By Lona O'Connor
In the glory that is Palm Beach, with its towering palms, tropical palaces and purveyors of precious jewels, who could possibly be seeking more happiness?
Well, in a private dining room at Bice on Peruvian Avenue, two dozen people (who, for the record, looked perfectly content with their lives) were ready.
They were attending a monthly meeting of the Happiness Club, which offers ideas and strategies for achieving the elusive state of happiness. The club is a subgroup of the Foundation for Women’s Cultural and Economic Literacy, a nonprofit educational group based in Palm Beach and New York.
No saccharine platitudes from “Coach Minx,” as she calls herself. She offered a bagful of tips that can be practiced anywhere, anytime.
“I don’t leave the mirror in the morning until I can walk out of that room with a smile,” she told the group. To keep each other honest, she and a friend regularly check on each other’s morning mirror smiles.
Two tips in two minutes. Not bad for the $20 admission. And Boren was far from done.
“It’s not how a day unfolds, it’s how we unfold our day,” she said. “We can unfold it with meditation, a prayer, a smile. We can look into the mirror and see our radiance.”
Boren studied with Martin Seligman, former head of the American Psychological Association and founder of the Happiness Project, now the World Well-Being Project, based at the University of Pennsylvania.
“He noticed that all the research was about what was wrong with us,” said Boren. “After World War II, people were coming back depressed.
“The ones who came back and got a life, got a wife, got a job — no one looked at the people who manage to get well and stay well.”
Seligman’s young daughter set him on the path. When she helped him in the garden, she spent as much time chasing butterflies as weeding. When he pointed that out, she replied, “Do you remember when I was younger I used to whine a lot? If I can learn not to whine, then you can learn not to be such a grouch.”
Seligman put his daughter’s lesson into practice.
“He began by looking at the cornerstones of happiness, but it’s more than happiness,” said Boren. “It’s fulfillment, having a fulfilling life.”
Boren and her husband had their own epiphany from their son when he was small.
“My husband and I always clink our glasses to happiness and my son thought we were saying ‘happy mess.’ That’s brilliant. Now we toast our happy messes.”
Boren asked the group at Bice to add to their lives the components of flourishing. She likes the word because it contains the idea of flowering and growing luxuriantly.
Those components include encouraging positive emotions, engagement with meaningful activities, relationships with others, a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
She strongly recommends keeping a daily gratitude journal, and several members of the audience said they do the same.
“It’s the single most effective way to increase your sense of happiness,” she said.
She quoted the philosopher Voltaire’s advice to make the choice to construct a happy day, and she invoked what she called “the Beethoven factor,” referring to his continuing to compose great music after going deaf.
“If Beethoven could manage, so can you,” she said. “I’m not about negating sadness, I’m not about putting on a happy face. I’m saying, turn off your cellphone and go for a walk in the woods, truly allow yourself to be fully connected. You will have a whole different perspective on life.”
Audience members had some ideas of their own on the subject of engagement: listening to the sound of waves on the beach, breathing deeply, swimming, being fully present when meeting a new person.
“Another word for engagement is savoring the moment,” said Boren.
She also suggests writing — and sending — “legacy letters” to friends and family, focusing on specific things that make those people precious.
“On Saturday, I sat down and wrote legacy letters to my son and my daughter,” said Boren. “It’s the best gift I know how to give people.”
At the end of the meeting, Boren encouraged the attendees to stay in touch and let her know they’re on the road to flourishing, asking for a show of hands. Only a few hands went in the air. Boren persisted.
“I’m a coach and coaches challenge. Don’t just walk out and say I was dynamic. I want you to email me in a month. I want to know what you did and what shifted.”
Laura Opdenaker, who runs an events and public relations firm, brought a friend to share wine and hors d’oeuvres before the presentation. She likes the Happiness Club so much she just joined the board of directors.
“When I started coming to events, I loved listening to the people at my table,” she said.
“There’s a good energy in the room. The group is always very diverse. They are very supportive of each other. It wasn’t just another cocktail party.”
The Happiness Club meets at least once a month. Venues vary. For more information on the Foundation for Women’s Cultural and Economic Literacy, visit www.fwcel.org.
For more information on Minx Boren, visit www.coachminx.com.
Lona O’Connor has a lifelong interest in health and healthy living. Send column ideas to Lona13@bellsouth.net.