LAFAYETTE -- Bob Nozik recalls a time in 1987 that started off like a typical morning, exchanging pleasantries with colleagues at work.
Nozik remembered responding to a rather unanimated "Hi Bob, how are you?" with a cheery, "Great!"
He didn't think much of it until later when Nozik got the same sneer, dismissive hand-wave and an "Oh, you're always great," response from two other colleagues at the University of California Medical Center (UCSF) in San Francisco, where Nozik worked as clinical professor of ophthalmology.
Baffled by the annoyance that seemed triggered by his cheery demeanor, Nozik began to think he'd crossed the line at work by being too jovial. Still, these encounters forced him to realize what was becoming obvious to everyone else -- he was a lot happier than he used to be.
"I had become the happiest person I know," said Nozik, a retired physician living in Lafayette.
Years of studying the happiness of his family, friends and colleagues, as well as thorough research on the subject of happiness, led Nozik to offer an ongoing monthly Positive Living Forum, also known as the "Happiness Club," through Lafayette Recreation. The open-to-the-public interactive session covers the keys to happiness developed by Nozik from his own life experiences and further explored in his book, "Happy 4 Life: Here's How to Do It."
"Everyone wants to be happy," he said. "Happiness is our number one goal."
Nozik remembers a time when he wasn't too happy. The year was 1969, and he thought he'd accomplished all his major goals by his mid-30s -- private practice, marriage, children, a new house and "living in San Francisco, the city of my dreams."
"I rated myself a C- to a D+, low/normal happiness," Nozik said. "Even though I had achieved my goals, I was still not particularly happy."
A Peggy Lee song, "Is That All There Is," hit home with him.
"I was lying in my bed, staring at the ceiling thinking, 'Is this all there is?' " he said. "I should be satisfied. In the past, I was very successful at getting external approval -- it got me money, status, respect."
Yet, it still wasn't enough.
"Then I decided I will do things differently," he said.
Always a meticulous planner, Nozik began to let go of trying to control and plan everything and instead embraced spontaneity, "breaking down the old approaches to life, to give way to a new beginning, to build up a new way of becoming."
Gradually, the changes he made were beginning to take effect -- so much so that even he didn't realize how happy he'd become until that early morning in 1987, after greeting his UCSF colleagues. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him: "I may not be the only happiest person I know."
That realization led to Nozik putting an ad, inquiring "Are you happy?" in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. That led to several inquiries from curious readers. Soon, Nozik began to build a reputation in the San Francisco Bay Area as being the "Happiness Guy," an honor that garnered him coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle as well as The Associated Press in 1987.
"I got my Andy Warhol's 15-minutes of fame just for being happy," he said.
He even established "Happy People, Inc.," a "support group" for happy people.
After his retirement in 1999, Nozik dedicated more time to his happiness project, leading to forming the Happiness Club in Lafayette eight years ago, writing books and coaching.
Carol Hirano said a friend who had been attending Nozik's class for years invited her to join.
"Bob presents his topics totally prepared, with sources sometimes opposing but always stimulating and thought provoking," said Hirano, a Happiness Club devotee for two years. "Group participation and sharing of personal stories are inevitable. A problem nagging me for weeks is somehow directly or indirectly answered in his class."
Hirano's husband of 45 years passed away suddenly a year ago.
"Even though I had tremendous support from family and close friends, I attribute much of my ability to bounce back to Bob's class," she said. "He is the consummate teacher, conducting his sessions with intelligence, humor and wisdom."
Nozik's sessions are for everyone -- happy people, those dealing with issues common to everyday living and those drawn to developing further as complete adults, said Chris Moy, who first heard Nozik speak about happiness in 2005.
"I was drawn to his sessions because of my interest in self-growth and the ultimate goal of true happiness," Moy said.
Nozik encourages group participation and topics become more personal and thought-provoking as members ask questions and share their experiences, she said.
"I have grown as an individual and am more appreciative and content with my life, partly because of his class," Moy said. "Some people misread it as being only for those who want to be happy or those who are already happy, but that is not the case. All are welcome and all fit in nicely to Bob's format and to the group."
"HAPPINESS CLUB," A POSITIVE LIVING FORUM