Happiness: A Conscious Choice

SJ JP water

How many times have we found ourselves reeling from what life throws our way?  It is so easy to fall into a struggling mindset or a victim mentality, saying things to ourselves things like, “if only that didn’t happen,” or “if they would just get it and understand what I have to deal with.” Well, guess what? Life is not as serious as we would like to think it is. People make mistakes. We make mistakes. People misunderstand us. We misunderstand other people. People are not perfect. We are not perfect.

Our life is not a destination. Life is the journey with every up, down, sideways and backward turn it throws at us.  Hardships and failures are just as much a part of life as success and triumphs. Nelson Mandela, who after spending years in prison and then going on to dynamically change the civil rights for South Africa, awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize, is quoted as saying, “I never lose.  I either win or I learn.” Our circumstances and other people do not dictate happiness.  Our attitude around what happens, who we are, and the circumstances we find ourselves in does.  Happiness is a choice. 

“I never lose.  I either win or I learn.” – Nelson Mandela

A friend of mine shared his experience of growing up in Vietnam.  He spoke to me about how the people in his village had “nothing” when it comes to the standards we hold each other to in the United States.  He told me, “at night, all ten of us piled in bed, alternating the position we laid in.  The first would lay with their head towards the top of the bed, the second laying with their head towards the bottom of the bed and so on.  The one rule we had was that everyone had to wash their feet before getting in, because those feet were laying beside the face of the next person… But you know what? Despite having ‘nothing’ we smiled, laughed, and enjoyed our childhood.”

Even on my friend’s visits back to some of these poverty-stricken areas, the choice to be happy stood out to him. So many people in the United States never have enough of what they feel they deserve, too often looking at what they don’t have instead of showing and feeling gratitude for what they do have. How many times do we say to ourselves, “when I get this, I’ll be happy?”

“The simple things are the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.” – Paulo Coelho

Nice and fancy toys are fun and exciting. There isn’t anything wrong with enjoying them. At the same time, there is so much incredible in the simple things around us.  Sharing our day at the dinner table, playing a game of two-hand touch football, and competing in a card game or reading a book together are examples of the simple that brings richness to our lives.

Gratitude, the Holy Grail, or Negativity and pure hell

Many studies have shown that people who consciously express gratitude on a consistent basis are happier and less depressed.  The truth is, we don’t even need these studies to know what gratitude does to our lives.  Look around you. Look at the relationships and interactions you have with others. Those who are grateful and who express gratitude, regardless of what they have or what they lack, are much more happy.  Your life becomes what you fill it with.  The more gratitude replaces negativity, the more happiness becomes centered in your life.  When looking deeper at true life-changing impact, Joel Wong and Joshua Brown, Ph.D.s and professors of psychology, found that in addition to positive feelings, gratitude can literally have lasting positive effects on the brain, as measured by fMRI scanners used to measure brain activity.

 “Every time the sun comes up, look for something you didn’t see before. If you look to see something new, something beautiful, you will always find it.” – Lulled by Travis N. Jensen

Changing our habits and seeing the real results takes effort and time, but, the message is simple, happiness is a choice and consistent gratitude is the way we can start that journey today.


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