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WomanOf the Month 12-03: Alexandra Stoddard

Alexandra Stoddard has the happiness gene. "It###s my greatest inheritance and treasure," she says. Known as the pioneer of the Happiness Movement, Stoddard is a self-described philosopher of contemporary living and a long-time interior designer. She has published many books on living happily and beautifully, including her most recent, Choosing Happiness: Keys to a Joyful Life. "It may be that 50% of happiness is inherited, but even if you are a terrible curmudgeon, you can work at it, try to get rid of negative energy and make it more positive," she says. "I am Aristotelian in my beliefs. I think that people are supposed to live the good life, and that happiness is the first principle of life. The key to preserving and creating happy relationships starts with you."

Stoddard###s Happiness Movement has been the catalyst for Happiness Clubs, which have sprung up throughout the U.S. in cafes, homes, bookstores, and other venues. Members gather to talk about what makes them happy and focus on what###s right with their lives. "The one rule is, they can###t complain," says Stoddard. "That###s a real challenge for some people, but the way to get happy is not to study unhappiness."

Stoddard###s career in interior design began with a full scholarship to the New York School of Interior Design in the 1960s. She was fortunate to find her passion early on. "I believe that beauty is truth and it is the driving force in all of our lives," she says.

Through her work, Stoddard noticed that the wealthier her clients were, the more difficulty they often had savoring everyday, simple touches of beauty. "They have too much and expect too much of the world," says Stoddard. "Why do some people seem so happy and make you feel so wonderful, while others have every reason to be happy, with good health, financial security, and other blessings, yet they seem to be the most miserable?" she asks. "If you can###t live the spiritual journey while you are physically inside this body, than you are missing out. If you can figure out how to be happy, you will spread more life and joy to other people in a troubled world. And if you are unhappy, you have work to do."

Happiness requires struggle and effort and discipline, according to Stoddard. It involves reading the right books, thinking the right thoughts, turning off the TV, deciding not to go to a particular movie. "Happiness is an emotion and energy that permeates your being," she says. "And it###s cumulative. Every happy moment I###ve had is with me right now-this moment is crowded with joy and wonderful feelings."

Happy, Healthy Relationships
Stoddard offers these suggestions for creating happy, healthy relationships:

  • "We have to be whole ourselves in order to be in a starting position to have healthy relationships," she says. "I would urge every woman to pamper herself, buy some pretty stationary and send a letter to a friend, get a haircut, have a massage, have pretty flowers in the house, take care of herself, read more. Everybody loves us, but they are busy themselves, and we must self-nurture in order to self-heal and get on the path to happiness and health."

  • "I###m a great believer in constant affirmation and constant reinforcement. I always kiss and hug my husband and call him my boyfriend (even though we###ve been married 30 years) and tell him how much I love him."

  • "Criticism is out. If someone has 20 pounds to lose, that###s their problem, not yours. Do not criticize. I teach by positive affirmation. If I want someone to smile or laugh more, than I do. I love to pamper other people, because I love the beauty around me."

  • "Every day is sacred. There is no hierarchy of days. I use my crystal, I don###t keep it for ###special occasions###. I keep pretty towels in the bathrooms, nice sheets on the beds. Make your environment as sensuous as you can. Don###t do for others what you wouldn###t do for yourself. When I was younger, I used to think, Oh, I###ve got to have fancy food because I###m having friends over. Now I realize, if you like chicken, you can have great dinner parties with chicken, you don###t have to serve something more expensive. Sometimes women lack self-confidence because they are not true to themselves."

  • "I have one person I can change-only one person. You can try to change someone else and you might be able to change them by 5%, but then they go retro on you and get worse! You might as well just work on being the person you want to be. Better to just always be growing and evolving, more actualized. That passion and radiant energy and enthusiasm will spill over into all your relationships."

  • "I always give my children the good news. And I really don###t burden my friends with problems. Everybody###s struggling. If you really want to tell someone a problem, go for a long walk by yourself and tell it to yourself. Friends are not complainers. I don###t go to friends when I###m not doing well. I feel I###ve got work to do on myself and I can do it myself. I don###t believe in psychiatrists, either. They###ve got everyone feeling they are wounded birds and should go back and resurrect terrible stuff. If something terrible happened to me when I was three years old, believe me, I don###t remember it, and I would never tell you. I don###t believe in wallowing in anything. When people say you need to work through your tragedy-forget about it. You don###t have time to work through your tragedy. I believe in moving forward."

  • "Happiness takes work every single day. You###re not going to be happy if you###re a lightweight, just because you have perfect bosoms and perfectly manicured nails and toes but haven###t read something that###s going to stretch you. I believe what Socrates believed: you should question every day, am I living the life I should be living, thinking the proper thoughts? Do I have the right attitude?"

Stoddard stresses, finally, that any negative thought is going to have a negative result; and any positive thought is going to have a positive result. "If you are attractive to yourself, you will be attractive to others," she says. "You will be a magnet, and people will want to be with you."

The most wonderful way to begin a relationship is with a smile and with confidence. knowing you are a good person inside and out, radiating joy from the inside, reaching out and hugging people, she notes. "Live in the moment. Have your life be a constant celebration of all that###s good in it."

Stoddard###s next book, due to come out in August 2004, will be a collection of essays entitled, Things I Want My Daughters to Know.

"I###m in a wonderful place, and I think I have a strong message to get out to people," says Stoddard. "Aristotle was very practical, very grounded, and I think that###s where I should stay in my work. Because, after all, we live on this earth."

To find out more about Alexandra Stoddard###s books and other work, go to www.alexandrastoddard.com