That first piece of chocolate cake has your brain singing with pleasure. At least it seems so, however fleeting the sensation.

What about the second piece — how do you feel?

Speaker Lizzie Casanave has the Flint Public Library audience thinking about momentary pleasure and its relationship to happiness.

She spends an hour this Tuesday afternoon in a fast-moving, wide-ranging talk titled “Be Happy: The Science of Happiness and How to be Happier.”

She’ll do the same at two upcoming library talks, this Saturday in Swampscott and next Saturday, March 30, in Merrimac.

The good news is that it’s in your power to cultivate happiness, said Casanave, 48, an adjunct instructor at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill.

Casanave unveils ideas that may well be new to listeners.

She displays a pie chart with a happiness quotient: 50 percent relies on genetics, 10 percent on our current situation and a whopping 40 percent on what we think, according to the latest research.

Neuroplasticity, forging new thought pathways, is available to people of all ages, according to researchers.

Knowing yourself and being true to yourself — authenticity — is important. Philosophers old and new maintain that we are what we think.

Casanave’s PowerPoint presentation features pop-ups of pups, single-panel comics and tales, including one about a poor farm family.

Townspeople felt bad when they heard that the family’s only horse ran away. The farmer said maybe it was unfortunate. Maybe not.

Days later, the horse returned with three wild horses. Townspeople said this was wonderful. The farmer said maybe.

Before long, the farmer’s only son fell from one of the horses and broke his leg. Townspeople said this was terrible. The farmer said maybe.

Soon, a general came through town recruiting all able-bodied young men to go to war.

The story is food for thought. As are ideas about what makes people happy. Some researchers think gratitude, cultivating an appreciation for life and all its messiness, builds happiness, Casanave said.

The instructor, a cheerful woman whose presentation encourages audience participation, has given about 20 of these talks. She has also presented workshops to students on the benefits that accrue from a positive outlook.

Casanave, of Arlington, has taught at Northern Essex for 15 years, primarily philosophy classes. She also teaches at Middlesex Community College.

She and her husband have two children, 18 and 11. Kaden, a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, made a video of his mom’s talk last week at the Flint library in Middleton.

Casanave grew up in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, graduating high school in 1989. She studied philosophy and religion at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, and earned a master’s degree in critical and creative thinking in 1999 from UMass Boston.

She’s an upbeat person and frequently smiles. But she said in an interview that she has had to work at being happy.

“I have struggled at times, as everyone has,” she said.

Misconceptions abound on what constitutes happiness, she said. Her talk presents practical ways to change thinking and feel happier.

Among the audience members last Tuesday was retired high school art teacher Joline Yeaton of Boxford. 

She was especially glad to hear Casanave highlight positive changes related to hunger and health in the world.

“I am so happy I came,” Yeaton said. “I think the more you become educated in pursuing happiness, the happier you can become.” 

If you go

What: “Be Happy: The Science of Happiness and How to be Happier”

When: Saturday, March 23, 1 p.m.

Where: Swampscott Public Library, 61 Burrill St.

How much: Free. Register at or 781-596-8867.

What: “Be Happy: The Science of Happiness and How to be Happier”

When: Saturday, March 30, 11 a.m.

Where: Merrimac Public Library, 86 West Main St., Merrimac

How much: Free. No registration required.


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