The pursuit of happiness is a well-known American endeavor and inalienable right listed in the Declaration of Independence. Yet happiness is such a subjective state, it can be hard to measure, let alone pursue.
Not for Spokane women. Using fundamentals from the field of positive psychology to help area women pursue happiness in a practical way, Spokane therapist Suzie Johnson launched the Happy Women’s Club – Counseling and Outreach Center. The group meets monthly to share lunch, their lives, community involvement and a common quest to become happier.
“This is a fun and safe place for women to connect to work on increasing their own level of happiness and others’ (happiness), and to give back to the community,” said Johnson, noting that each month they help a local charity. In March, for example, the women brought donations for the Humane Society. In April they’ll support the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.
“This is not a therapy group, but we use positive psychology strategies to increase our own happiness,” Johnson adds. “To connect with someone else and be known and share your story and volunteer together builds community. If nothing else, they will feel more connected and that will raise their feeling of well-being.”
At the March meeting, women arrived with dog food and pet supplies. While Johnson circulated a card for a sick member, they filled plates and chatted. Soon every seat was taken and Johnson gave up her chair to stand in the doorway.
Any woman is welcome and after just four meetings the club has grown by word-of-mouth referrals from four members to almost 20. As Johnson led the women through several thought-provoking exercises, they shared stories from their lives. In between meetings, the women work individually through two books, “The Happy Book” by Rachel Kempster and Meg Ledger and “Even Happier” by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.
As they took turns talking about personal experiences and epiphanies, the conversation was peppered with laughter and encouraging nods. Later, they sang “Happy Birthday” to two of the women and ate cupcakes.
But the conversation wasn’t sugary frills and frosting. The women talked about how they’ve found treasures in painful experiences. They discussed how busy schedules can compromise happiness and offered each other tips to change that. And they shared the small and big things that bring them personal pleasure, from favorite smells to gratitude and goals.
The group, said Nori Beck, is a way to break away from her busy life and “just focus on positive things in life. That has been a very good thing for me.”
Beck, who attends with her adult daughter Stacy Beck, said it has improved their relationship by helping them talk about more than family activities and schedules. “It gives us a venue to talk about more feelings or reflect on our experiences. It gives us an indirect chance to reveal our thoughts.”
The idea for the Happy Women’s Club came during Johnson’s dissertation. She interviewed about 40 “subjectively happy women” and found several consistent similarities. “The women pretty much all said the same thing,” said Johnson, explaining that the study participants all had a core drive to be happy. They also had positive relationships, fun, fitness, faith and an attitude of generosity.
“They still have bad things happen to them but have a different perspective on it and look beyond that and care about other people. I was inspired,” said Johnson, adding that “It wasn’t Pollyanna. They still hurt, but they could see beyond. They could find some thread to hold onto and make them better and not bitter.”
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if the happy women could impact the not-so-happy women?’ ” said Johnson, describing how happy women can inspire others by showing how a spirit of abundance and gratitude leads to a higher quality of life. With that goal and a vision to eventually grow from the local club to clubs across the country, Johnson expects to see a positive impact on the community.
“If people are happier they do more positive things toward others. If everyone does that, you will have a better community,” she said. “People will care for each other, reach out, offer resources. It will make the society healthier if the people are healthier.”
The members agree. “It is a very positive club. The things we do are so positive. It really does affect your life,” said Lorri Kirstein. “It truly makes me feel happy.”
“It is really a fun and uplifting meeting and I would highly recommend it to anyone, whether they feel they are happy already or happy enough,” said Nori Beck. “It is like cars need tune-ups. Just like that, I think our emotional health needs a tune-up once in a while. No matter what status our happiness level is at, even if we are already fulfilled, it is good and fun to go to a meeting like that.”
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