Your Choices Create Your Happiness

By Ken Wear, Jan. '02

Happiness is your own personal experience. You feel it within yourself and you are the only judge of the degree of happiness you experience. It is you who view the myriad occurrences in your daily comings and goings and allow each event to contribute to or detract from your sense of happiness. And how you view each event is dictated by your habits of mind -- not habits imposed on you by forces beyond your reach, but habits you have allowed yourself to form.

The fact is that, event by event, you have chosen your own path to happiness. No one can make you happy. He can help produce the environment in which happiness is experienced, or he can influence your recognition of happiness, but happiness itself is the end result of choices you have made over time and is a profoundly personal experience.

We agree that happiness is the common goal toward which each of us strives. But what produces happiness? I have not seen a definition that fits all of us uniformly and perhaps that cannot exist because the criteria for happiness and the evaluation of how well those criteria are met is entirely an individual matter. I suspect most of us don't evaluate our degree of happiness although we may recognize its absence. Wasn't it Aristotle who said you cannot know if a person was happy until after his death? He may be right, but I much prefer to sense it while I am alive.

We are not helpless to participate in the creation of our own personal happiness. Obviously we participate in creation and alteration of the environment in which we are immersed. Just as certainly, we influence -- we consciously intervene in and alter -- the manner in which we perceive and interpret the "stuff of life," the seemingly unending chain of occurrences, mostly trivial, that make up our day. Our sense of happiness is firmly anchored in our emotional response to these daily occurrences. With some judicious intervention we ought then be able, through conscious effort, to heighten our sense of happiness. We can and do exercise a great deal of control.

A psychologist divides contributions to our overall level of happiness into three factors: (1) inborn tendencies, (2) circumstances over which we have limited control, and (3) factors under our control. Each of us seems 'wired' with an inherited level to which we invariably revert, and this base state will persist despite fortune or misfortune, lottery winnings, bodily paralysis, money or material wealth, . . .; that's inborn. But (2) and (3): It may be possible to modify this mental outlook by our responses to life events. (Obviously, the medical condition of depression is outside our consideration here.)

Each of us has a mind set, whether inherited or based on personal history, from which he views people, things and events about him (such as weather, insults, personal wealth or wealth of others efforts to please), or such chance things as a slippery spot on the sidewalk or the blaring radio of a passing car. There is a manner of responding that we consider to be characteristic of ourselves and (unless a stimulus is so strong, such as the pain of a freshly broken leg or the wound of a partner's infidelity, that it overrules our efforts) we do indeed continue to be US. So for each occurrence we respond with delight or irritation or gloom or appreciation, and we respond as it has become our habit to do. The key word is "habit," for we have acquired habits of mind that dictate for each occurrence a positive or negative response or no response at all.

And habits can be changed. It is no more trouble to look for the bright side than it is to look for the dark. When someone says "Good morning," it is equally easy to wonder what offense he meant by that or to take it as an agreeable acknowledgment that you are both there. When a lover presents roses it is just as easy to reflect that he took time to be thoughtful as it is to wonder what guilt he wishes to cover. The dawn can be the beginning of another day to be the vehicle for various experiences, or it can be the shattering end of peaceful oblivion. The blaring radio, while admittedly a nuisance, is also an expression of someone's gratitude for his freedom. And the weather, while not always ideally suited to our immediate desires, is far better than the alternative of no weather at all.

Can we improve our habits of mind? Certainly! How? It is so clearly obvious that we easily overlook it. It is simplicity itself. The long step is recognition that it would be desirable. Recognition that it would be desirable.

Following that recognition it is easy enough to observe ourselves. It is easy to compare how we did respond with what would have been a brighter or more uplifting response. And with a desire to see the brighter side, it is remarkable how these mini-analyses add to make the day a bit more pleasant, something less of a burden, the source of more moments of contentedness and happiness or improved harmony. Thus are habits of mind altered -- not all at once, but gradually, as we respond more positively, relish the improved feelings from our altered responses, and thereby reinforce our resolve to seek the brighter side.

What happiness you experience is largely your own creation. Your environment is susceptible to your influence, and the good feelings you derive from your responses to various stimuli are yours to mold. There can be no guarantee that happiness is achievable, but you can, through your own choices, improve your chances of experiencing it.

Quoting Robert Ingersoll: "Happiness is not a reward -- it is a consequence. Suffering is not a punishment -- it is a result."
Quoting Francis Gray: "Today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well therefore to this day."

For Affirmations for Committed Couples click here.
For Personal Outlook on Life click here.

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