Beach man named nation’s happiest

JP4By JASON SKOG, The Virginian-Pilot © March 3, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Who’s the happiest man in America?
He’s not rich or powerful, so scratch Bill Gates and President Bush. And he’s not a famous movie or rock star, so forget Tom Cruise and Bruce Springsteen.

According to the March 7-9 cover story of “USA Weekend” magazine, a Sunday supplement in almost 600 newspapers, the nation’s happiest guy is a 45-year-old Virginia Beach stockbroker, J.P. “Gus” Godsey.

Godsey will be introduced early today on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and he’s, well, happy.

“It’s real cool,” Godsey said. “I didn’t realize how big this was going to be.”

Since word of the recognition leaked, he’s had inquiries for national TV interviews. And there’s been talk of appearances with Regis, Oprah and Letterman.

Godsey’s grin is nearly as broad as his shoulders. When he speaks, words tumble out in rambling, overflowing tones that are full, raspy and fast. He can hardly contain himself.

“I’m not going to believe all the hype,” Godsey said, “but I do know if there are happier people, I haven’t met many of them.”

Godsey earned the distinction based on studies that suggest that volunteer work and civic involvement contribute to a person’s happiness. Virginia Beach’s quality of life also helped the magazine pick Godsey.

“It was a combination of science, sleuthing and surveys,” the “USA Weekend” story reads.

The magazine set out to find the happiest man in Virginia Beach and Godsey’s name continued to come up. After some initial interviews, he was subjected to a battery of psychological and emotional tests — five in all — measuring his level of contentment.

Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, author of “Authentic Happiness,” and a University of Pennsylvania professor, spent a day in Virginia Beach administered some of the tests.

Seligman divides happiness into three types: the pleasant life, the good life and the meaningful life.

“He did great in all three and actually was off the scale in the second one. He’s real unusual,” Seligman said.

Godsey is a member of the city’s Human Rights Commission, founder of local Thanksgiving and holiday food and toy drives, past chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach and a coordinator of benefit concerts.

He and his wife, Judi, have a son, Jeremy, 23; and a daughter, Jessica, 20. The couple lives on a 1 1/4 -acre lot along the Lynnhaven Inlet in the Wolfsnare Plantation neighborhood.

“Not only is Mr. Godsey a very amiable, pleasant person,” said Mayor Meyera E. Oberndorf, “he is a perfect example of the young people we want to return to our city to establish their lives and families and their careers.”


Lynda Filipiak-Wilchynski, Godsey’s sales assistant at Ferris, Baker Watts Inc., a regional brokerage house based in Washington, said her boss’s good humor is contagious.

“Everything is cool, everything is smooth with J.P.,” she said.

Godsey said the key to happiness is simple.

“We wake up every morning full of choices,” he said. “And your state of happiness is something you can do every single day. How are you going to make your day this morning? And we only have today. God never promised us tomorrow.”

Do the faltering economy, threats of terrorism and a looming war make this a difficult time to be happy?

“No. Absolutely not,” he said. “Because I cannot control those things.. . . Why focus on something I can’t control or that will bring me down?”

Reach Jason Skog at jskog@pilotonline.com or 757-222-5113.