiness and knowing that it is ultimately up to you to find your way and having an attitude of acceptance about things you can’t change and can’t control is important.
She adds, “The past is the past and as much as you wish for it not to have happened you have to realize you can’t change it. You can’t change the fact that a loved one is gone. Grief is real and you have to honor that, but you can also look for ways to accept happiness into your life. Look for ways to honor that person in some way like creating something as simple as a memorial garden or as complex as a establishing a foundation in their name.”
Choosing to be happy
Last summer Tina was run over by her own car when it slipped out of gear. Her leg was badly damaged and she found herself completely off her feet for 10 weeks. It wasn’t easy. She said, “I made a decision to be happy. I could be miserable or I could make the best of it. It was a choice. I don’t believe we create our experiences but we can choose how we respond and deal with what is thrown at us in life.”
She believes we are all searching for how to be happy consistently. We want to be with people who are happy and she suggests surrounding yourself with positivity. To create that constancy we have to chase away the negative thoughts that permeate our minds. Mindfulness and an awareness of our thought processes helps to do that and we can choose to change how we think.
Tina volunteers for a knitting group at an assisted living facility called The Hearth at Tuxis Pond. Helen, one of the knitters in her group, is 103 years old. Helen’s husband died when she was in her late 30’s and she had four children to raise. She’s been through world wars and the depression. Within a few years of losing her husband she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, was institutionalized, and had to farm out her kids to family. She has had breast cancer twice. “She’s gone through a lot in her lifetime,” says Tina. “And she is happy and active. I asked her one time, how she keeps such a great attitude with everything she has gone through. She said, ‘I’ve always known things could always be worse.’” Accessing happiness is about changing perspective.
A Growing Trend
Tina says, “Happiness has exploded over the past years. We weren’t talking about being happy. We had stopped hearing about the inner life and the pain just got too great. Things won’t make you any happier. People are starting (over the past several years) to pay attention to the emotional world and caring about exercise and what they put in their bodies. It’s a holistic approach to life. You can’t keep performing at a high level if you aren’t in balance. I think we got out of balance. As a nation we began to talk more about feelings that matter.”
Speakers on a variety of interesting topics approach her on a regular basis for an opportunity to talk to her Happiness Club offering presentations on topics related to happiness. They volunteer their time and want to share their message. Meetings are free and the majority of the folks who attend are women although some men do attend, and the ages are about 40-70 years old, Tina estimates.
Bernie Siegel is a speaker, author and internationally recognized expert in the field of cancer and complementary holistic medicine. He has been working with happiness for decades and resources are available on his website www.berniesiegelmd.com including a DVD called Conversations with Bernie: Health and Happiness with Dr. Siegel being interviewed by Lionel Ketchian.
“The simple truth is, happy people generally don’t get sick,” writes Siegel in Love, Medicine and Miracles. “One’s attitude toward oneself is the single most important factor in healing or staying well. Those who are at peace with themselves and their immediate surroundings have far fewer serious illnesses than those who are not.”
Happiness Clubs can be found all over the world. Why? Because at the center of it people want to be happy. We may not always know how to get there but we know we want to be happy. Step one might be to just smile. Visit www.HappinessClub.com to find one near you.