If You’re Happy And You Know It
Fairfield’s Guru of Bliss
Happiness Club members flash their big smiles at the Fairfield Public Library’s monthly meeting.
Photo by Stan Godlewski
Lionel Ketchian may be the happiest person you’ve never heard of. Long before the torrent of happiness self-help books came out, Ketchian had organized the first Happiness Club in Fairfield, and then began monthly meetings at the Fairfield Public Library—exhorting anyone who’d listen to just try happiness. But he wasn’t promoting happiness as an end goal. Ketchian believes it is a state you could achieve right now—not when you lose ten pounds, when your ship comes in, or everything just goes your way. “Happiness for happiness sake,” says Ketchian.
What Lionel began sixteen years ago has grown into 140 autonomous Happiness Clubs around the country and the world as far away as India, the Middle East, and Australasia. There are no membership fees, no solicitations, nothing to pay or join. And these “clubs” are equal parts workshop, support group, and social get-together. People just go to share happiness. Often guest speakers are invited to talk about such topics as wellness, self-help, and spirituality. But, according to Ketchian, it’s all about happiness, and how we can use it in our lives.
Lionel’s been mentioned in local news, The New York Times, and on television. He does a monthly radio show with Dr. Bernie Siegel. He sends out his happiness newsletters to worldwide readers at his own expense. And the many Lionel fans and happiness seekers will tell you that once you get the chance to meet this big-hearted, 70-year old husband, father, and granddad—who claims he’s been continuously happy for 25 years—you’re going to want to have some of what he’s got.
Ketchian tells us he can be strolling the sidewalks of Fairfield, and complete strangers will smile warmly as he passes by. Why? He says it’s because he’s been happy since he made the “happiness decision” on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 1990. After he discovered happiness for himself, Ketchian wanted to share it. He’d already had a successful career running his family’s printing business. But it was in retirement Ketchian became a happiness phenomenon.
Inspired by ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Epictetus, he taught a class in happiness at Sacred Heart University from 1999-2002; wrote a simple little book, Food For Thought, praised by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and others; and remains Fairfield’s evangelist of happiness.
Is it too good or too “woo-woo” to be true? You could end up concluding he may just be onto something. “If you lost your wallet or purse,” he says, “you’d think of nothing else but finding it. What about happiness?” Like that lover of life, Leo Buscaglia, who pleaded we live, love, and learn, and like Dr. Siegel who gave us prescriptions for living—Ketchian’s message is simple. We can chose to be happy, and this one powerful decision will make all the difference. For ourselves, our families, the world. It worked for him.
Ketchian sprinkles his homilies with quotations from the likes of Richard Carlson, Eckhart Tolle, and even some Deepak Chopra or Dr. Wayne. He mentions the Greek philosophers. His favorite, Epictetus, preached that there is only one way to happiness— and to cease worrying about things that are beyond the power of our will. But the Ketchian curriculum is all his own.
What’s his secret? In our age-old pursuit of happiness, in these anxious times, we’re desperate to know. But maybe it’s not such a secret after all. Ketchian again mentions Epictetus who told his students, “As you decide and choose, so you become.”
At a recent monthly happiness get together at the Fairfield Public Library, about thirty people assembled to hear Ketchian’s message. “I really like it. Lionel has given me tips for changing my life. It’s like vacuuming out all the negativity. I want happiness in my life,” says Marlene Keller of Fairfield. Karen Douglas of Stratford found the Happiness Club after she’d lost her husband years ago.
For her, Ketchian’s mantra is more than self-help. “It is a way to make better choices and to be happy despite a rough and horrible past,” she explains, having immigrated to America from Europe to escape the horrors of WWII. There are many more stories like those, people who endured something painful and sought a way out of their sadness. Others, like Saul Estreicher of Bridgeport, a nine year happiness veteran, says, “I learned to find happiness within myself, and, as Lionel’s always saying, we have the choice to be happy or to be right.”
Check out happinessclub.com for more information.
Positivity = Longevity
Many scientific studies have concluded that happier people live longer because they may have less cortisol and more serotonin.