It’s not idealistic to say that happiness is a choice.
If you can choose how much money you make, the quality of your friends, whether or not you pursue a career you’re passionate about, then who’s to say that you can’t choose to be happy?
You have control over so much in your life that it’s ludicrous to assume that you can’t choose to be happy – that is of course assuming you’re using the right definition of happiness.
Most people conflate happiness to mean something that it’s not, which is why people tend to call B.S. on the phrase, “happiness is a choice.”
In this article, we’ll dissect happiness from the inside out – you’ll learn what happiness actually is (an illusion), and then we’ll talk about actionable ways to find inner peace and increase your overall well-being.
What is Happiness Really?
When you go to your happy place, you might picture yourself taking a boat out to the Amalfi Coast in Italy, or fitting back into your old jeans, or landing that promotion you’ve been gunning for.
But here’s the thing – those feelings of achievement that you’re after aren’t the same as happiness. Conflating happiness with achievement is a sure-fire way to self-sabotage your own journey to feeling happier.
If you’re pursuing happiness, what you’re really pursuing is a sense of meaning in your life. Have you ever had those moments where you’re not necessarily happy, but it just feels like you’re on the right path? That right there is the secret to living a meaningful life.
A meaningful life is built around doing the right thing whether it makes you happy or not.
The paradox is that many of the actions that give our life meaning makes us feel stressed, unhappy, and uncomfortable in the moment.
It’s not as if you roll out of bed in the morning and say, “I can’t wait to eat vegetables, go to the gym, and then work for 10 hours today!”
But these are the activities that give your life meaning at the expense of feeling happy.
I don’t feel happy when I’m in the middle of a grueling set of lifting weights at the gym – but I do feel pretty satisfied when I look in the mirror and don’t see a scrawny, thin skinned dude staring back at me.
I don’t even feel particularly happy writing this blog post right now. One of my friends literally just texted me and asked if I wanted to go golfing, which for a brief moment made me want to close my computer and start putting on my golf shoes.
And even if that didn’t happen, there’s a million other things I could be doing with my time that would be more fun. However, I’m choosing to skip out on these activities to write this blog post because it needs to get done – and at least for today, I’ve decided to prioritize meaning over happiness.
If all you did every day was chase happiness, you’d be like an instant gratification monkey just chasing quick dopamine hits all day – eating junk food, watching TV, playing video games, etc. None of these activities move you closer to your goals, but they trigger the release of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for making you feel positive emotions.
So the main lesson here is that you need to make a distinction between meaning and happiness – and understand that chasing the feeling of happiness is an illusion, because feelings come and go.
Is Happiness A Choice Or A Result?
Many people tend to believe that there is happiness to be found in achieving goals and getting more “stuff,” but research tells us a different story.
In happiness research, there is something called set-point theory. It states that an increase in someone’s happiness due to an external life event, such as buying a new car or getting a promotion, will return to it’s baseline over time.
This tells us that our goal should be to enjoy the journey, not the destination. Whereas most people go through life chasing things that they believe will make them happy, the true joy lies in the pursuit of those things.
If you can’t find joy in the journey, you’re not going to find it in the destination.
Consider this about the destination too – it’s always changing.
We’ve evolved to be creatures that are hard-wired to aim at specific targets. Once you achieve a goal, you might feel satisfied for a day, week, or even a month. But once that feeling subsides, your mindset shifts to the next target, and then the whole process starts over again.
Do you see the rat-race that unfolds when you believe that happiness is a result?
It’s incredibly important to remove the illusion that there’s any one result or outcome that will bring us lasting happiness. Believing that happiness is a choice is about embracing the joy that lies in small, everyday moments.
You can choose to be grateful for having a steady income and a loving family even though you haven’t hit your goal of making six figures per year.
You can choose to perform an act of kindness for someone else, without caring about whether or not they reciprocate and positively impact the results of your life.
You can choose to be appreciative of everything that you have, while still striving and building positive momentum towards your goals.
It’s the act of believing that happiness is a choice as opposed to a result that often leads to this momentum in the first place. Because if you focus on what’s missing from your life constantly, you’ll still feel stuck no matter what you get or what you accomplish.
What Does Happiness is a Choice Mean?
At this point, some of you might be saying…
“Alright that sounds good and all, but I still don’t understand how can I be happy and fulfilled if I’m not where I want to be yet?”
At this point, I’ll make some concessions and say that this mindset isn’t entirely applicable to every single person on the planet.
I’m a realist – if you have crippling depression because your parents struggled with depression, and their parents struggled with depression, telling you that “happiness is a choice” may make you want to punch a hole through your wall.
I understand full well that we’re not all born with the same brain chemistry, and that we all have varying degrees of pain and trauma to overcome.
Being happy comes easier for some people than it does for others, and that’s a fact.
But I’d pose these two questions as a response:
- Has anyone ever overcome your struggles and went on to live a meaningful life?
- If you don’t believe that happiness is a choice, then what’s the alternative?
I don’t know what you’re struggling with at this very moment, but here’s what I do know – someone in this world has struggled with similar demons and found a way out.
The world is filled with people who have raised themselves out from the pit of depression and anxiety and conquered their demons, so why can’t you?
You have the power to make things worse, but you also have the power to change your life for the better – and the latter choice is far more rewarding.
