Just Be Happy!
Club hopes to spread good cheer through good deeds
December 4, 2006
The Advocate
By Nadia Lerner
Staff Writer
photo by Paul Desmarals
Count the number of happy people you know. As much as we hate to admit it, the truth is they're few and far between. Two 15-year-olds from Stamford hope to change these numbers, demonstrating that happiness is available to anyone who wants to achieve it.

Tenth-graders Sami Stone, who attends Rye Country Day School in Westchester County, N.Y., and Kasey Glass, a student at Westhill High School in Stamford, have founded The Happy Club for teens. While the club's underlying mission is for members to achieve personal growth through community service, it's also "to have fun and just be happy," says Stone.

Although The Happy Club's first meeting is not until January, the girls have already plotted its course over the coming months with events such as collecting for Toys for Tots, a hat and mitten drive, visiting a geriatric facility and collecting prom dresses for teen girls unable to purchase them.

"I think I am a happy person, but no one can have too much happiness," says Glass, who developed the teen club with Stone after their mothers read a Sept. 6 article in The Advocate and Greenwich Time about the Happiness Club for adults in Fairfield. That organization, founded by Fairfield resident Lionel Ketchian, has been meeting since 2000 and is expanding, with chapters in California, Maryland, North Carolina and Canada.

Having been involved in community service, both teens recognize the value of their experiences. Several weeks ago, they headed a drive for the Lower Fairfield County Food Bank in Stamford that yielded nearly 2,000 pounds of food - a record at a site where the typical collection generates 1,200 to 1,800 pounds.

"There are many people who may not even have a family to get together with (on Thanksgiving)," says Stone. "It makes me feel so fortunate."

In addition to collecting food during the event, the girls spread the word about their new club by distributing fliers imprinted with The Happy Club logo and a smiley face. If their club meets with success, Glass and Stone hope to expand, perhaps nationally.

To help the girls get started, their moms met with Ketchian for pointers on launching the club.

"He got really excited and said he thought it was phenomenal," says Cathy Glass, Kasey's mom. "He felt what better people to talk about happiness than teens, because they (typically) have a lot of problems."

Ketchian suggested Cynthia Barnett, Ph.D., serve as facilitator at club meetings. Barnett, a Norwalk resident, is a former teacher, guidance counselor and assistant principal who subsequently became an entrepreneur bent on making people happy. In addition to writing two books including "Stop Singing the Blues: 10 Powerful Strategies for Hitting the High Notes in Your Life," the happiness coach is a cruise lecturer and mentor, leads live events and tele-seminars and is a retreat facilitator. Featured in a Time magazine article, Barnett was cited with other women who in midlife embarked on a new course in their lives.

"I am high on life because I work at it," says Barnett, who received personal training from Jack Canfield, author of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series. "I don't believe that happiness just happens."

To point teen members of The Happy Club in the right direction, Barnett plans to engage them in various exercises.

"It will be all hands-on, fun type of activities, no lecture stuff," she says. "Kids don't learn that way; they learn by doing."

She will first engage them in an exercise called "Positive Introduction." Here club members will recount a successful experience in their life while the group listens and takes notes of the strengths mentioned in the story. They will then list these strengths on a sticky note and hand it to the speaker.

"People leave the room grinning from ear to ear because they didn't realize they had all those strengths," she says. "I find that to be very powerful."

Stone and Glass - whose community service activities have taught them the meaning of gratitude for their own lot in life - are on the right track toward another exercise that Barnett plans to show club members. It involves keeping a "gratitude journal" to record the things they are grateful for in their lives. Barnett has been writing in such a journal for a decade.

"Every day brings new thoughts," she says. "It increases your awareness of what's around you. Living in the now and not worrying about the past or future. Just enjoying the moment."

Glass says she's grateful to be a volunteer at the Stamford assisted-living facility Brighton Gardens. She visits there after school to distribute drinks and snacks to the residents and play games such as hangman and checkers. She says it makes her happy to know she is helping someone else.

Stone has been volunteering at the Stamford food bank for the past year. She is involved in an organization called the Friendship Circle, which has put her in touch with a mentally disabled teenage girl.

"We basically do whatever she wants," says Stone, who joins the girl in trampoline jumping, board games and dog walks.

"It makes me feel really thankful for what I have, and makes me realize that there are many other people less fortunate out there."

Happiness Club founder Ketchian, who says he's been happy since 1990, thinks once a person achieves this state, they don't dwell on themselves as much. He says: "They have what they want in life. Our focus is to give back. For some reason, the more you give to others, the more it comes back to you. The feeling you get is another dimension of power." While there's always a reason to be unhappy, such as illness, money problems or death of a loved one, Ketchian says it's all about how you respond to them.

"You will never live your life without problems, but if you are happy, you can deal with them because you see the solutions."
The Happy Club's first meeting will take place Saturday, Jan. 6, at the Marriott Hotel in Stamford. Call 322-9990.

Ketchian can be contacted at www.happinessclub.com. His club's next meeting is Thursday, 7 p.m., at the main branch of the Fairfield Public Library, 1080 Old Post Road.