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Last Updated on October 22, 2019

Why Happiness is a Choice (And Why It’s a Smart One to Make)

Why Happiness is a Choice (And Why It’s a Smart One to Make)

You’re struggling to find this elusive thing called “happiness.” Most days, you feel either overwhelmed, anxious, angry, depressed, or flat. Or, maybe you experience quick shifts of mood.

You can remember times when you were happy, but they seem distant, and your life circumstances are different now.

But what if I told you that you can actually choose happiness? And, that it’s easier than you think?

In this article, I’ll break down the basics of how you can lead a happier life, just by following a few basic principals. These are easy to implement in your own life, which means happiness is just around the corner!

Ready to find out more about how and why happiness is a choice? Let’s dive in further to gain a deeper understanding.

Happiness Isn’t an Idea, It’s an Experience

The idea that happiness is a choice seems to be just that, an idea, and one that doesn’t apply to you. How can you choose to be happy when someone has treated you so badly, when circumstances beyond your control are bombarding you with pain?

Many people feel this way.

Each year, the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network releases the World Happiness Report.

This measures the overall happiness of different countries. The 2018 report finds that residents in Finland rank first place, while the residents in the United States are all the way behind in 18th place.

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Despite the fact that Americans’ incomes have more than doubled since 1972, we’re not even in the top 10 of happiest countries.

Understand the Easterlin Paradox

Americans have continuously made more money, yet we’re not reporting an increase in happiness. This disparity between income and happiness is called the Easterlin Paradox.

Chances are you see more money now than you ever have in your life, yet you’re still trapped in the paradox, struggling to understand why you’re unhappy.

What explains the paradox?

The answer to this question can help you understand what happiness is. Solving this dilemma seems complex — it is a paradox, after all. Yet the answer is a lot simpler than you might expect: happiness is a choice.

It’s as Simple as Choosing Happiness

Happiness is a state of being that you can seize, such as when a runner takes in air with her lungs. Each inhalation is essential, and with every inhalation, exhalation must follow.

If happiness is a state of being, then you could say that happiness is simply an experience, or a set of experiences.

Amanda Pinnock is a college student at Arizona State University who experienced this type of happiness without ever expecting it. To earn her degree in global health, she needed to do a study abroad program, but she was worried she was going to be disconnected from her group as a nontraditional student earning her degree online. [1]

To her surprise, the other students in her group were inclusive and eager to connect. Then there were the locals in Fiji, the country she’d chosen for the program. They seemed to truly understand how happiness is a choice. According to Amanda:

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“Fijians are probably the happiest and humblest people in the world. They welcomed us with open arms and made sure we were fed and had the accommodations we needed. It wasn’t until I talked further with the group leader and tour guide that I realized they were giving us more than what they have for themselves on a daily basis.”

Plenty of Fijians don’t have running water, but Amanda noted that they felt they lacked for nothing. She says:

“They live off the earth and they all help one another … They may not have had nearly as much money as an average American, but they are wealthy in their lives, and I think Americans can learn a lot from that. It really put into perspective what’s most important: family, loved ones and the environment.”

For the Fijians Amanda encountered, happiness isn’t a concept, it’s the act of supporting each other.

Happiness is the act of finding joy in everyday experiences with other people.

Communities of people who give to each other and share the value of generosity, the value of love—a love which expects nothing in return—are the happiest.

That’s why, according to the World Happiness Report, generosity and social support networks are two key factors that lead to happiness. [2]

Every second you’re alive and conscious, you have choices to make. Amanda Pinnock chose to experience another culture even though she was worried about fitting in. She was happy to share the experience with the other students and the Fijians that welcomed them.

Each day of your conscious existence you can choose to support others, to accept their support, to engage in activities that are good for you.

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All of these acts will bring happiness. You can choose to trust others and do things that help them to trust you. You can choose to build up the community around you and be a part of it.

The Art of Sisu Can Change You

In Finland, famine wiped out 9 percent of the population during the 1860s —hardly an event that would engender happiness. The Finns have made a point of recovering by embracing a philosophy called sisu, which is a shared value of grit, determination, and rational action, even when life is painful.

Sisu is also about powering through exercises that are challenging and uncomfortable, such as taking a swim in an ice-cold river, running a marathon, or biking to work in the rain. [3]

According to This Is Finland, “Sisu is extraordinary courage and determination in the face of adversity … Sisu is embodied by people everywhere who defy the odds and hold on to hope when at first there seems to be none.”

Sisu is simple: seize life, do it with courage, and build your courage by engaging with the world in challenging ways.

Be Proactive in Your Happiness

You can be happy by being proactive. People who choose to recover from addiction choose to take proactive steps toward recovery.