Isn’t that what life is all about? Isn’t that really the only option you have? To actually take baby steps forward and start making small changes that have a huge impact on your life.
And if you don’t choose to adopt that mindset, then what’s the alternative? To sit and wallow in self-pity and internalize the belief that none of the choices you make can increase your level of happiness?
That’s a pretty miserable way to go through the one chance that you’ve been given in life, considering you have 100% control over your daily actions.
Happiness isn’t something that you feel, it’s something that you do. And in the next section of this article I’m going to talk about three daily actions you can put into practice that are scientifically proven to make you happier.
3 Ways to Choose Happiness
Now that you know that happiness is a choice, let’s talk about how to make that choice on a day to day basis.
Happiness isn’t something that can be measured empirically, but life satisfaction is typically the measurement that researchers use to determine how happy someone is. Life satisfaction is simply a favorable attitude towards one’s life circumstances.
By studying people who have high levels of life satisfaction, researchers have been able to discover distinct characteristics that these people exhibit.
Here are those distinct characteristics – along with small baby step habits you can implement to actually develop these characteristics.
#1: Focus on Your Personal Relationships
Your relationships are the number one predictor of how happy you are in life.
Happy people tend to have more friends, more high-quality social relationships, and stronger social support networks than less happy people.
The key here is to focus on two key things – strengthening your existing relationships & forming new ones.
Many people focus on one while overlooking the other, and unhappy people tend to do a lousy job of both. Both aspects are necessary in order to deepen your social support system.
It’s also important to focus on quality rather than quantity. Make friends with people who lift your spirit, and spend less time with people who drag you down by constantly complaining about their problems and blame other people for their failures.
You don’t have to cut these people out of your life completely, although that certainly wouldn’t hurt, but at the very least you need to distance yourself from the negative energy they bring into your life.
Who you spend time with greatly influences how you see the world, so a good rule of thumb is to try to increase the hours you spend with people who are positive and upbeat while subtracting the hours you spend with people who aren’t. There’s a good chance that the former mindset will start to rub off on you because human beings are naturally wired to seek approval.
When you hang out with positive people, your natural survival instincts will kick in and you’ll start to behave in ways that align with your new tribe’s core values.
Daily Habit For Strengthening Existing Relationships – Text one friend from your contacts every single day to check in on them
Daily Habit For Forming New Relationships – Simply walk outside every day and start saying hello to people. Once you’re comfortable with that, transition into having brief conversations, and then longer conversations, giving compliments, etc.
#2 – Practice Gratitude
When I stumbled upon the concept of gratitude, I was a little skeptical.
You mean to tell me that simply saying three things I’m grateful for will make me happier on a daily basis? That’s gotta be total bull.
But the research was definitive – practicing gratitude on a daily basis has a measurable impact on your overall well-being.
It’s not so much about the act itself, the true power of gratitude lies in the mindset that you start to adopt as a result of making it a daily practice.
You’re not going to become a happy-go-lucky person who thinks the world is full of sunshine and rainbows, but you will start to find joy in those small moments each day that are easy to overlook.
Waking up with a roof over your head. Your kids hugging you when they get home from school. Grabbing coffee with a friend during their lunch break.
All of these moments should be treasured and appreciated because you never know how many of them you have left.
Daily Habit to Practice Gratitude – Every morning, write down three things you’re grateful for every morning OR write down 1-2 positive things that happened to you over the past 24 hours.
#3 To Be Happy, Be Brave.
One of the biggest changes that I’ve made in my life over the past year is getting out of my comfort zone more often.
Many of us let fear run our lives and choose to avoid actions that make us feel uncomfortable. But if I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that you have no idea how much of life you’re missing out on when you play it safe.
I’ll just say it – regret is an absolute bitch.
Approaching a man/woman you’re attracted to. Letting someone know you care about them. Having a difficult conversation with a friend/parent. These are all difficult things that take bravery, and certainly don’t make you feel happy in the moment.
But the pain of showing some courage doesn’t even compare to the long-term pain of avoiding those opportunities to get uncomfortable.
Research shows that people who take risks and embrace their fears have greater self-confidence, more friends, and a more positive self-image.
Many of these things are not actions you’re going to win medals for, but if you add them all up at the end of your life they make the difference between a life well-lived and a life spent in quiet desperation.
Daily Habit to Step Into Bravery – Make a list of comfort zone challenges and score each challenge on a scale from 1-10 depending on how afraid you are of it.
Final Note on Why Happiness is a Choice
It doesn’t really matter what we’re talking about: happiness, wealth, self-esteem – you choose the level of satisfaction you feel in each of these areas.
It’s true that attaining happiness is harder for some, but at the end of the day every single one of us has one thing in common – we all have a choice.
And trust me, there are people out there who have made the best out of the circumstances that you’re complaining about.
The only difference between you and them is that they decided to pursue meaning in spite of those circumstances, and you’re letting them sway you towards actions that don’t serve you.
You can’t always control how you feel, which is why the idea of “making it” and achieving a permanent state of happiness is a total myth.
However, you can control how you act. And when you change how you act, you will change how you feel naturally.
As you start to develop a stronger social support system, embrace bravery, and practice gratitude, you’ll be well on your way to living a more meaningful life.