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Last Updated on May 9, 2018

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

Daniel Matthews, CPRP

Daniel Matthews is a Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner and freelance writer with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2018

60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life

60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life

Sometimes it’s easier to focus on what we don’t have, rather than what we do have. It’s important to take time out and remember all of the things to be thankful for that many of us take for granted.

    Here you’ll find 60 very solid things to be thankful for in your everyday life. These are great reminders for you to treasure everything you have.

    1. Good Health

    Even if you’re health isn’t great, it could be worse and you likely still have some working parts to be thankful for.

    2. Money in the Bank

    Having just a few coins makes you richer than most people on Earth.

    3. Good Friends

    Often, it’s the quality of friendships, not the quantity.

    4. Freedom of Religion

    Being able to worship whomever and however you want is something many people don’t ever experience.

    5. Your Parents

    Even if they’re dysfunctional, they gave you life.

    6. Weekends

    There’s something magical about weekends.

    7.Having a Partner

    Being in a romantic relationship can teach you so much about the world and yourself.

    8. Pets

    Pets offer one of the best examples of unconditional love.

    9. Learning from Mistakes

    If we never made mistakes, we wouldn’t learn much so it is one of those things we should be thankful for.

    10. Opportunity to Get an Education

    The opportunity to attend school is something many people don’t have.

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    11. Having a Home

    Whether you live in an apartment, a mansion, or a tent, having a place to call home is something to be thankful for.

    12. An Ability to Read

    If you’re reading this right now, you have a lot to be thankful for.

    13. Breathing Fresh Air

    Being able to step outside to breathe in fresh air is a good reminder how many little things we should be thankful for.

    14. A Bed to Sleep

    A bed is one of those things that’s easy to take for granted, until you don’t have one.

    15. Laughter

    Without laughter, the world would be a sad place.

    16. Safety and Security

    Being able to wake up without immense fear frees us up to really live life.

    17. Cars

    Without cars, it would take a lot longer to get our activities done.

    18. Sunshine

    The sun’s warmth can brighten any day.

    19. Time

    Although we often don’t think there’s enough of it, time is something we shouldn’t take for granted.

    20. Clean Water

    Many people on earth lack access to clean water.

    21. Cell Phones

    Cell phones make talking to loved ones easy.

    22. Love

    The world sure would be a different place if we lacked the ability to love.

    23. Books

    Books provide an opportunity to enter another world all from the comfort of your own home.

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    24. Kindness of Strangers

    Never take the kindness of a stranger for granted.

    25. Campfires

    The simplicity of a campfire creates lifelong memories.

    26. Pain

    Without pain, it would be difficulty to appreciate life’s joys.

    27. Art

    The world would be less beautiful if art didn’t exist.

    28. Holidays

    Any reason to celebrate is something we should be thankful for.

    29. Freedom of Speech

    Being able to express your thoughts and feelings freely should never be taken for granted.

    30. Rainbows

    The beauty of a rainbow is unmatched.

    31. Tears

    Sometimes when there are no words to say, tears express how we feel for us.

    32. Waking up Today

    Simply waking up today means you have things to be thankful for.

    33. Indoor Plumbing

    Indoor plumbing not only provides convenience, it spares us from disease.

    34. Wisdom that Comes with Age

    Thankfully, we grow smarter over time.

    35. Mountains

    Mountains provide us with beauty and recreation.

    36. Eyesight

    Being able to see allows us to view the world’s beauty.

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    37. Grocery Stores

    Grocery stores mean we don’t have to spend all of our time getting our own food.

    38. Sunsets

    Sunsets are a reminder that we should enjoy the simple things in life.

    39. Entertainment

    Entertainment gives us a way to relax and enjoy life.

    40. Your Mind

    Being able to think, remember, and solve problems sure makes life easier.

    41. Employment

    Even if you don’t like your job, being employed means someone thought you were special enough to hire.

    42. Diversity

    The world would be a boring place without diversity.

    43. Moon and Stars

    The moon and stars encourage us to dream.

    44. Electricity

    Electricity makes most of our chores efficient.

    45. Air Conditioning

    Staying cool on a hot day is something people wouldn’t have dreamed about in past centuries.

    46. Hearing

    Being able to hear your loved one’s voice is something that not everyone gets to do.

    47. Children

    Watching children laugh, grow, and dream can keep things in perspective.

    48. Ability to Learn

    The ability to learn new things means we have endless potential.

    49. People Willing to Teach

    Whether it’s your grandmother teaching you to knit or your plumber showing you how to prevent future problems, be grateful that others are willing to use their time and talents to teach you something new.

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    50. Oceans

    The sea creatures in the ocean almost seem too mystical to be real.

    51. Modern Medicine

    Without advances in modern medicine, many of us wouldn’t be alive.

    52. Music

    Music brings out new emotions.

    53. Entrepreneurs

    Some of life’s best inventions resulted from an entrepreneur who was willing to take a risk.

    54. Warm Clothing

    On a cold day, there’s nothing more important than warm clothing.

    55. Freedom to Vote

    Being able to have a say in the laws should never be taken for granted.

    56. An Internet Connection

    It’s hard to believe how easy it is to take the internet for granted, seeing how none of us had just a couple of decades ago.

    57. Challenges

    Without challenges in life, we wouldn’t be the people we are now.

    58. Hiking Trails

    Hiking trails give us the chance to enjoy mother’s nature beauty.

    59. Vaccines

    Many of us wouldn’t be alive without today’s vaccinations.

    60. Armed Forces

    Our lives would likely be very different if we didn’t have protection from the armed forces.

    Realizing all the things you should be thankful for is the first step, practicing gratitude is what you should start doing:

    6 Ways To Implement More Gratitude In Your Life

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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