Happiness is a Choice

I was asked a few long weeks ago if I was happy. At the time I was bubbling over with happiness, unable to contain it, infecting everyone around me with smiles. I’m not normally like this, but I am normally happy.

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Happiness is a choice. Hollywood has a lot to answer for, with movies showing us that happiness is uncontrollable emotions, beaming smiles, everything going right, and being loved by someone. And there is always, always music playing. Happiness can be like this (even the music part if you’re a musician), and yes, it’s bloody fantastic when it is. But that’s not the only form of happiness out there. In fact, that’s the rarest kind of happiness.

Happiness comes in lots of forms, and mostly life is not like the movies. Life is usually a bit repetitive, a little bit dull, and often comes with a side order of wondering if everyone has more interesting lives than ours (and not really minding as long as there is wine and a bit of peace and quiet).

Everybody thinks their life is less exciting that everyone else’s, social media allows people to portray carefully filtered images of their lives. This is not reality, it’s a carefully constructed scrapbook of choice moments. Nobody has an exciting life all the time, it would be exhausting – imagine always having somewhere to go, always having to interact with people, and never having time to watch TV alone in your pyjamas!

There are different forms of happiness, but the mistake everyone makes is assuming our own happiness is out of our control. It’s not. We do not, or we should not, rely on anyone else for our happiness. We do not need anyone else in order to be happy. Yes, certain people may ramp up the happiness levels considerably, they may make us smile broadly, make us feel complete and cause joy to radiate from us. Which is the case when I was asked that question. But happiness, fundamentally, is a choice we make for ourselves.

Life doesn’t owe us anything. The world and everyone in it owe us nothing. We get to choose how we live our lives, we don’t have to do anything that makes us unhappy. If something makes you miserable, stop doing it. Fix problems, deal with what you can and accept the rest. Life is short, don’t waste it being miserable. Not everything is within our control so we have to make the best of the circumstances that are outside our control.

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This is the atheist’s version of The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.

It’s up to us to work out what choices we have available to us make us happy, but these choices are within our control. It’s rarely as simple as getting the things we think we want (which aren’t always the best things for us, as we all know), it’s a case of making the most of the situations we find ourselves in.

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We might not have the perfect job, but we do have to keep a roof over our heads and pay the bills, plus feed and clothe ourselves and the kids. So not having the perfect job is ok, we can be happy with the fact that we’re paying the bills and the kids are healthy and happy.

We might have feelings for someone but life is keeping you apart for lots of different reasons, so you chose to be happy with the situation you find yourself in. You might be frustrated and wish things were different, well, you’re human, that’s ok. But fundamentally, you may have to decide to be happy with what you have, because all your choices in life have led you to this moment.

It might not be the moment you envisaged when you were a teenager, dreaming big dreams about the future. We grow up. Priorities change. We find out we don’t need a knight in shining armour on a white charger coming to rescue us, in fact we find out we don’t need anyone to rescue us at all, we’re quite capable of doing the rescuing ourselves thanks very much. But knowing there are people who care about us, that can make us happy. Even if they’re not right next to us.

Some people are never happy, they always want more: the next gadget, the newest sartorial choices, to be in a relationship (and it’s the end of the world if they’re single). They always want something more, no matter what they have. It’s like they can’t see that they need to stop and appreciate what is, what they have, what is right there in front of them, what has always been there while they’ve been chasing the next thing.

Happiness is a choice, your life is your life and it doesn’t belong to anyone else. The only person who has a responsibility to make you happy, is you. Are you happy? That’s your choice.

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What do you need to make you happy?

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So yes, in answer to the question I was asked a few long weeks ago, I am happy. Because I choose to be happy, happy with where I am and what I am doing in life. I am happy, because I choose to be.



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