Happiness is a Choice

It’s a grey, gloomy, January day in Washington. For many people, the absence of the sun is reason enough to withdraw into their shells and nurse a feeling of dispirited disgruntlement. For others, however, the very same conditions are cause to celebrate—even if their plans were thrown off as a result of the inclement weather. They see opportunities to snuggle up under a blanket, to take a nap, pour a cup of hot tea, or enjoy another’s company without distraction. Why am I saying all this? Because being happy is a choice. You decide to be happy. It doesn’t just arrive like some ermine mantle placed upon your shoulders.

Innumerable psychological and sociological studies cite to the fact that people can react to similar circumstances differently. Often times, those who are held up as positive examples are quite clear about their wellspring of inspiration: they made a choice. They consciously decided to be happy. They made a choice to see opportunity when there appeared to be none. They made a choice not to give up. They made a choice to find a way around whatever impedimenta had halted the progress of their peers. We all know about making lemonade, right? Right.

There are many things in life we can’t control: a medical condition that threatens to impact our daily living; a significant loss; a betrayal or disillusionment that up-ends our understanding of people we care about; you each have experienced at least one of these and probably others I haven’t listed here. But, as you well know, there are a whole lot more people out there in the world who have it much worse than you and still find ways to create joy in their lives. There’s an array of options out there for how you interpret the events of your life—it’s up to you.

Now, my saying this may annoy some readers because such a statement means that you have sole responsibility for your current experience. You are an adult, not a child. For as many responsibilities and burdens as you may face today, nobody is forcing you to undergo life any particular way. You may have concluded that your life is a misery or perhaps you perceive it as being it pretty good—either way, that’s on you. Sorry, Charlie, you absolutely cannot offload this responsibility to anyone else. I say this as an expert because I have spent plenty of time and emotional energy railing about the tyranny of others as the source of my unhappiness, but I was wrong.

As a re-booter, I now embrace the theory espoused by someone I know back in Santa Barbara: you can blame your family for all sorts of ills until you’re age 30, but after that, it’s time to take personal responsibility for whatever unhappiness you may feel. You’re the only one who can change your life! Having struggled with betrayal, upheaval, and disillusionment myself, I have fully enjoyed the glories of shaking my fist at the sky, but as I was feeling so sorry for myself, I ignored the positives that accompanied such things: I had exited an abusive, codependent relationship. New doors were waiting for me to push open. I was no longer stuck in a bad place because I was terrified of venturing forth on my own.

I know someone who has tremendous talents and abilities but who has met with certain disappointments in his life. However, from everything I can see, he doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself; he learns to refine his approach and understanding of people from such experiences. He finds new projects to get excited about. He makes a choice to move forward in a positive way, keeping busy and interested in the world around him. There’s much to admire in such resilience.

So, now, what about you? Have you been feeling a bit down or disappointed with some element of your life of late? Is there a different way, a more hopeful way, you might perceive this? Will you choose to be happy and engaged in the world?

You’re over 30. Take responsibility for where you are in life. Happiness is a choice.

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4 Responses to “Happiness is a Choice”

  1. How to Choose the Right One « My Relationship Expert Says:

    […] Happiness is a Choice (dignitarysretreat.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Patrick Ross Says:

    I can’t disagree with you here. I think the problem is that, intellectually, when I’m down I can tell myself this is true, but that often isn’t enough to actually make it feel true.

    I would add a corollary to the “only you can change your life” mantra. You can’t change anyone else’s life. You mention the idea of blaming others. I think we often feel if we could only get others to come around to our way of thinking, or start doing this or stop doing that, then our relationship with them will improve, and our happiness level as well. But only they can change their lives, and they will only do so if they truly want to (and it’s not easy). So we need to change our expectations regarding them.

  3. dignitarysretreat Says:

    Hi, Patrick. Thanks for your insightful comment. I agree with everything you say. One of the annoying aspects of being a reflective individual is that we can intellectually know something but that it sometimes isn’t enough to “know” it and have it be sufficient to propel us out of our downward spin! Argh. Shakespeare was right on so many fronts. I agree, too, with our tilting-at-windmills wishlife of, “If only they would change, everything would be perfect.” Alas, few in my sphere have chosen to cooperate with my view of the world, as sensible as it is! Ha ha.
    As I see it, the source of most people’s unhappiness is often connected to unrealistic expectations–stay tuned for a post on this.

  4. grasshopper Says:

    well said…and such an important reminder for us all!!

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