What's she smiling about?

Happiness is an elusive and enviable feeling for those who feel stressed out or unfulfilled, but people who aren't happy may ben

Happiness is an elusive and enviable feeling for those who feel stressed out or unfulfilled, but people who aren't happy may ben

February 15, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

"Happiness is a warm puppy," the title of Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz's 1962 book, was inspired by Snoopy, Charlie Brown's beagle.

Not everyone likes dogs.

Different things make people happy, yet happiness is something everyone wants and seeks. The pursuit of happiness is described as an "unalienable right" in our forefathers' Declaration of Independence.

That pursuit is ongoing, and the target can be elusive.

Different strokes for different folks, says Irving Tucker, chairman of the Psychology Department at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

People and their personalities vary - and different things make different people happy. Tucker suggests taking the Jung Typology Test - available online at - to identify your basic personality type.


Happiness also is related to the brain and chemicals that can affect how you feel, Tucker says.

But biology alone does not determine happiness. People can be trained to it. "You can move it around," Tucker says.

"Be well. Do good work. Keep in touch," are the words spoken by public radio personality Garrison Keillor at the end of his weekday radio feature, "Writer's Almanac."

That message comes to the mind of Deryl Fleming when he thinks about what it takes to be happy.

For adults, happiness is about love and work, says Fleming, director of pastoral care services at Brook Lane Health Services in Hagerstown.

Relationships are an important part of happiness.

"We're wired to connect," he says.

Adrian Calabrese agrees. Happy people usually are not loners, she says. People look to relationships for joy, she says.

Calabrese describes herself as a holistic therapist, dealing with the whole person. She doesn't work with serious mental illness. She helps people deal with "situational problems," including stress. She works with people to find out what's going on in their minds and bodies to learn how it affects them spiritually.

"Relationships are key," says Sharon Albert, who coaches people about life based on their strengths. But she also says that people need adequate solitude.

Albert, who works in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., has taken a class with psychologist Martin Seligman, whom Bill Lucht, business liaison at the Community and Technical College of Shepherd in Martinsburg, W.Va., calls "the leader" in the positive psychology field. "He is it," Lucht adds.

Seligman's research has been in psychology texts for 20 years, Lucht says.

Seligman was keynote speaker at a June 2003 leadership symposium in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Seligman asserts that happiness can be cultivated by identifying and using strengths people already possess - kindness, originality, humor optimism and generosity among them - according to, a Web site that includes information about Seligman's books - "Learned Optimism" and "Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment" - as well as online surveys and questionnaires.

Last fall, Albert taught a class in positive psychology at Shepherd College. The idea of finding and using your strengths has helped her. "It changed my life," she says. "It gave me back me."

She acknowledges that some people are "genetically blessed with optimistic genes." She says she was born with "irritable" genes, yet she has learned how to be happy.

Part of the approach is to have a pleasant life. Do things, be around things that give you pleasure - chocolate, blue skies, Albert says.

Find your strengths. If you can use your strengths, you can get into the engaged state called "flow" by psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Happiness is found - not by looking for it - but by being fully involved with every detail of your life, whether good or bad, Csikszentmihalyi wrote in the introduction to his 1990 book "Flow. The Psychology of Optimal Experience."

Albert also says that living what she calls "the full life" makes people happy. That involves living in the service of something bigger than yourself. For some that's volunteering or believing in a "higher power."

The importance of play has been researched and established. Fleming cites "Aging Well," by George E. Vaillant, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which looked at the lives of more than 800 individuals for more than 50 years.

Humor is important. A good laugh can affect the immune system and change body chemistry, Albert says. "It's such a powerful gift."

But life is more than laughter. Fleming calls life a gift full of "wows, wonders and whoopees," but he says it is not without some ugliness and hurts.

Anytime there's change, there's a loss, he explains. People must deal with the deal with the change, work through the loss. People must grieve, he says.

A woman who's betrayed by her husband can heal and get beyond it. The question she needs to ask herself is, "Are you going to be a victim or survivor?" Fleming says.

Calabrese says her life has not been without its "bumps." For example, her town house burned.

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