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Article: Happiness

Happiness is a Choice 

By Marcia Blau, LCSW

It was early morning in Bath, England many years ago. As I left my hotel, I stumbled upon a woman who was scrubbing the patio floor. She looked up at me, beaming, and chirped “Cheerio! And how are you this beautiful morning?” I stood mesmerized. This woman was absolutely blissful. There she was on her hands and knees, scrubbing, yet she was basking in the delicious joy of being alive. The contrast was astounding. And at that moment I came to understand that one’s life is only as good as one’s willingness to enjoy it. Happiness is a choice.

As a psychotherapist, I have observed that many people wrestle with the wrong idea that their happiness is dependent on something outside themselves. Happiness is a self-directed state. And just like that internally wealthy English scrubwoman, anyone can choose to be happy. The key word here is “choose”.

The very notion of choosing a feeling state goes against the relationship most of us have with our emotions. We are much more likely to see our feelings as dictates, predictions, and even judges of our self worth. In this line of thinking your mood upon waking will determine how your day begins. Your sense of worth is dependent on your feelings about how good you think your life looks to yourself and others. And being sad or afraid is experienced as a prediction of how things will turn out.

If this is how you are relating to your emotions, you have a crummy deal with yourself. Basically you are being bullied by whatever feeling happens to be churning within. The bottom line is that you get what you focus on in life. And if you don’t like where your focus is leading, you can change that. It is our thoughts that evoke feelings. More than anything else, all day long, we are reacting to our own reflections.

Are you beginning to see how this works? You wake in the morning with that sense of dread and it feels like another day of dodging too much scary stuff. Or maybe you remember that upsetting event from yesterday. You can choose to dive right into those emotions and drown in them, or you can direct your mind to other thoughts. If you can make yourself think about anything else, something you actually can change, or perhaps something that makes you laugh, you will change your focus. And from this fresh vantage point, you can begin to move yourself in a better feeling direction.

Obviously this becomes more difficult in relation to the degree of stress or pain in your situation. But the process is always the same. So, even if you recently sustained a major loss, or you are haunted by a difficult past, how you react is still your choice. Sometimes the most healthy response you can have is to sit with yourself and cry it out. But after a point, it is yours to decide how long you are willing to endure those feelings. If you can’t get to a more comfortable state on your own, reach for help from a friend or professional. Once you make the decision to do something and not remain in pain, you are in the process of choosing your emotional state.

The degree to which we focus on pain is parallel to how much we feel it.

Your unconscious mind responds to your thoughts. If you focus on your pain, it will validate you and build a case for your being miserable. Imagine yourself stubbing your toe. It is likely that if you then stare at your foot, after a point, you will feel your toe throbbing. And that sensation may ultimately get you limping to an emergency room. If, however, your friend phones right after you stub your toe and engages you in conversation, what happens to your toe?   Do you even remember that you stubbed it?

To be clear, I am not suggesting that anyone denies pain. But it is a choice whether or not we deal with our pain or focus on it and become overwhelmed. And there’s no question about which feels better and can ultimately lead a person to happiness.

© Marcia Blau