Choose Wisely

Happiness is a choice, not a result. Choose wisely.


 We all know people who generally have sunny personalities. There are even tiny babies who are mostly pleasant. It would be easy to assume that somehow our genetic makeup determines whether or not we are happy, but perhaps the reasons for being joyful are more complicated. 

It is certainly a verifiable fact that there are individuals who suffer from chronic depression. They have chemical imbalances inside the workings of their brains. There are actual photos showing the difference in brain activity between someone with chronic depression and someone who is fortunate enough not to possess that affliction. The souls who must deal with the pain of a depressive illness have a difficult life indeed. At times their melancholy becomes so severe that they must have medical intervention. They take medications to bring more balance to their chemical makeup and spend time in therapy with someone trained to help them sort out their problems. When I speak of choosing happiness I am not talking about them. They are genuinely ill and would certainly love to turn off their dark thoughts simply by deciding not to be that way, but they are unable. I am talking about the majority who are blessed not to have a mental illness.

For most of us sadness is a passing thing. It comes with disappointments and loss. We may cry over a sad story or pine for someone special who has died. We despair for a time but rest assured that we will eventually smile again. We do not linger in a state of depression. We have a certain level of control over our emotions. When things become too bleak we find ways to turn our thoughts to happier times. We go out with friends or watch a funny movie. We give our time to someone else or we work off our woes. Each of us knows what will make things better and we do those things to get back into a more pleasant state of mind. 

I admittedly used to assume that the happiest people that I knew were simply lucky. I believed that their sunny dispositions were somehow the result of never having to deal with tragedy or trauma. They seemed to fly unscathed through the world with lives that were blessed. As I grew wiser I realized that they simply chose not to dwell on their failings or problems. They were no more and no less afflicted with the vagaries of life than anyone. They made a concerted effort to view their lot in positive ways. They took life and its surprises in stride. They celebrated other people’s successes rather than being jealous of them. They were in control of their own attitudes and found joy in the most simple things. 

We all wake up each morning wondering what the day may bring. As we go through our routines we may find ourselves feeling bored or lacking in some way rather than noting the wonderful aspect of our lives. There are some people who in revel each day just knowing that they have made it through one more rotation of the sun. They rarely forget to be thankful for what they have, even if it is little more than a roof, a warm bed, and food for three meals. They are filled with gratitude and their positivity literally radiates from them.

Most of us have opportunities over and over again to choose how we will react to whatever happens to us. If we get a flat tire will we rage or will we be happy that we have a jack and a spare tire? If a stranger is rude to us will we get angry or return the insult with kindness? If we fail to achieve a goal will we quit or learn from our failure? If we struggle with money will we rage or learn how to live within our means? If the weather is frightful will we curse or enjoy the majesty of Mother Nature? Do we find pleasure in watching the birds at play or must we have expensive entertainment? Do we cry over spilled milk or simply clean it up?

The difference in how we react to life’s irritations most often determines our feelings. The happiest people understand that they don’t have to be negative when things go wrong. They can accept reality and decide how to deal with it. They take full responsibility for their own lives.

It is true that we can’t control every aspect of what happens to us but we do have total power over how we will behave under any circumstance. As a keen observer of human behavior I have noticed the differences between successful individuals and those who always seem to be stalked by disappointments. The unhappiest individuals live in a condition of anger and pessimism. They view their state of mind as being totally dependent on outside forces. They often feel beset upon and bullied by life. They continuously compare themselves unfavorably with everyone else. They can list their flaws without even thinking but are often hard pressed to discuss what is good about themselves. They are constantly inside their own heads, dwelling on the wrongs that stalk them.

The happy people are mostly outside of themselves. They look for ways to turn their defeats into victories by admitting that they are imperfect. They understand that with a bit of effort they may improve. They look for the best in themselves and everyone that they meet. They are empathetic and understanding. They forgive readily and work hard to maintain their sunny dispositions.  

If you want to know how to find happiness watch someone whom you see as a very cheerful person. Notice how he/she reacts and interacts in both positive and negative situations. Take note of specific behaviors. Make plans to emulate the attitudes which result in a more optimistic outlook. Make choices that make you and the people around you feel good.

I was recently complaining about my year long experience in dental offices. I griped about the cost, the pain and the inconvenience. A generally upbeat person reminded me how lucky I was to have the time and the money to care for my teeth. With that one small suggestion my attitude changed. Suddenly I realized my good fortune. I saw that the way we feel about life is mostly about how we choose to look at it. 

I now have a glass jar. I plan to fill it with slips of paper outlining the good things that happen to me. I suspect that it will be brimming within months. It will be a visual reminder to me to count my blessings instead of my woes. I’m going to do my best to choose happiness.   

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