GROUP URGES PEOPLE TO ... Put on a happy face
Aug. 8 is 'Admit You're Happy Day,' but some area residents celebrate it year-round.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
LISBON -- Cheryle Herr says her aim is simple.
"My goal in life is to share a smile," said the substance abuse counselor. "When I die, I want to leave a legacy: 'She made me smile.'"
As a counselor at the Family Recovery Center, Herr deals with abusers daily. She attempts to help them see the positive side of life, focusing on their strengths instead of weaknesses.
"Life is difficult anyway," Herr said. "If we make it more difficult by being negative, it doesn't get us anywhere."
Encouraging others to recognize the positiveness in life is just what a 35-year-old Texas woman had in mind three years ago when she declared August "Admit You're Happy Month." Pam Johnson is asking the nation to celebrate the month, and especially Aug. 8 -- "Admit You're Happy Day" -- by looking for the silver lining in all situations.
The founder of the 3,000-member "Secret Society of Happy People" asks other smilers to wear a silver ribbon or a silver shirt, pass out silver Hershey's Kisses and donate silver coins to charity.
"How much time is spent talking about happy moments in proportion to the time spent being chronically cranky?" Johnson asked. "Our overall purpose is to get people to converse more about happiness."
Society's influence: Happiness, she said, has taken a back burner as our society has moved from the Ed Sullivan era to the era of Jerry Springer. Being chronically cranky, she said, has become politically correct. As we became more accepting of our hurt and tragedies, happiness was shut in the closet, she explained.
Johnson's society hopes to change that. At its Web site -- www.sohp.com -- the group attempts to spread happiness with a "Happy IQ Quiz," a listing of the century's happiest events and moments (the invention of indoor plumbing was No. 1), happy quotes, happy books and more than a dozen ideas on ways to celebrate the happy month of August.
"Hopefully, ultimately, it's a philosophy people will take to the dinner table, happy hour or to the local coffee shop ... or to the water cooler, wherever they do social bonding," Johnson said.
In the Mahoning Valley, some residents think Johnson's idea is a good one.
Kelly Williams, 29, of Mineral Ridge, said she would take up some of Johnson's "silver ideas."
Although she was born blind, Williams said she is known as an optimistic person.
"Some people look at my blindness as an obstacle," she said. "... I have good days and bad days both, but more good. I'm blessed by so much more."
Williams said her spirits are lifted by singing, reading the Bible and talking to family and friends.
Finding a purpose: Pastor Donald Stevenson of Abundant Life Fellowship in New Waterford said happiness can be found by discovering one's purpose in life and following it. Stevenson said he has helped several couples in his congregation solve marriage problems and stay together.
"We are blessed in blessing others," he said. "And it always has to do with helping others. Once you're out of that self-centered mess, there is so much more for us to learn and apply to life and its rewards."
He believes that today's "positive thinker gurus" have copied the advice of Jesus Christ.
Focuses on blessings: Greg Sprouse, 34, of Columbiana, said he grew up in a poverty-stricken home. He also watched his mother struggle with illness from the time he was 2 until she died of lung cancer seven years ago. Still, he was always able to focus on his blessings. Today, those blessings include a wife and three daughters, a home and a job.
"There are so many people out there who might not have what I do," he said. "I get up in the morning and thank God for all the blessings he's given me ... and I try to spread the joy God's given me."
Growing up, Sprouse said, he was taught to look for that silver lining.
"My father never ever portrayed a bitter attitude," he said. "He taught us to look at the bright side of things. ... We didn't know any different."
Mary Lally, 80, of Youngstown, says the happiest days of her life -- when she was rearing her six children -- are over. But, she is still known as a happy person.
"It's better to be happy than sad," she said. "Why waste time? I accept things as they are."
Lally said finding happy moments has been more difficult since her children grew and moved out of the house, but she has kept herself busy by working as parish secretary at St. Patrick Church in Youngstown.
"The most important thing is to keep busy, keep involved with people," she said. "People are the key for me."
Credits faith: Lally echoes the thoughts of Herr, Williams, Stevenson and Sprouse, saying that her faith in God helps keep her spirits high even when circumstances are difficult. All four Mahoning Valley residents say they have a strong belief that God will pull them up when things are low.
"With a deep faith, with belief in the power of prayer, what can you be," Lally asked, "but happy?"