The search for happiness takes some work, and it is a constant process, according to Dr. Beverly Ann Smallwood, a Hattiesburg psychologist.
For Smallwood, the definition of happiness is fully using the gifts and talents given by God to make a difference in the lives of other people.
“That’s what makes me happy,” said Smallwood, who is originally from Columbia but moved to Hattiesburg in the early 1980s.
Smallwood, who earned her Ph.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi, owns and operates The Hope Center on Hardy Street in Hattiesburg.
She founded the clinical practice in 1984, and the practice is one of many ways Smallwood tries to make her community, and the world at large, a better – and happier – place to live.
In addition to her busy work as a psychologist, she also does executive coaching for clients like the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a leadership development mentor for a number of other organizations, and she offers private seminars and consultations in those matters. She also does criminal forensic work and has served as an expert witness in many court cases.
If those credentials are not impressive enough, she is also a published author with a few titles to her name. One of those titles, “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me: 10 Make-or-Break Choices When Life Steals Your Dreams and Rocks Your World,” was published in January 2008 by Thomas Nelson, a world-leading publisher of Christian content.
She is currently shopping another book, “This World’s Gone Crazy: How to Move Forward with Purpose and Hope, Anyway,” to publishers, and she hopes to see it on shelves soon.
“I hope a publisher will put it on a little bit of a fast track … since it’s very timely to our world today,” said Smallwood.
Her busy career also includes writing a morning devotional on her blog five days a week. The blog is widely read, and it is often shared on social media websites like Facebook.
“I’ve been writing on my blog since about 2012,” she said. “I started just putting some inspirational thoughts on Facebook a little bit, and then they would get a little bit longer as I’d go into a little more detail with them. Then, somebody told me I needed to put them into a blog, so I did, and I just started writing. People started requesting more.”
Smallwood originally wrote the blog seven days a week, but that “was a little much,” she admitted.
“Now, I write them five days a week, which is still kind of a lot, but I did give myself a little bit of a break,” she said. “I pray and ask God for an idea, and He might take me to a certain scripture, or it might just be that, in the last few days, I’ve talked to someone who has a particular concern. They’re just wisdom that came from somewhere.”
At first, she would write the blog articles in the early mornings, she said.
“I used to only write them in the morning, and I’d get up at 4 o’clock with a blank slate and a blank mind, and then I had the pressure of getting them out that morning,” she said. “I started sleeping a little later, so now, I write them at night. I edit them in the morning, and sometimes I get really discouraged. I’ll say, ‘this sure is a lot of work,’ and then I’ll hear from someone who said an article helped them.”
That kind of feedback happens often and validates the entire experience, said Smallwood.
“I get feedback from other states and from people that I don’t know,” she said. “They’ll talk about how it changed their life. Not too long ago, I had a woman from California contact me and tell me a long story about how she was considering suicide. Somehow, she found my devotional, and that day, I had written about how it’s a new day. I can’t remember exactly the content, but she said it turned her around and saved her life. When you get things like that, I say, ‘Okay, Lord, I’ll keep going.’”
Smallwood said she thinks a lot of people define happiness the wrong way, and that leads to many problems.
“Their definition of happiness is not really happiness, because it’s so fleeting,” she said. “First of all, the way to find happiness is to be centered on the things that matter the most, and you have to be intentional about creating a life that is aligned with solid spiritual principles and God, aligned with who you really are and why you’re here. That’ll create a life that, when you look back on it, you will like what you see.”
She added that she often conducts purpose retreats, where “people come away for an intensive weekend … and look back at the most meaningful parts of their lives and ask themselves some questions.”
“During the retreat, one of the questions I’ll have people answer is just, if you could write your own eulogy, what would you say? If you could write what you would like people to say about you at the end of the line, what would that be? If you can identify that and then work backwards, so you’re living the kind of life that would cause them to say that about you at the end of life, I think you’re going to be happy,” said Smallwood.
Smallwood added that she is “no longer a spring chicken,” and she is very aware of the importance of time and not wasting it.
With those realizations, she said, she is also intentional about being happy each and every day.
“The days I’m most happy are when I’ve made progress, when I’ve done things that have helped me to bring out the best in people,” she said. “I love the days that others have felt my presence in a positive way. That’s a happy day for me.”
She also finds happiness and fulfillment in life through communication with God.
“My focused time of communication with God in the morning is, without question, the most important time of my day,” she said. “I chat with the Lord throughout my day, sending up quick communications and listening for what to do next in tough situations that arise. My time of study, prayer and reflection with journaling anchor me.”
Smallwood said she finds peace in changing circumstances from her quiet times with God.
“Happiness comes from the same root wood as ‘happenings,’ and we get a boost in mood when something pleasant or exciting happens,” she said. “However, often the happenings don’t cooperate with happiness. Circumstances can be difficult and stressful, so happiness can be fleeting if that’s the definition. My morning Bible study and prayer time anchors me in hope, wisdom and truth, no matter what happens. I can be more peaceful. My happiness is affected, but it is not controlled by my circumstances. God is faithful and unchanging in spite of every difficult situation.”
Smallwood said thankfulness also helps anchor her happiness.
“My prayer and reflection times help me to cultivate a habit of thankfulness,” she said. “Some psychological research has shown that a single habit can reduce depression, like writing down three things about which you’re thankful at the end of every day. That also trains you to be looking for the good things in your day, which impacts how you experience your day. I tend to do this in the morning rather than consistently at night, but the effect is the same.”
She added that having a sense of purpose also guides a person’s happiness.
“I am a happier person because I am a person full of the awareness of my purpose in life,” she said. “Knowing who I am and why I’m here creates energy and excitement for what I can do, even in small ways when times are hard. My purpose in life is to bring out the best in people. I can continue to live on purpose, even though my methods have to change. For example, during the current pandemic, I have gone to electronic means to continue to help my clinical and coaching clients.”
She said that, ultimately, knowing and living out your purpose in life is crucial to a search for – and successful finding of – happiness.
“Your purpose … knowing it, living it … is a critical part of experiencing a meaningful and fulfilling life,” said Smallwood.