Happiness is a Choice: 7 Reasons to Choose It for Your Life

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Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times,” said the ancient Greek author Aeschylus.

But he’s not the only one who viewed happiness as the result of conscious, voluntary actions.

From Stoic philosophers to 21st-century scientists, experts across history have argued that happiness results from choices we make each day.

Sounds pretty simple right?  

Do things that make you happy, and you will be happy.

But as each of us knows from experience, life’s unexpected turns can often throw us off course in our pursuit of happiness.

In other words, although happiness is essentially a choice, choosing it might not be as easy as it sounds.

Nevertheless, allow me to persuade you into choosing happiness by listing a few reasons why this could be the best decision of your life.

The Science of Happiness

Happiness is (and has always been) a topic of great interest among thinkers, dreamers, philosophers, and scientists. Even a regular Joe like you and I pursue happiness daily, even though we might not have an intellectual interest in this subject.

And that’s because a good portion of your everyday actions converge towards cultivating an overall pleasant mood. For instance, you watch your favorite sitcom, work on your goals, and hang out with your friends because these actions generate a sense of satisfaction.

But even though happiness is generally a universal goal, we know so little about achieving and sustaining it. Researchers are only now beginning to unveil the true complexity of this mental state.

However, let’s look at a few scientific insights that will change the way you see happiness:

1. It’s Not About Your Genes

We like to think that some people are born with the `right` mindset for happiness. Maybe we perpetuate this myth as an excuse to accept our depressing condition. Or possibly to avoid taking responsibility for how we feel.

But the truth is, happiness is mainly determined by your experiences. In fact, three major factors govern your overall sense of well-being:

  • A genetically determined set point for happiness,
  • Circumstantial factors that contribute to a positive vibe,
  • Practices and activities that cultivate happiness. [1]

2. Or How Much Money You Have

We know for a fact that money can have a saying in your overall sense of satisfaction and joy.

After all, money grants you access to valuable resources (health services, education, housing, leisure activities, and so on). In other words, it’s kinda’ difficult to focus on pursuing happiness when you’re running on an empty stomach or you don’t have a roof over your head.  

Money can have a saying in your overall sense of satisfaction and joy since research indicates that it does buy happiness, but only to a certain point.

But as current research indicates, money does buy happiness, but only to a certain point. More specifically, ~$75,000 is the number from which money begins to feel less relevant in terms of emotional well-being. [2]

So what else is left?

3. It’s About the Choices You Make

One of today’s leading experts on happiness is Sonja Lyubomirsky; a Russian-born American professor who published a series of papers that promoted the idea of sustainable happiness.

Her studies revealed that while happiness is indeed a mix of action changes and circumstantial changes, long-term happiness can be achieved (and maintained) through deliberate actions. [3]

Take a moment to think about the choices, activities, or practices that would bring you joy, and ask yourself this: Why haven’t I started doing them already?

4. And the People You Invest In

As social creatures, we share most of our positive experiences with other people. It’s like happiness takes on a whole different meaning and intensity when we experience it as a group.

Whether it’s celebrating your birthday surrounded by close friends, enjoying an intimate afternoon with your significant other, or attending a family reunion, you often tend to seek happiness in social interactions.

Since human well-being and social interactions go hand in hand [4], one path to cultivating happiness in your life is by investing in people.

And that doesn’t mean chasing them but simply letting them be part of your life (and vice versa).  

7 Reasons to Choose Happiness

1. Because it Keeps You Healthy

Happy people are the healthiest.

The fact that you’re in a good mood will inevitably boost your immune system, your motivation to engage in healthy practices, and your ability to cope with stress.  

Researchers have discovered that positive emotional experiences are generally linked to favorable health outcomes [5], reducing the risk of coronary heart disease [6] and other medical conditions.  

Long story short, happiness is neither `the secret` to longevity nor the universal cure to suffering and illness. But it can drastically improve your odds of living a healthy life.

Take a moment to think about some outdoor activities or self-care practices that are both healthy and enjoyable.

For example, I like to play airsoft. It floods me with endorphins and keeps me physically active.

2. Because it Helps You Cope with Stress Better

Stress is part of everyday life.

You deal with stress when you’re stuck in traffic, late for an appointment, or on the verge of finishing a big project.

It doesn’t matter how intelligent, wealthy, educated, or resilient you are; as long as you’re living and working in today’s society, stress will be exerting a constant influence on your well-being.

