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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.

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.

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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:

“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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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 October 17, 2019

How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

You see your partner every single day. They are the first person you talk to in the morning and the last person you kiss goodnight.

But does seeing each other day in and day out equal a healthy relationship? Not necessarily.

Spending quality time with your partner is the best way to ensure your relationship stays healthy and strong. This means going above and beyond sitting together while you watch Netflix or going out for the occasional dinner. You deserve more from your relationship – and so does your spouse!

What does quality time mean? It means spending time with your spouse without interruption. It’s a chance for you to come together and talk. Communication will build emotional intimacy and trust.

Quality time is also about expressing love in a physical way. Not sex, necessarily (but that’s great, too!) but through hand-holding, cuddling, caressing, and tickling. Studies show that these displays of affection will boost partner satisfaction.[1]

So how do you spend quality time with your partner? Here are 13 relationship tips on making the most out of your time with your partner.

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1. Recognize the Signs

If you want a healthy relationship, you have to learn how to recognize the signs that you need to spend more quality time together.

Some telltale signs include:

  • You’re always on your phones.
  • You value friendships or hobbies over quality time with your spouse.
  • You aren’t together during important events.
  • You are arguing more often or lack connection.
  • You don’t make plans or date nights.
  • You’re not happy.

If you are experiencing any of these relationship symptoms, know that quality time together can reverse the negative effects of the signs above.

2. Try New Things Together

Have you ever wanted to learn how to play an instrument or speak another language? How about skydive or ballroom dance?

Instead of viewing these as solo hobbies and interests, why not involve your partner?

Trying new activities together builds healthy relationships because it encourages spouses to rely on one another for emotional and physical support.

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Shared hobbies also promote marital friendship, and the Journal of Happiness Studies found that marital satisfaction was twice as high for couples who viewed each other as best friends.[2]

3. Schedule in Tech-Free Time

Your phone is a great way to listen to music, watch videos, and keep up-to-date with friends and family. But is your phone good for your relationship?

Many couples phone snub, or ‘phub’, one another. Studies show that phubbing can lower relationship satisfaction and increase one’s chances of depression.[3]

Reduce those chances by removing distractions when spending quality time together and showing your partner they have your full attention.

4. Hit the Gym as a Couple

One way you can spend more time together as a couple is by becoming workout partners. Studies show that couples are more likely to stay with their exercise routine if they work out together.[4] Couples also work out harder than they would solo. One study found that 95 percent of couples who work out together maintained weight loss compares to the 66 percent of singles who did.[5]

Join a gym, do at-home couples’ workouts, try couples yoga, hit the hiking trails, or get your bikes out. No matter which way you choose to exercise, these healthy activities can promote a healthy relationship.

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5. Cook Meals Together

Pop open a bottle of wine or put some romantic music on while you get busy – in the kitchen, of course!

One of the best relationship tips for spending quality time together when you both have busy schedules is to cook meals together.[6]

Spice things up and try and prepare a four-course meal or a fancy French dish together. Not only is this a fun way to spend your time together, but it also promotes teamwork.

If all goes well, you’ll have a romantic date night meal at home that you prepared with your four hands. And if the food didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, you are guaranteed to have a laugh and create new memories together.

6. Have a Regular Date Night

Couples experience a greater sense of happiness and less stress when they are spending quality time together.[7] One of the biggest relationship tips for a healthy partnership is to include a date night in your weekly routine.

The National Marriage Project found that having a weekly date night can make your relationship seem more exciting and helps prevent relationship boredom.[8] It also lowers the probability of divorce, improves your sex life, and increases healthy communication.

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Some great ideas for what to do on your date night include:

  • Have a movie marathon – Gather up your favorite flicks and cuddle up on the couch.
  • Play games together – Cards, board games, video games, and other creative outlets are a fun way to spend quality time together.
  • Recreate your first date – Go back to that restaurant and order the same meal you did when you first got together. You can spice up your evening by pretending you’re strangers meeting for the first time and see how sexy the night gets.
  • Plan a weekend getaway – There’s nothing better than traveling with the one you love.
  • Dinner and a movie – A classic!
  • Try a new restaurant – Make it your mission to rate and try all of the Mexican restaurants/Irish pubs/Italian trattorias in your area.
  • Have a long sex session – Intimacy promotes the release of the oxytocin hormone which is responsible for a myriad of great feelings.[9]

Here’re even more date night ideas for your reference: 50 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples

Final Thoughts

The benefits of spending quality time together are endless. Here are just some of the ways it can contribute to a healthy relationship:

  • Improves emotional and physical intimacy
  • Lowers divorce rates
  • Improves communication
  • Reduces marital boredom
  • Bonds couples closer
  • Improves friendship
  • Boosts health
  • Reduces stress

These are all excellent reasons to start making date night a regular part of your week.

It’s easy to have a healthy relationship when you set aside dedicated time to share with your spouse. Try new things together, make your spouse your workout buddy, and look for innovative ways to be close and connected.

These relationship tips will bring great benefits to your marriage.

Featured photo credit: Allen Taylor via unsplash.com

Reference

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