'Happy' film sparks career change for Bellingham woman

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 2, 2013 

Positive psychology coach Christine Magnussen teaches "The Science of Happiness."

M. CATHY ANGELL — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

When I say I teach happiness, I get some odd reactions. Most people say, "I'm happy enough." But, are they? Could they be happier? Sadly, the U.S. ranks 25th among the world's countries, according to recent research on happiness.

I spent many years as a teacher, social worker, wife and mother, focused on the welfare of others. I was at a crossroads in my life, seeking a new direction, when I happened upon the award-winning documentary "Happy," produced by Tom Shadyac. This enlightening film interviews people from around the world - in poverty in Brazil, in cohousing in Denmark, and in the nation of Bhutan, which stresses gross national happiness.

The "Happy" film sparked a new beginning for me, as well as a new career. After seeing the film, I began delving into the world of positive psychology. I found solid scientific research that revealed a strong association between happiness and improved relationships, better job performance and better health. It also showed that happy people live longer, not only because they're healthier but because their lives have more meaning and purpose.

The father of positive psychology is Martin Seligman, Ph.D., professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a former president of the American Psychological Association and the author of several books on the subject, including "Authentic Happiness" and "Learned Optimism." Rather than focus on illness or depression, this new science focuses on what brings us lasting contentment, health and joy.

As I pursued my interest in positive psychology, I discovered The Hapacus Project, a program founded by Bob and Virginia Pothier, who are devoting their lives to the teaching of happiness. They have condensed the vast research on the subject into a digestible course, designed both for the layperson and the professional.

The training provides tools to practice resilience; build self-esteem; reduce anxiety, stress and depression; and increase vitality and enliven relationships. It focuses on collaboration and community versus competition, teaching us interventions to prevent domestic violence, school bullying and war, leading us to sustainable happiness. Their program stresses reading, discussing, practicing and sharing or teaching these life-altering concepts to create lasting change. Many take the course during major life transitions to support them on their journey.

I am now one of 40 Hapacus-trained happiness teachers in the U.S., leading and training other teachers. This group of facilitators includes health professionals, counselors and public school teachers who offer classes online and in their own communities.

The curriculum is designed so facilitators can customize it to their audiences and areas of expertise. I offer a variety of happiness-based classes in health care, businesses, community settings and live online. Nurse and former teahouse owner Arlene Doeden, the other Hapacus teacher in Whatcom County, has designed her own faith-based version of the Hapacus curriculum.

Businesses, clubs and families are recognizing the necessity for change and are contacting us to incorporate the coursework into parenting classes, school presentations, workshops for health care professionals and staff trainings for corporations to build a culture of cooperation, collaboration, health and happiness.

As I teach these concepts, they become ingrained in me. I find myself living the positive perspectives I teach, consciously reframing my perspectives. I've learned to drink sunsets and taste a hug. Recently, I gifted an hour of gratitude to a hospital staff. They expressed deep appreciation for this rare opportunity to be recognized for their acts of compassionate service.

Being gluten-intolerant, I found I was viewing my life as full of restriction, with fewer options. Beginning next week, I will incorporate positive psychology concepts into a four-week course, Gluten Freedom, sharing with participants perspectives to replace an attitude of deprivation with one of abundant choice. The course will meet four Tuesdays beginning Sept. 10 at The Market at Lakeway, 1030 Lakeway Drive. The registration deadline is Sept. 5.

Life is full of choices. Our task is to gain the tools to recognize our options leading us to healthier and happier lives.

ABOUT WINDOW ON MY WORLD

Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com.

Christine Magnussen of Bellingham is a Positive Psychology Coach and Certified Food Psychology Coach conducting classes for individuals and groups in person and live online. She offers customized presentations to businesses, healthcare/wellness settings, and community groups. Watch for details on upcoming classes at EventsinBellingham.blogspot.com. To learn more, contact Christine Magnussen at happiness@peacecalm.com.

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