Happiness is a Choice

I often tell my patients that happiness is a choice—it doesn’t just happen to some people and not happen to others.

Then I tell them about the difference between people who are happy and people who are unhappy. It has nothing to do with how much good stuff or bad stuff is going on in their lives.

At this point, I often get some push back or rolling of the eyes. You might even be rolling your eyes right now.

But I’m here to tell you it’s true, happiness really is a choice. It’s about how you choose to view your life and the things that happen to you. It’s not the absolute sum of how much good or bad happens.

I’ve found that there are three key skills that we all need to practice in order to cultivate more happiness in our lives.

First, you need to be in Wise Mind and take a mindful perspective of the situation.

How will you feel about what’s happening in three weeks, three months, and even three years from now? Maybe you had a job interview that didn’t go well but it really wasn’t a good fit and you wouldn’t leave your current position for it.

Next, you need to find and express gratitude in your life.

Gratitude is a great antidote to many things, including anger and bitterness (read more about the 8 emotion families here). Just taking a few minutes each day to focus on what you can be grateful for can brighten your mood and help relieve stress.

Remind yourself that you have a boyfriend who is always there for you and does little things that mean a lot, like walking the dog when it’s raining. Or picture how your nephew’s face lights up when he sees you or how pleased you are to be living in your favorite neighborhood.

And lastly, you need to take out your magnifying glass and accentuate the positive, not just the negative.

Sometimes the positives are going to be really small, such as, “At least the sun is shining today.” Other times they’ll be more substantial and relevant to the situation like, “Okay, I messed up this report, but the last one I did was amazing and my boss is still talking about it.”

The other day I had the chance to practice all three skills—before 10am no less. My husband was supposed to take our dog to the vet but he got called in for an early morning meeting. That meant I was on dog duty, with a very small window of time to drop her off and then make it to my office for an emergency session.

I was on time, but the vet wasn’t, so I went to call my patient and guess what? No phone in my bag. It took forever to get a cab and I finally got to my office 15-minutes late. But just as we were starting the session, a colleague appeared at my door for a meeting we had scheduled that I had forgotten about.

Now here’s where choice comes into play.

Nothing had gone right for me so far. I was annoyed at myself for forgetting my phone and not being able to call my patient, and embarrassed that I forgot a meeting with my colleague. I could have wallowed in misery for the rest of the day but I didn’t want to be miserable. It’s my choice to decide what to focus on and do from here.

I switched into Wise Mind mode and realized I wasn’t going to remember any of this in three days, let alone three weeks, three months or three years. And neither would my patient or colleague.

My patient wasn’t angry at me for being late and my colleague generously offered to get a tea and come back after my meeting. I’m lucky to have these amazing people in my life who gave me a break – that’s gratitude. I took out my magnifying glass and focused on the good. Voilà!

Before we get to your assignment, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting that you should chase happiness all the time.

If happiness is your only goal, I’m here to tell you it’s unattainable. It’s better to strive for balance and Wise Mind Living, and have more meaningful and positive experiences in your life. So the next time you feel happy, note it, enjoy it, and be present in that moment.

Your assignment is to practice these three skills in two ways: as a remedy for hard moments and as a preventative happiness boosting activity. Every time you find yourself in a bad space and are experiencing difficult moments, try to get perspective, search for the positive and practice gratitude.

As a prevention, like banking positives for a rainy day, try keeping a “searching for the positives journal.” You can use an actual notebook or the notepad on your smart phone so it’s easy to make entries whenever you catch yourself in the presence of something positive.

And if you start using these skills regularly, I know happiness will follow.

With gratitude,
Erin