Can You Choose Happiness?

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The concept of choosing happiness can be an incredibly controversial topic. For anyone who has experienced distressing experiences like anxiety, depression, addiction, chronic pain, trauma or a stress-related medical illness, to say “choose happiness” can appear shaming. When conditions are genetic or biological nature, there is no choice and pain is inevitable. However, while we can never change what happens to us in any given moment, with awareness, we can choose how to respond to it.

Let’s take a closer look at what “choose happiness” can mean and how it may be the most powerful phrase we know to change lives.
First we have to ask ourselves, what is happiness? Some people define it as feeling satisfied with life and having a good mood (subjective well-being), while others find it to be related more with deep meaning and feeling connected (psychological well-being).
In my opinion, to “choose happiness” and to “choose love” are synonymous and not only possible, but essential to real happiness. Real happiness is not about the grin we wear on our face, it’s about learning how lean into loving ourselves and others in the good times and in the bad.

For example, I may be in a downward spiral of depression, but the moment I am aware of this is a choice point. In that choice point I might bring myself to the shower instead of staying in with the covers over my head. I may get outside to exercise or call a friend instead of eating that extra pint of ice cream. This may not put a giant grin on my face, but I am leaning my mind and action toward loving myself. This to me is choosing happiness over depression.

I may be riddled by automatic negative thoughts, but choose to put up the stop sign, engage in a brief mindful check-in and then apply a more self-compassionate break. Here is a good example from Kristin Neff, PhD:

  1. This is a difficult moment
  2. Life is full of difficult moments
  3. May I be kind to myself, May I find freedom from these negative thoughts, May I love myself exactly as I am, May I be happy.

I may have just made a huge parenting mistake, yelling at my kid for yelling in the house. When I become mindful of this at first guilt and shame may overtake me with thoughts such as, “What is wrong with me” or “What a terrible parent I am.” To choose happiness here means to recognize this as a difficult parenting moment and to also recognize the common humanity behind difficult parenting moments and mistakes. Then I might say to myself, “May we all find peace with our imperfections.” With this awareness, I can go back to my child and apologize showing my child that I can be responsible for my own mistakes and this may even bring us closer.

Choosing happiness doesn’t mean putting a happy mask on. In fact, you can choose happiness and still feel deep emotions of sadness, grief, guilt, shame or anger. But it is all about how you respond to it once aware.
It simply means choosing love for ourselves and others.
What would the days, weeks and months ahead be like if there was more love in your day?
With this definition in mind, you can choose happiness and why not choose happiness moment-to-moment.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.