What Happiness Club Is, and Why It’s Worth Starting One

Photo Cred: Craig Foster

What even IS happiness? Why is it supposedly everyone’s goal? Why is it so f**king complex?

I used to think happiness was the suspicious and perpetual state of annoyingly positive people. I saw it as something you could fake; as a mandatory prerequisite for birthdays (it’s in the song, after all). I thought maybe it was something movies and books and sunny days and friends sprinkled on you like invisible mood glitter. I chose songs based on how happy I wanted to feel. I chose lovers hoping to skyrocket to that fairytale-ish level of tragic bliss only found in dreams and teen novels. To this day I tweak my food choices to maximum happiness potential (my most advanced formula being healthiness/10 + percentage of peanut butter + proximity to dark chocolate = Max. Happiness or MH). All I knew was that happiness felt nice, and I wanted to feel nice as often as possible. BUT, was the secret to happiness in the things I had or the environments I found myself in? Should I just be seeking out things/people/music that made me feel the way chocolate did? I had heard that love makes people happy. I had read that charity/volunteer work is good for that kind of thing. When I found the path to happiness, would it be a Sherlock Holmes’ style “aha!” moment, or would I have to endlessly adapt to happiness in a changing world? Deep ass questions.

I am 29 years old, and I recently figured out that happiness isn’t lying dormant in your favorite people/places/activities/foods, only to transfer to your heart via molecular diffusion when you come into contact. Happiness isn’t dependent on your fate in the world at all. It is dependent on you.

No one can give you happiness. No amount of chocolate or Jason Mraz can truly bring you happiness unless you decide that it can.

Are you kidding me? Happiness is a f**king CHOICE? 
Well, yeah.

Your super powerful brain controls the flow of ‘happy’ chemicals like serotonin that give you those nice feelings. Things like chocolate and gentle ukulele strums can trigger the movement of serotonin but ultimately YOU are in control. It’s simpler than we think, but it’s not always a cakewalk. It’s not typically possible (or ideal) for most of us to choose happiness every moment of every day. Those ceaseless declarations of “ALWAYS look on the bright side” make people look like assholes for a reason. There are other useful emotions that help us grow and thrive in the most unlikely situations — and denying them in favor of niceness ironically turns out to be not so nice. No one is advocating for you to choose happiness at political protest rallies or funerals. Sadness, anger, fear — they are choices too and depending on the situation, they’re sometimes the right ones. Your emotions are meant to be a compass that guides you toward the best outcomes in life. That doesn’t mean throwing a tantrum at your friend’s birthday or letting the red rage take over on the highway is the best option. Just acknowledging that you have options is probably your best bet in any given circumstance. We’re all human and capable of both choosing the least ideal emotion, and learning from the consequences, we hope without doing any damage. Let’s get back to the Happiness Option.

Choosing happiness is sometimes easier than we think, and it’s sometimes like picking one cookie at your favorite bakery — it takes a minute and some thought to get the best result, and maybe some post-choice assessment (“should have gone with triple chocolate/I’ve had better peanut butter/wouldn’t trade my still-warm macaroon for the world”) to make for better choices in the future. This is where our happiness triggers — those things outside of us we don’t depend on but can definitely use in smart ways — come in. Important to note: as we mature, we find happiness in new triggers and can let go of things that no longer serve our happy train. We don’t have to judge the things themselves: ie. swapping weekend benders for quieter nights or switching from coffee to tea, but we tend to find our happiest selves when we listen to how stuff affects us.

I don’t always choose happiness when I want to. I don’t even KNOW all of my triggers or pretend to know the secret to finding them. But I do believe a. that we are all seeking a little more happiness and 
b. that we can help each other recognize and choose the crap out of it.

Without further adieu, I give you: Happiness Club. It’s a casual gathering of people through your work or school or social circle that incorporates a short, mindful talk about finding happiness in our current world and one or two rotating weekly activities based on what the group has to offer (which I’ve found is practically endless). For the first Happiness Club meetup on the 42nd Street Tour, we brought adult coloring sheets and crayons. We snacked on Canadian chip flavors recently acquired on our day in London, Ontario. I requested that the club be a place where expectations and preconceptions about the meet and the people who show up be sloughed off at the door just for that simple hour. I then led a conversation about the ‘permission’ to be happy — which is something I’m learning only I can grant myself.

The coloring was a smash. An instant transport to a quiet, focused state — perfect for a little mind-opening chat. People shared stories or asked questions or just sat quietly listening. Some came and went at leisure according to food and laundry and time constrictions. No one worried or judged. One attendee taught 4 chords on her ukulele and passed it around — each person tutoring the next in a circle of peaceful conversation, colored sheets, and potato chips. Passersby stopped to take in the scene. The cold northeastern wind and the cramped bus hours and the live theater drama and the bodily toll of tour just melted away. Thus Happiness Club was born and flourished. It is meant to be simple and easy to group-manage. It is meant to evolve and yet stay anchored in its commitment to simplicity. I am going to start a Happiness Club every where I go, and I’d love for you to attend.

Photo Cred: Kaitlin Lawrence

Look for more posts here and on Facebook.

This week’s ‘Guerrilla Happiness’ assignments: 
1. Send a message to someone who has helped you find happiness in your life. Tell them you’re grateful and why.
2. Leave a small, happy handwritten note for someone you work with to find. Break out of your usual social circle for this!

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