Happiness is a choice.
The amount of times I’ve heard that said. Or written on postcards, or inspiring instagram posts.
And it’s true, to a certain extent.
Yet I don’t think it bodes well when things are actually going really badly – you’ve just lost your job, or you’ve suffered a loss, or you’ve been sick for a while now, or you’re struggling to pay rent. How are you supposed to ‘choose happiness’ when it feels like nothing and no one is on your side?
Life throws us up huge obstacles that can often stop us choosing happiness. And when I think about some of the awful situations friends or family members of mine have been in or are in I would find it so patronising to tell them to be happy because they have a choice – because in some moments I know that choice feels pretty impossible.
So what am I getting at then, that happiness is a option for some, the lucky few who don’t have any hardships in their life? No, that can’t be true. Some of the happiest countries and communities in the world are not at all the wealthiest or the most powerful; quite the contrary. So money doesn’t buy happiness – that’s an age-old phrase too.
Nor am I suggesting that anyone’s perceived difficulties are less valid than anyone else’s; it’s all subjective after all, and we all deal with different things in various ways. What might seem like a trivial matter for you, might feel like the end of the world for someone else.
What I’m getting at is the idea that happiness is not just one choice, but many choices. You can’t just choose it once and be done with it. You don’t just wake up one day and say “I’ll be happy” and then you are, forever. And you might well have to choose it more than once. That’s what those 4 words alone don’t tell you.
So I propose a new quote for the greeting cards and the instagram pictures:
Happiness is many choices.
Still 4 words, but makes tons more sense.
I don’t think anyone is happy all the time. Actually, thinking that way about others can make us quite depressed, because if we believe that then we start to wonder why we are not, also, happy all the time. The truth is, those people that seem like cheerfulness is always oozing out of their ears, are probably just better at dealing with their struggles than we are.
Because we all have them, even if some are subjectively worse than others. And we all therefore have many opportunities to choose to be happy.
Some of those opportunities will prove more difficult to make a choice. If one of those things I mentioned earlier happens to you it’s never going to be simple to just say: oh well, I’m happy anyway. You have to let yourself feel sadness, and anger, and bitterness, before you can reach that place where you are in a position to choose happiness. That could take days or weeks or months – but that’s okay because you don’t need to be happy all the time.
However, if we’re talking about the little annoyances, the frustrating everyday things that get us feeling so agitated and unhappy on a regular basis… here the choice of happiness can come much earlier. Here you can choose almost immediately to place happiness over annoyance.
Life throws up events to test us, but that we have no control over some of them. If you imagine your life as a series of connected moments in time, then you need to be in a position where it is the happier moments which you wish to define your state of mind.
A good way to do this is to practice appreciating the little parts of your life every day, and looking at them with a new light. Understand that a happy moment doesn’t need to be a big holiday, a party, or a promotion. A happy moment can be a nice chat with a friend, getting a window seat on a train, going for a lunchtime walk, eating a great dinner you made yourself.
The sooner you realise that happiness isn’t some long-lasting, never-ending state of mind the easier it will be to choose happiness in the little moments, daily and weekly. And the more regularly that you make the choice of happiness, the easier it’ll get.
That’s the secret of those people who seem happy all the time! They’ve just chosen happiness enough times that they don’t let the little things bother them much anymore. They might have a flicker of irritance, but overall they have reached a point where choosing happiness isn’t an active choice, but a passive one.
I really believe that the more you do this for the small things, the easier you’ll find it to come to terms with the bigger struggles that life chucks in your way.
So choose happiness, once, but then keep choosing it again and again and again.