QUINCY -- Tracy Schlepphorst is encouraging local students to take control of their own happiness.
Schlepphorst, a former teacher and school counselor, recently wrote a book that she uses to help kids who are struggling with their emotions.
The book, "Eden and Her Happy," is geared for children ages 3-8. It tells the story of a little girl who lost her happiness and what she did to find it.
Schlepphorst has been sharing the story this week with kindergarten students in Quincy's parochial schools. As she goes from school to school to read the story and talk with students, she is handing out copies of the book to each kindergartner -- thanks to the generosity of Titan International, which agreed to underwrite the costs for this week's book distribution.
Schlepphorst says the book offers an important message that even the youngest readers can grasp.
"The message is you can't expect to feel happy all the time," she said. "You have a whole bellyful of emotions. Sometimes you have to allow your other emotions to have a turn. Sometimes people are afraid to feel mad or sad or frustrated. But when you give those other emotions a chance, it really kind of helps allow a bigger space for your happiness."
Schlepphorst knows from experience what it's like to lose happiness at an early age. Her father died of cancer when she was 6 years old, and she was bombarded with all sorts of sad and scary emotions.
"You go through so many emotions that you don't understand," she said. "I wish someone could have sat down with me with a book like this and explained the way I was feeling -- how my sadness was really big because I just lost my Dad -- and that my happy would come back."
After she became a teacher and went on to earn a master's degree in school counseling, Schlepphorst worked with emotionally disturbed children and discovered the importance of "emotional education," which involves teaching kids how to deal with their emotions.
Schlepphorst later gave up her teaching and counseling work so she could stay home and raise her three children. Then something happened several years ago that inspired Schlepphorst to write a book: Her brother committed suicide.
"It was a big emotional time for me," she said. "After the death of my brother, I was like, ‘I'm never going to feel happy again.' It felt like the worst thing in the world."
Her prolonged sadness prompted Schlepphorst to conduct extensive research about happiness. Along the way, she rediscovered something she already knew -- that "your happy does eventually always come back, no matter what the situation is." It just requires taking deliberate action by the person who is sad.
"Someone told me, ‘Everyone is responsible for their own happiness,' " Schlepphorst said. "That struck a chord with me. That really was the beginning of this children's book."
It's also the key concept Schlepphorst tries to get across as she visits schools and talks with children.
"My whole purpose is to teach kids to be responsible for their own happiness -- to be proactive with that," she said.
Schlepphorst self-published the book through Lulu.com, which offers various publishing services. The book came out last November and is available at Quincy Books in the Quincy Mall or can be ordered online through Lulu or Amazon.com.