Happiness is a Choice

Steve RizzoAllow me to let you in on a little secret. (No, it’s not Victoria’s Secret. Victoria really doesn’t have a secret. Have you ever seen the merchandise in that store? It’s obvious the secret is pretty much revealed.) Are you ready? Here it is: Happiness is a choice, that’s it. It’s a little secret, right? But, a great one. Happiness is a choice. That’s all you need to know. You are now enlightened. You can stop reading and go about your business. Congratulations on your new found self-awareness. Hey, I’m kidding, alright? But it is true. Happiness is a choice. As I always say, making “happiness a choice” is what life is all about. And it’s the best way to stay motivated throughout the day.

So … I know right about now you’re thinking, “If happiness is a choice, then why are so many people feeling crappy instead of happy? Why are so many people going through life feeling unfulfilled?” The answer is that most people either don’t believe that happiness is a choice or can’t understand its meaning. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” And this coming from a man who had the weight of an entire fractured country on his shoulders

OK, so what do I mean by “happiness is a choice.” I think people can reject this notion out of hand because it is so simply phrased. “Oh, you mean all I have to do is make a choice and, presto, I’m happy? Give me a break Sparky!” No, that’s not what I mean. And don’t call me Sparky!

Happiness isn’t one choice, like deciding which presidential candidate will make you less miserable or picking between the chicken and the prime rib. Instead, happiness is one long, continuous choice. If that notion seems too daunting, try thinking of it as a lifetime of small, moment-to-moment choices.

On any given day there are a number of reasons/excuses that I can use to justify being unhappy. It can be work related, family issues (if you knew my family you would definitely understand.), time constraints or someone else’s bad mood. The key, however, is that I know I’m responsible for my own state of mind. I am totally aware of what happens to me when I begin to lose the thread of that control. Allowing these outside forces or circumstances to determine my happiness can quickly send me into a downward spiral. The same goes for you. Whatever it is that has the potential to keep you from enjoying the day and the success you desire, understand that it’s not the situation itself that is causing you to be unhappy or to feel unsuccessful. It’s really the thoughts you have about the situation. It’s what you choose to focus on that fuel your emotions and defines your reality, as you will see in the following story.

One day I was walking along a pier in San Diego when I noticed a young woman dancing and singing softly to herself. Occasionally, she would stop and take a sip of her coffee. As I walked by she waved and smiled, and this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill, everyday smile. It was a radiant smile and it was accompanied by an exuberant glow. I mean, I actually felt uplifted by that smile.

“Someone is happy today,” I said. Her reply was, “What’s not to be happy about? The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful morning. I have a delicious cup of coffee and last night I was at a concert and the lead singer was singing directly to me. Life is wonderful.”

I have to admit that I was impressed and intrigued (and wondering if I could have some of whatever what was in her coffee).

“Are you always like this?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. “For the most part I am. It doesn’t take that much to make me happy.”

Now she really had my attention.

“Don’t you ever have problems or get in a bad mood?” I asked. This made her laugh.

“Of course I do.” she said, “I just know that bad moods are a choice and problems are relative.” I try to look at a problem as something I need to learn. If I do learn from it, then it isn’t a problem. It’s a gift.” She took a sip of her evidently-delicious coffee and then continued. “In fact, just this morning I couldn’t start my car. Sure, I was getting frustrated. I mean, I just bought it last week! It’s brand new and I was late for work. Anyway, the good news in all this is that my neighbor noticed I was having difficulty and she offered to give me a ride to work.” She beamed that radiant smile of hers again. “You know,” she continued, “in the two years I lived next door to her, I knew nothing about her. I mean, she’s my neighbor, for crying out loud! We had a wonderful conversation and we’re going out for dinner tonight. So yes, my new car wouldn’t start, but I believe because of that I have a new friend. I choose to focus on that. That’s the gift within the problem.”

If we could all see our problems and mishaps from the viewpoint of the young woman with the radiant smile, life would be much easier, wouldn’t it? She is living proof that it all comes down to choices. Rather than dwell on negativity, you can choose to focus on what is working in your life, to be grateful for what you have, and to use your time and energy finding solutions to your problems. If you do, you will be nourishing your soul and experiencing a happier, healthier reality for yourself. Either way, the outcome is based on choices. Choose to be happy now, no matter what is happening around you. If you wait for something else to change first, you don’t stand a chance at happiness. How’s that for delivering the truth?

The same incident can be experienced and interpreted in different ways by different people. There are those who view little mishaps as a major catastrophe, while others find the humor in them. Some people would have their day ruined if their car didn’t start. These kinds of people have a tendency to intensify their problems by continuously rehashing their woe-is-me story. This is an attitude that stifles soul growth. That’s not to say that you’re wrong to get upset when your car doesn’t start and you’re late for work. That’s natural, of course. But you’re doing yourself a grave disservice if you allow the bad mood to continue. If you’re not vigilant, one bad mood can snowball out of control and ruin what could otherwise be an enjoyable and productive day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson had it right when he said, “To different minds, the same world is a hell and a heaven.” The girl with the radiant smile was determined to always choose her own focus. When her car wouldn’t start, she chose to focus on making a new friend. I don’t know this young woman personally, but I’m going to make an educated guess that she views most of the events in her life from that same healthy perspective. What a great way to live! Don’t give your peace and happiness away. Think of the repercussions if you do. You could be relying on your car’s starter for your happiness for the rest of your life.
Steve Rizzo, a.k.a. The Attitude Adjuster, is a personal development expert whose clients include American Airlines, BP, JPMorgan, Chase, Scholastic, and Spring, among others. As a stand-up-comic, he has headlined with many titans of comedy, including Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Drew Carey, and Ellen DeGeneres. Visit him at www.SteveRizzo.com

-What are some ways you go about choosing happiness in your life?

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