Is Happiness a Choice?

We have all heard that happiness is a choice. In fact, it is almost assumed to be the truth. As you may know, I understand the principles of positive psychology well, am a self-help author, and life coach, and have some strong opinions on the topic of happiness. In fact, my book Bounce Back: Finding Joy During Times of Adversity focuses on the topic. I want to challenge the conventional wisdom that happiness is a choice and would love to know your thoughts on the issue. Is being happy simply a choice?

It has always frustrated me that self-development speakers or teachers say happiness is a choice. How does a person make that choice? You see, a choice implies a concrete answer and an outcome to that choice. If I choose to wear my red shirt, I put my red shirt on. If I choose to drive faster, I push the accelerator down and I go faster. Choice has a cause and effect. So what happens when you choose happiness? Are you suddenly happy? There have been times in my life that I tried to choose to be happy and it worked in the short term. Simply, I was choosing to ignore the things that made me unhappy. That worked briefly but soon the sheer weight of life’s challenges became too burdensome, and unhappiness returned. This has led me to ask, “Can you simply make the choice to be happy and…voila…you are happy?” If so, you are a better person than I.  I believe happiness is not a choice; it is a series of choices that inevitably result in happiness. Here are some of the choices I believe led to my nearly continuous state of happiness:

1.  Reduce negative thoughts as much as possible.  

Negativity is the lifeblood of ongoing unhappiness. Efforts to be positive through the use of positive affirmations, meditation, counseling, and spiritual practices can greatly help in controlling the flow of negativity. Separating yourself from those who foster negativity is also important. Beware though, some preach that this alone can bring you happiness. I believe that it is just the beginning of the choices that must be made for long-term happiness.

2. Find opportunities to serve others.

When you are focusing on others you will always feel better. A great practice is to commit to daily service of someone in need.

3. Participate in something you are passionate about everyday. 

This isn’t easy. We all have things we are passionate about but so many obligations seem to get in the way of our participation in those activities. Just thinking about participating in something you are passionate about will make you feel happier. If just thinking about taking part in a passion makes you feel better, imagine what happens if you actually participate.

4. Control the impact of fear in your life. It will stop you from doing great things. 

Fear is the enemy of joy. It forces you to ignore the promptings of your spirit to achieve greater things in your life. It is in those greater achievements where we can find added joy. Beware of the excuses you use when considering doing something bigger in your life: It is too hard, too expensive, takes too long, too risky, or you are too busy. All of these excuses erroneously justify the existence of fear. Fight them.

5. Commit to peace in your life.  

Conflict with others is almost always founded in ego. Recognize that you control your response to all things. Strive for eliminating your need to be right (even though you feel you may be) and someone else is wrong, and commit to peace rather that conflict, it is a sure foundation to finding happiness. Remember, true winners need not win.

6. Eliminate guilt from your life.  

We all have numerous things that we regret. This is normal. Unfortunately, guilt can follow us indefinitely and erroneously make us believe we are unworthy to be happy. It is one thing to recognize our own errors and make the necessary changes in our life to not repeat such mistakes. The problem occurs when we start with self-loathing comments in our minds that belittle ourselves and convince us that we are unworthy of abundance and the precious things in our life. This breaks my heart.  You are not your past. Always remember you are God’s greatest creation, just as you are, warts and all!

7.  Forgive those who have harmed you.

Not the easiest thing to do. I learned a very good lesson a few years back. A person I had trusted implicitly did significant harm to me. What’s worse was that this person felt no sorrow for having harmed me. That made me angry and every time I thought about it I became even more angry. Then a wise friend pointed out to me that my unwillingness to forgive was not hurting anyone but myself. The person who betrayed me had not given it a second thought and was living a happy life. My desire for that person to recognize the harm she did and apologize to me was unrealistic and encumbering me with pain and anger, emotions that cannot coexist with happiness. Forgive that boss, friend, ex-spouse and move on. It will change your world.