You can think of choosing to be happy as choosing to recover from depression. As it turns out, exercise benefits recovery in a number of ways:

  • Exercise imitates the effect of drugs on your brain (or rather, drugs imitate the effect of exercise) by releasing endorphins.
  • Exercise helps you sleep better and increases feelings of well-being.
  • Exercise helps you cope with stress, structure your day, and improve your physical fitness.
  • This lines up very well with sisu, although sisu asks you to take it to another level and challenge yourself beyond your comfort level.

Even if you don’t take it to that extent, start small and exercise on a regular basis, then build up to greater challenges. Work on making connections with other people based around your exercise routine.

What the Buddhists Know

Buddhism is particularly concerned with cultivating happiness through constant practice.

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First, Buddhists acknowledge that existence lends itself to pain and mental dysfunction. This is the wear and tear of the world that comes from desiring and expecting what you don’t have.

Buddhists follow a set of practices towards enlightenment:

  • Clear the mind of negative thoughts: Recognize negative thoughts, redirect them positively, and act on positive thoughts.
  • Practice mindfulness: Without applying judgment, contemplate how your body feels and pay attention to your breathing; pay attention to your own thoughts; pay attention to “phenomena” — the world around you.
  • Meditate and concentrate: Let random thoughts go while you’re sitting and concentrating on one single thing, such as the sound of water, your breathing, or a humming sound.
  • Have compassion: Personal happiness is directly related to the happiness of others. Contemplation of others and their suffering leads you to a place of true compassion, and compassion for others is a simple path towards happiness.

Buddhists choose to live neither in the past or future.

Thoughts of the past can bring brooding and depression, and thoughts of the future can bring anxiety. Contemplation of the present and compassion for others in the present can help alleviate depression and anxiety, freeing your mind to accept happiness.

People choose many creeds, philosophies, and religions in the pursuit of happiness. In any situation, you can choose to concentrate on what makes you happy.

You can choose to accept the most excruciating challenge as an opportunity to be good now and to create happiness.

Make the Smart Choice of Happiness

Happiness is finding joy in everyday experiences.

When you choose to include other people in your happiness, then with it comes community—in both social networks and shared experiences.

Happiness is the smart choice because deep down it’s what your being strives for; it’s what other people want, too.

When we’re choosing happiness together, we’re choosing to care for each other, and the whole world opens up to infinite possibility.

More About Happiness

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Arizona State University: Find Yourself by Getting Lost
[2] World Happiness Report: World Happiness Report 2018
[3] This is Finland: Sisu Begins Where Perseverance Ends

More by this author

Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

What Makes a Good Leader: 10 Critical Leadership Qualities

What Makes a Good Leader: 10 Critical Leadership Qualities

The word “leader” makes you think of people in charge. High-ranking people – your boss, politicians, presidents, CEOs…

But leadership really isn’t about a particular position or a person’s seniority. Just because someone has worked for many years doesn’t mean he has gained the qualities and skills to lead a team.

Getting promoted to a managerial position doesn’t automatically turn you into a leader either. CEOs and other high-ranking officials don’t always have great leadership skills.

So what makes a good leader? What are the characteristics of a leader?

Good leadership is about acquiring and honing skills. Leadership skills enable you to be a role model for a team in any environment. With great leadership qualities, successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes: in the home, at school, or at the workplace.

The following is a list of characteristics of a leader who successfully leads a great team:

1. Stay Positive, Even in the Worst Situations

Great leaders know that they won’t have a happy and motivated team unless they themselves exhibit a positive attitude. This can be done by remaining positive when things go wrong and, by creating a relaxed and happy atmosphere in the workplace.

Even some simple things like providing cupcakes or beers on Fridays can make the world of difference. An added perk is that team members are likely to work harder and do overtime when needed if they’re happy and appreciated.

Even in the worst situations such as experiencing low team morale or team members having made a big mistake at work, a great leader stays positive and figure out ways to keep the team motivated to solve the problems.

Walt Disney (1901-1966), had his share of hardships and challenges; and like any great leader, he managed to stay positive and find new opportunities. In 1928, Disney found that his film producer, Charles Mintz, wanted to reduce his payments for the Oswald series. Mintz threatened to cut ties entirely if Disney didn’t accept his terms, and Disney chose to part ways. But in leaving Oswald, Disney decided to create something new: the iconic Mickey Mouse.

    What Can You Learn from Walt Disney?

    Break down huge challenges into smaller ones and find ways to tackle them one by one.

