When I ask someone what they want, the most common supply is simply to be happy. And while I believe that happiness is a choice, I know it’s not that simple. Because if it were an easy choice, deciding to be happy would be something more folks would do. Right?
What I know to be true is that while these concepts sound simple, like can be more complicated. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe happiness is an impossibility. Nor do I believe that wanting to be happy is useless. In fact, I believe it’s at the core of loving your life.
If you want happiness to be a choice you are able to make? Then understanding what’s keeping you from being able to choose happiness. And how to remedy that is helpful.
Is happiness an emotion?
Happiness is an emotion, but not something that can be so easily described as such. Rather, it’s an overarching description of positive or pleasant emotions that can range from joy to elation to even simple contentment. It’s important to know this in the context of exploring if happiness is a choice. Because if you aren’t happy, learning to identify every emotion exactly is the key to disentangling that.
It’s important that you know that emotions are fleeting. Some last longer than others, but it’s practically impossible to maintain the experience of a single emotion or feeling state an entire day. The same goes for any emotion – good or bad – pleasant or unpleasant. Personally, I experience a positive emotion I identify as a shade of happiness every day. Even though it doesn’t last ALL day.
So, part of being able to choosing to be happy is to learn to identify and acknowledge the wide range of emotions that can signal overall happiness and satisfaction with your life. And recognizing that you can experience joy, delight, elation, giddiness, and contentment throughout your day when you live with a awareness.
Why happiness is NOT a choice for everyone.
Now that you know that happiness is an overall arching description for many emotions, it is important to note that happiness is not a choice for every single person. Some folks are incapable of accessing any range of emotion that is part of the happiness spectrum. And here’s who that applies to.
If you have been diagnosed with clinical depression (or other mental health issues), then you likely can’t access emotions that you see has happy. At least not with the help of therapy and/or medication. This is why diagnosing mental health issues are critical. Because you can’t just “think” your way out of your illness. However, it’s worth noting that modern medicine can help you.
Even without a specific diagnosis of depression, there are other cases where it’s hard to choose happiness. For example, If you are living in an abusive situation it can be hard to make decisions beyond simple survival. You may also find it practically impossible to access any shade of happiness if you are lost in the mires of grief or serious illness. And in cases of severe stress, being able to experience an inkling of positive emotions. Or maybe you feel invisible in the fabric of your very life. Those are all challenging experiences.
This is not to say that it’s a lost cause. That’s because awareness is golden. Knowledge is power. And all that knowledge and awareness allows you to make better decisions to experience what you desire.
THAT, my dear, is super important. Because a 2017 study found that being able to experience an emotion you find desirable makes you happier about your life overall. So, knowing how you want to feel coupled with identifying your emotions can allow you to make improvements.
What are other causes of not being able to choose happiness?
So, what if you’re miserable, yet don’t have depression? What if you’re more often dissatisfied than not, yet live in a safe home with a fairly low stress level? What if you simply feel as if you can’t be happy because you WANT more for your life? And the guilt of seeming ungrateful for all your blessings makes you feel as if asking for more is “greedy”?
It’s possible you’re addicted to negativity. According to the book Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, our brains are wired to look for the bad. Hanson says that the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for good ones. This negativity bias causes the brain to react intensively to bad news compared how the brain responds to good news.
And unfortunately, this becomes habit. An addition of sorts. And like all addictions, change demands you decide you’re no longer going to live a particular way.
That doesn’t mean you can’t change that, though. But we can counter the brain’s negativity bias — which triggers us to form stronger bad memories than good ones — by appreciating and lingering on those tiny, positive moments. Kind of like soaking your brain in pleasant, positive emotions.
This is why gratitude works on the brain. You’re rinsing and repeating good experiences for your brain.
How do you choose to be happy?
Making the decision to be happy (or at least happier) is important. According to two small studies published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2013 found that simply trying to BE happier can elevate your experiences. In the experiment, those who tried to be happier after listening to happy music were actually happier.
When you decide you’re going to choose to be happy, you begin looking for evidence that you can be happy. In Hardwiring Happiness, Hanson also says “We’re surrounded by opportunities — 10 seconds here or 20 seconds there — to just register useful experiences and learn from them. People don’t do that when they could.” Registering these fleeting experiences as happy ones proves to your brain you can choose happiness.
Again, this is why a gratitude practice is important. Because you will actively seek the good things in your average, ordinary days.
You can also rig things in the favor of seeing that happiness is a choice for you by taking actions in your life that is helpful to experiencing more positive emotions. This can range from dancing in the kitchen to listening to happy music to playing with a pet. All these actions allow you to access feel-good emotions, right?
Folks also tend to be happier when they feel accomplished. And when you’ve already decided you’re going to be happy, then you can put your attention on pursuing a goal that’s important to you. And accomplishing at least one important task each day can allow you to feel pride in your yourself.
Because how our mornings begin can set the tone for the whole day, getting up earlier helps set yourself up to begin the day on a positive note. Empowering and meaningful morning routines allow you to begin the day on your terms.
What is the true key to happiness?
When you decide that you’re going to do your best to see happiness as a choice, you open the door to true happiness. In order to do that, my dear, that demands that you define what happiness means for you. Dig into all the layers of emotions that you see as positive and meaningful. And seek to sprinkle your daily life with experiences that allow you to access those various emoticons.
Happiness is a choice that most of you can make. And you deserve to live a life that is loving and nourishing. And sometimes, that means that you must do the work to pave the way for that.