Is Happiness a Choice?

Do you consider yourself a happy person? Can we simply choose to be happy? It may be a little more complicated than that – but it’s always worth it.

By: Pamela Gail Johnson/From Betty Confidential

When I founded the Secret Society of Happy People, in 1998, I intellectually knew a lot about happiness. However, I was probably a little naïve about its complexities. I wanted to believe that if you wanted to be happy, you could simply choose to be. I thought that if I were smart enough— and I definitely thought I was— being happy was an on-command emotion.

Time and experience have taught me that it’s much more complicated than that. Happiness and unhappiness usually happen in the same day. In fact, if we watch our Facebook or Twitter feeds most days, we can see posts that make us smile and fight tears within minutes of each other. While we may not feel both happiness and unhappiness at the same exact second, we can feel them concurrently of each other.

Many days, many of our unhappy experiences are mere annoyances. They are fleeting, like a dead car battery, not getting invited to lunch by our best friend at work or getting stuck with a last minute school project for the kids. Although the actual unhappy moment may create chaos, hurt feelings or extra must-do’s, they are ultimately fleeting and certainly something that we probably won’t remember a year from now.

So while we may not have a choice of being happy at a specific moment, we do have a choice about how long we hang onto our unhappiness over a specific situation. If we hang onto the unhappiness of a fleeting annoying situation for virtually no reason, all we’re doing is magnify our unhappiness because all we’re seeing is what’s wrong. A glass half empty attitude, if you will.

Having said the above, when we’re unhappy a bridge to happiness doesn’t magically appear. We need to find a catalyst so we can move beyond our annoyances. We may need to cry, work out, vent once and no more than twice to a friend or finish the annoying project. This helps us let go of the unhappy so we can have room for the happy. And sometimes the relief of letting go, finishing a project, or fixing the problem is…happiness.

If we just pretend we’re happy, and ignore the frustration, it eventually comes out sideways. We’ll yell at someone for no real reason or do something self-destructive like eating a whole cheesecake.

Our happiness is interconnected to the moment we’re in. For example, if we’re exhausted our reaction to an annoyance is different than if we’re rested.

Then there are the times that we have to deal with major life changes like death, break-ups, health issues, job losses, money woes and family drama. If we’re actually in the throes of an unhappy time, feeling happiness may seem like a distant memory. However, no matter how unhappy the time, there will still be happy moments in our midst— if we notice them.

That’s the magical thing about happiness. It happens everywhere – even as a momentary reprieve from our unhappiness.

Our choice isn’t always about being happy, but more about deciding which unhappy moments we cling to.

Even on our best days we have a tendency to hang onto the unhappy instead of the happy. For example, if we have two conversations at work, one with a co-worker who always pushes our buttons and one with a co-worker who always motivates us, which one do we remember going home from work? The one with the button pushing co-worker gets into our head and expends emotional energy instead of the one that motivates us. However, we can make a choice to let go of the demotivating conversation and focus on the motivating one.

Recognizing happiness alone doesn’t mean that you’ll never feel unhappy again because you choose not to. That’s not realistic or even healthy. However, since happiness happens even in the midst of unhappiness, by recognizing more of it, you’ll have the opportunity to feel happier more often.


About Pamela Gail Johnson

Pamela Gail founded the Secret Society of Happy People in 1998 to provide a missing voice for those who are happy and want to express it without other people raining on their parade. The Society provided her with a unique opportunity to interact with thousands of happy, and not-so-happy people in their struggles to be happy most of the time. She is the author of Don’t Even Think of Raining on My Parade: Adventures of the Secret Society of Happy People (PJ Press, June 2000).

Published by CityFella

Moved to the Big Tomata in the nineties from San Francisco. No Suburbs for me with its single colored houses and lawns and the excitement of pulling out my trash can once a week. I'm a CityFella , a part time New Yorker. I'm happiest in the Center City where people the streets and people are alive. I'm still waiting to buy a 34th floor condo somewhere downtown/Midtown with a nightclub. "Hurry I'm old" My politics are somewhere in the middle with a needle that constantly moves. I'm too liberal to be a Republican and too conservative to be a Democrat. Everything interests me . I've come to love Sacratomato, Its a nice town in cheap sensible shoes .

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