    Think about the lessons you can learn from the mistake and jot them down — Because sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

    2. Exhibit Confidence Everywhere

    All great leaders have to exhibit an air of confidence if they’re going to succeed. Please don’t confuse this with self-satisfaction and arrogance. You want people to look up to you for inspiration, not so they can punch you in the face.

    Confidence is important because people will be looking to you on how to behave, particularly if things aren’t going 100% right. If you remain calm and poised, team members are far more likely to as well. As a result, morale and productivity will remain high and the problem will be solved more quickly.

    If you panic and give up, they will know immediately and things will simply go down hill from there.

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    Elon Musk is a great example of a leader with confidence. He truly believes that Tesla will be successful, which he has shown many times through his actions. He converted 532,000 stock options at $6.63 each, their value on Dec. 4, 2009, before Tesla went public. It was a hefty bargain considering Tesla’s stock price stood at around $195 per share at that time. He doesn’t apologize for his beliefs and has drawn fire from just about everyone for his political actions.

      What Can You Learn from Elon Musk?

      You can’t instantly become a very confident person, but all the small things you do every day will gradually make you more confident:

      • List 10 things you like about yourself every day (something different every day), and you’ll be more confident about yourself.
      • Work on your strengths, do your best to enhance them.

      3. Have a Sense of Humor

      It’s imperative for any kind of leader to have a sense of humor, particularly when things go wrong. And they will.

      Your team members are going to be looking to you for how to react in a seemingly dire situation. It would probably be best if you weren’t stringing up a noose for yourself in the corner. You need to be able to laugh things off, because if staff morale goes down, so will productivity.

      Establish this environment prior to any kind of meltdown by encouraging humor and personal discussions in the work place.

      As president, Barack Obama exuded confidence and calm during stressful situations. But he was also known for his “dad jokes”,[1] his genuinely funny speeches at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and appearing on Zack Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns.[2] Obama’s sense of humor made him grounded, realistic, and honest – no doubt that helped during some tense moments in the White House!

        What Can You Learn from Barak Obama?

        Laugh at yourself. Confident people laugh about their own silly mistakes, others will also trust you more because you’re willing to share your experiences.

        Be observant and learn from the jokes others make. You can also get a lot of inspirations from the internet.

        4. Embrace Failures and Manage Set Backs

        No matter how hard you try to avoid it, failures will happen; that’s okay. You just need to know how to deal with them.

        Great leaders take them in strides. They remain calm and logically think through the situation and utilize their resources. What they don’t do is fall apart and reveal to their team how worried they are, which leads to negative morale, fear and binge-drinking under desks.

        Great leaders do in fact lead, even when they’re faced with setbacks.

        Henry Ford experienced a major setback after designing and improving the Ford Quadricycle. He founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, but the resulting cars they produced did not live up to his standards and were too expensive. The company dissolved in 1901. Ford took this in stride and formed the Henry Ford Company. The sales were slow and the company had financial problems; it wasn’t until 1903 that the Ford Motor Company was successful and put the Ford on the map.

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          What Can You Learn from Walt Disney?

          Get to the root cause of any problem so you can prevent it from happening again and learn from the mistake.

          To do this, use the 5 Whys problem solving framework.

          By asking “why” for 5 times (or more) on why something happened, you can find out the key factor that caused the problem and can find the best solution to tackle the problem.

          You’ll also learn how to prevent this from happening again in the future after finding out a problem’s root cause.

          5. Listen, and Give Feedback

          This is far more complex than it actually sounds. Good communication skills are essential for a great leader. You may very well understand the cave of crazy that is your brain, but that doesn’t mean that you can adequately take the ideas out of it and explain them to someone else.

          The best leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally.

          The Dalai Lama, as a symbol of the unification of the state of Tibet, represents and practices Buddhist values. The Dalai Lama’s leadership is benevolent and aims toward truth and understanding, alongside the other Buddhist precepts. This is a great example for all leaders: if you want to give good directions to others, you have to get feedback from others to understand the situation properly.

            What Can You Learn from Dalai Lama?

            Encourage communication between team members and establishing an open door policy.

            Practice not to interrupt team members when they’re talking.

            Summarize what they say and ask for feedback every time after you have talked about your ideas.

            6. Know How and When to Delegate

            No matter how much you might want to, you can’t actually do everything yourself. Even if you could, in a team environment that would be a terrible idea anyway.

            Good leaders recognize that delegation does more than simply alleviate their own stress levels (although that’s obviously a nice perk). Delegating to others shows that you have confidence in their abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from your staff. They want to feel appreciated and trusted.

            Although Steve Jobs is known for focusing in on the smallest of details, he knew how to delegate. By finding, cultivating, and trusting capable team members – like Tim Cook – Jobs was able to make Apple run smoothly, even while he had to be absent for extended periods of time.