Since you can’t eliminate stress entirely, the best thing you can do is try to face it with a positive attitude. Current research suggests that people who are usually in a positive mood recover from stress faster and better. [7]

Long story short, the more you invest in actions, practices, and choices that contribute to your overall sense of well-being, the more equipped you are to handle stress.

3. Because it’s Contagious

Think about the last time you went to a concert or festival.

What was the atmosphere? What was the overall vibe of the event?

Can you recall those specific moments when the entire crowd was ecstatic, and it felt almost impossible not to get drawn into the same vibe? Nothing else mattered except that pure moment of joy.

Maybe it has something to do with our fundamental need for belonging, or perhaps we’re somehow wired to involuntarily tune into the emotional vibe of a group we’re part of.

But regardless of explanations behind this phenomenon, one thing’s for sure – happiness is contagious.

If you want to be happy, share your joys with others and also spend time around people who radiate positive emotions.

As one study revealed, people who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the network are more likely to become happy in the future. [8] 

In short, if you want to be a happier human, share your joys with others and also spend time around people who radiate positive emotions. There’s a good chance their vibe will ‘stick’ to you as well.  

4. Because it Consolidates Your Relationship

Happy people forge happy relationships.

In a way, the link between happiness and relationship satisfaction is self-explanatory. If you’re in a good mood, chances are you will handle conflicts better, communicate in a more open and empathic manner, and bring a whole different energy into your relationship.

At the same time, relationship satisfaction contributes significantly to your overall sense of happiness and well-being.

Since we’re on the topic of relationships, allow me to share a book that will help you build a happy and lasting union with your significant other.

It’s called “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman, an American psychologist, researcher, and leading expert in relationships and marriage.

In a nutshell, the seven principles that build fulfilling and lasting relationships are:

  1. Share love maps. It means sharing things you like and dislike about each other.
  2. Nurture your admiration and fondness. Focus on the positives and make sure to point out the things you love about him/her.
  3. Turn towards each other instead of away. Make time for couples activities and show your significant other how much you value him/her.
  4. Let your partner influence you. Respect his/her views, opinions, and goals and include him/her in the decision-making process.
  5. Solve your solvable problems. Identify problems and challenges that may threaten your relationship and work together towards solving them.
  6. Overcome gridlock. Talk to your significant other and figure out ways to overcome whatever’s causing a block in your relationship.
  7. Create shared meaning. Find things you’re both interested in (topics, hobbies, activities) and cultivate them.

Happiness and relationship satisfaction potentiate each other, so make sure to invest in both if you wish to enjoy a fulfilling life.

5. Because it Makes You a Better Citizen

As I mentioned earlier in this article, humans are social creatures that thrive together and are naturally inclined to seek positive experiences within their social circles.

But did you know that happiness can also make you a better citizen?

According to a recent study, happiness predicts future civic engagement across the transition to adulthood and into midlife. [9]

In other words, when you’re happy and at peace with your life, you are more likely to get involved in community service projects that contribute to the development and overall well-being of your community.

Not only that community service cultivates compassion and strengthens bonds between neighbors, but it’s also an excellent way to solve various problems that arise in your neighborhood, especially when local authorities might not have the resources to fix them.   

In short, happy people make happy citizens who come together to create happy communities.

6. Because it Can Boost Your Career

Since you spend a good portion of your waking hours working, it’s obvious that your career greatly influences your overall sense of happiness and well-being.

Even current evidence highlights a strong relationship between happiness and career success. [10]

In other words, happiness (in the form of positive emotional experiences) precedes and succeeds career success; being happy makes you more productive at work, which makes you happier, which boosts your productivity even more.

And the best part is that the choices you make in terms of career development are mainly within your control. We’re living in a world where information is one click away, so there’s little that can stop you from learning new skills and choosing new career paths.

Building a fulfilling career will take some effort and risks on your part, but it’s a whole lot easier when you face this challenge with a happy and positive attitude.

7. Because You Don’t Need Much to Enjoy a Happy Life

As you’ve probably realized by now, happiness is within your grasp, and the good news is that you don’t need much to achieve and sustain it.

You can find it in your community, at home, sharing a pleasant experience with your significant other, and even during those moments when you spend some quality time with yourself, doing the things that bring you joy.

But the trick is to adjust your mindset and seek happiness in people who are willing to share this emotion with you and in experiences that are accessible to you.