These are my brief thoughts in a nutshell on bringing happiness into your life. Certainly there are many other things that can contribute to your happiness, hence why I wrote a book on the subject. The bottom line is that you can’t just simply choose to be happy and poof you are happy; you need to make decisions that impact your life for good and ultimately bring you joy. For those in the depths of depression you may need help from others. Get that help. For others, at a minimum you will want to be proactive in adding things to your life that bring you joy.  For some interesting insight on the principle of happiness, I recommend you visit the website, read the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, or read my own book Bounce Back: Finding Joy During Times of Adversity.

I would love to know your thoughts. Is happiness a choice? Please share your comments.

Are You Happy

6 thoughts on “Is Happiness a Choice?

  1. I think the beginning of the process, for me, is to determine what does happiness mean for me? Its been defined as an emotional state of being that ranges from contentment to intense joy. Some are happy being content by avoiding risk, laying low, and navigating life without a dent. Others find happiness in taking risk and challenging themselves to areas of growth and development. Whether you’re a monk or an adrenaline junkie, I think happiness is very subjective. You’re right though. We currently occupy our place in life based on a series of our choices. Do we make the ones that bring us happiness is the challenge?

  2. I like this article and your 7 steps to Happiness. Your right I think most people can’t just say “OK I’m going to be happy now” but they can choose to perhaps take steps toward happiness. There is a choice involved along with some self-realization. A good first step would be to simply choose to do the things that make you happy or give you joy.

  3. Do you really think people are happy avoiding risk, laying low, and navigating life without a dent? That sounds like fear-based living to me. Now, don’t misunderstand, I don’t think we all should be out thrill seeking, but I do think we should all be out pursuing passions that are meaningful to us individually. That may be bungee jumping for some and reading a good book to others. The key is to be willing to take the risk, knowing that there is great joy there.

  4. I think there are some semantics involved in what I am saying. Certainly happiness does require a choice to be made. I do think that the moment we are passive in that choice we lose control of our own happiness. We must take steps which require action. Now, I was on anti-depressants for 13 years and they did help and, in fact, I consider them a great blessing; but until I took the action I outline (and some others) I was never really happy. I don’t take prozac anymore and I am almost always happy, yet my life is as challenging as ever. I believe it is because I took control of my happiness.

  5. Does happiness require we be happy all the time? I think not? I am not happy all the time, yet I find happiness in everything around me. It is a perception. If I choose to find and do uplifting things which gives me happiness then yes that is a choice, yet I believe happiness is a feeling, state of being, the can not be chosen. I don’t choose to be happy. I make choices that produces happiness. Sort of like a baby’s laughter. When a baby laughs, those around smile and feel something, even to the point of laughing themselves. Did any one choose to find that happiness, no, it just happened as a consequence of how the baby’s laughter was felt or perceived. I don’t always have to think or have happy thoughts every moment to be happy.

  6. Great article Jack. Happiness is greatly affected by our choices. But can we simply choose to be happy? I agree with you happiness is not something that can simply be chosen. That is not the nature of happiness. Happiness is more like a culmination of events, more of a culmination of choices, more of a contentment with the choices in your life. Can you choose to look at the positive, can you choose to love, and can you choose to forgive? Yes, all of us can start making these choices today. Many people wait for something to make them happy or search for something that will “make” them happy. This will never occur, we make our own happiness. By itself the comment “we make our own happiness” is ridiculous. What I mean by that is we try to find peace or contentment regardless of what may be happening to us or around us. I am very happy in my life…do I have disappointments and frustrations? Of course; Among other things I am very hard on myself and get discouraged at times by the expectations I place on myself, yet I understand that this life is a challenge, it is a struggle (I believe it is designed to be that way) but I also can see many, many blessings in my life. I rely heavily on my faith and understand that all things happen for a purpose. I look to find the lessons to be learned by hardship and how to increase my understanding of the purpose of this life. I do believe in higher powers and clearer perspectives and try to align myself with these sources. As I analyze the events that have occurred in my life, I of course can see and remember all the negative occurrences, yet I choose to focus on those things that I consider to be great blessings. I never take important things for granted. Things like faith, family, friendships. I try hard to cultivate these relationships and serve these people. I strive for change every day and push myself to be a better person. It’s hard work, but very rewarding and always worth the effort.

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