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              What Can You Learn from Steve Jobs?

              To know when and how to delegate work to team members, you have to be very familiar with each of them:

              • List out all of their strengths, weaknesses and personalities.
              • Talk with your team members more too to know more about their passion and interests.

              Take a look at this guide and learn more about delegation: How to Delegate Work Effectively (The Definitive Guide for Leaders)

              7. Inspire and Grow People Around

              Any good leader knows how important it is to develop the skills of those around them. The best can recognize those skills early on. Not only will development make work easier as they improve and grow, it will also foster morale. In addition, they may develop some skills that you don’t possess that will be beneficial to the workplace.

              Great leaders share their knowledge with the team and give them the opportunity to achieve. This is how leaders gain their respect and loyalty.

              Pope Francis has been unusually popular with many Catholics and many non-Catholics. His position isn’t totally traditional, which is part of his appeal, but he also has admirable leadership skills. Pope Francis’s TED talk drew attention, because he encouraged leaders to be humble and to demonstrate solidarity with others. This inclusive, kind, and respectful style of leadership is incredibly important for any situation.

                What Can You Learn from Pope Francis?

                Spend time to talk with other team members individually to understand them.

                Find out team members’ current challenges and try to give feedback and encouragement so they will grow and do better.

                8. Take Responsibility and Never Blame Others

                Great leaders know that when it comes to their company, work place or whatever situation they’re in, they need to take personal responsibility for failure. How can they expect employees to hold themselves accountable if they themselves don’t?

                The best leaders don’t make excuses; they take the blame and then work out how to fix the problem as soon as possible. This proves that they’re trustworthy and possess integrity.

                Howard Gillman is the chancellor of UC Irvine. You might have heard of how the university rescinded a bunch of acceptances, and then changed its mind.[3] This past spring, an unusually high number of accepted students decided to matriculate; the school initially responded by rescinding offers over things like missed deadlines. But the college realized this was a mistake and reversed its decision. Gillman and the university accepted responsibility and decided to move past their earlier bad decision.

                  What Can You Learn from Howard Gillman?

                  Ask yourself what you could have done better to prevent this from happening.

                  Take the responsibility and think about what you can do better to prevent this from happening next time.

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                  9. Make Decisions Based on Lessons Learned in the Past

                  It’s safe to say that all great leaders will have to enter unchartered waters at some point during their career (figuratively, of course). Because of this, they have to be able to trust their intuition and draw on past experiences to guide them.

                  Great leaders know that there’s always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They are able to connect the present challenges with the lessons learned in the past to make decisions and take actions promptly.

                  You can either recall what you’ve learned from your memories, or search from your notes (ideally, a software that you can access anywhere with things well-organized).

                  Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, has mostly made the right calls. But in dealing with huge amounts of money, Buffett has also made several multi-million (and sometimes multi-billion) dollar mistakes. He has stated that buying the company Berkshire Hathaway was his biggest mistake.[4] From that poor choice, he realized that it was unwise to pursue “improvements” and “expansions” in the existing textile industry. Despite mistakes like this, Buffett has invested wisely – and it shows.

                    What Can You Learn from Warren Buffett?

                    Write down lessons you’ve learned from any mistakes you’ve made.

                    Have all the lessons well organized and  when similar things happen again in future, take these lessons as references.

                    10. Lead by Example and Commit to Do the Best

                    Great leaders stick to their commitments and promises, and they are the most committed and hard working ones on the job. All great leaders lead by example.

                    Why should your staff and team members give it their all if you don’t bother to? By proving your own commitment, great leaders will inspire others to do the same, as well as earn their respect and instill a good work ethic.

                    After 15 years of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi was voted state counsellor in Myanmar – one of the highest-profile and most powerful positions in the country. She became a symbol of peaceful resistance when she attempted to bring democracy to her country.[5] In the early years of her detention, she was often in solitary confinement. Suu Kyi is a perfect example of committed and belief-driven leadership, which she openly demonstrated during her many years of house arrest.

                      What Can You Learn from Aung San Suu Kyi?

                      Some people learn by observing the way you perform a task, some need more detailed guidelines.

                      So dedicate time to demonstrate your work to team members, let them observe how you do it. Summarize the skills you use and let team members know how you make difficult things work.

                      The Bottom Line

                      Leadership traits are learnable. If you practice consistently, you can be a great leader too.

                      Make small changes your habits when you work with your team – wherever that may be. Most of us aren’t presidents or CEOs.

                      But we all work with other people, and our actions always impact others. This gives every person the chance to develop leadership skills and to stand out from the crowd.

                      More About Leadership

                      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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