You may think that a fat bank account, a brand-new sports car, a designer dress, or an exotic vacation will make you happy (and they do), but just because these items and experiences are beyond your grasp doesn’t mean you should give up.

Seek happiness in the smaller things, the little joys that life surprises you with, like an unexpected call from an old friend, a kind gesture from a stranger, a good meal, or a relaxing afternoon with your significant other.

The more you learn to appreciate the small pleasures of life, the easier it is to cultivate and maintain a sense of fulfillment and joy.

In the End… What is Happiness Anyway?

Happiness can be a process, goal, or emotion, depending on how you look at it.

If we ask researchers, they will probably tell us that happiness is the absence of negative emotions and the presence of positive ones. [11]

I prefer the Eudaimonic approach, which portrays happiness as a step-by-step process that involves a clear set of practices that contribute to your long-term well-being.

And the best part about this approach is that it places happiness within your control. It all about adopting the right mindset and making choices that consolidate your positive mood over and over again.

Pursuing happiness is very much like building a house. You need vision, a plan, resources, effort, and patience. And even when the house is finished, you still need to invest in maintenance; otherwise it can deteriorate, crumble, and fall.

The same goes for happiness; without regular maintenance, there’s a good chance you’ll end up drowning in unpleasant emotions and negativity.

The goal isn’t to eliminate unpleasant emotions – they too have a purpose, and many of them might be triggered by events outside your control – but strive towards achieving a healthy balance between positive and negative emotional experiences.

Final Thoughts on Happiness as a Choice

Choosing happiness might not always be as simple as it sounds, but it’s wise to do it because this experience:

  • Keeps you healthy,
  • Helps you cope with stress,
  • Boosts you career,
  • Makes you a better life partner, coworker, and citizen,
  • And consolidates your overall sense of well-being.

Perhaps happiness isn’t just the absence of distress or negative experiences, but the presence of pleasant experiences, the willingness to observe the bright side of things, and the desire to deliberately follow paths that lead to joy and fulfillment.

The moment you start viewing happiness as a choice is a moment when your life will take a turn for the better.

Alexander Draghici is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner, and content writer for various mental health websites. His work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common emotional problems – anxiety and depression.

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References

[1] S. Lyubomirsky, K. M. Sheldon and D. Schkade, “Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change.,” Review of General Psychology, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 111–131, 2005.

[2] D. Kahneman and A. Deaton, “High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being,” PNAS, vol. 107, no. 38, pp. 16489-16493, 2010.

[3] K. M. Sheldon and S. Lyubomirsky, “Achieving Sustainable Gains in Happiness: Change Your Actions, not Your Circumstances*,” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 7, p. 55–86, 2006.

[4] J. M. Rohrer, D. Richter and M. Brummer, “Successfully Striving for Happiness: Socially Engaged Pursuits Predict Increases in Life Satisfaction,” Psychological Science, vol. 29, no. 8, 2018.

[5] A. Steptoe and J. Wardle, “Positive affect and biological function in everyday life,” Neurobiology of Aging, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 108-112, 2005.

[6] K. W. Davidson, E. Mostofsky and W. Whang, “Don’t worry, be happy: positive affect and reduced 10-year incident coronary heart disease: The Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey,” European Heart Journal, vol. 31, no. 9, p. 1065–1070, 2010.

[7] I. Papousek, K. Nauschnegg, M. Paechter, H. K. Lackner, N. Goswami and G. Schulter, “Trait and state positive affect and cardiovascular recovery from experimental academic stress,” Biological Psychology, vol. 83, no. 2, pp. 108-115, 2010.

[8] J. H. Fowler and N. A. Christakis, “Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study,” BMJ, 2008.

[9] S. Fang, N. L. Galambos, M. D. Johnson and H. J. Krahn, “Happiness is the way: Paths to civic engagement between young adulthood and midlife.,” International Journal of Behavioral Development, vol. 42, no. 4, p. 425–433, 2018.

[10] L. C. Walsh, J. K. Boehm and S. Lyubomirsky, “Does happiness promote career success? Revisiting the evidence.,” Journal of Career Assessment, vol. 26, no. 2, p. 199–219, 2018.

[11] R. M. Ryan and E. L. Deci, “On Happiness and Human Potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being.,” Annual Reviews Psychology, vol. 52, pp. 141-166, 2001.