Happiness is a Choice

February 11, 2016 by Charlie Hedges − 2 Comments

“Situations or people do not hurt me unless I interpret them as harmful to me. I can choose not to interpret it so.”

“… draw your own boundaries—place your own well-being in your own hands… and this too: you don’t need much to live happily…” Marcus Aurelius from Meditations

2 Things to Do Regularly

Naval Ravikant, serial entrepreneur, founder of AngelList and overall brilliant yet extremely human guy, said on a Tim Ferriss podcast that two things are really important to do in life. (1) CHOOSE to be happy. Each day, tell yourself that you are happy and make it so, and (2) Break one bad habit every year and replace it with a good one.

At first glance it might seem there are lots of other more important things to do in life. Perhaps there are. Yet, these two will impact your life radically. For this post I am especially interested in number one. Choose to be happy.

It’s hard to believe that you can actually choose to be happy—especially in the worst of situations. But in 95% of most of our daily lives we are not in “the worst of situations.” We are just in the boring, mind-numbing routine of regular day-to-day “stuff.” It is in these times that happiness and contentment are definitely a “choice.”

Choosing Difficult Choices

I am in a strange state of mind these days. I’m still getting used to having more discretionary time. I do very little executive coaching—which was a major role in my “day job” for 25 years—and instead I spend much time trying to keep meaningfully busy. But strangely enough, that is not as easy as it sounds.

In our culture there exist many distractions and social pressures to accomplish things that are not in harmony with our nature. We are deafened by the sounds of a culture screaming so many things you “should” have, be or do. These things run deep in our psyche so they are not easily dismissed. Yet we must do so if we are to live the kind of life we desire.

When Marcus Aurelius (2nd century Emperor of the Roman Empire) made the observation that you can choose to interpret your life in more happy, contented and accepting ways, he was in the midst of 10 years on the battlefield. Every day soldiers and colleagues were dying, he was losing and gaining land, and he had to put up with liars, people with nasty motives, and everyone wanting a piece of him.

And yet, he continued to remind himself that his attitude about his life was a choice. Wow! I can hardly recommend more strongly his book, Meditations, on Stoic thinking.

So what does that really have to do with you and me? What if work sucks (or you can’t find a job), your marriage sucks, your kids get into trouble or have poor grades or myriad other frustrations? Or, like me, you find too much of your life just boring and in want of more stimulation???

Change Your Perceptions

Naval Ravikant and Marcus Aurelius (two powerful influencers) are convinced that our attitude about our own life all comes down to the choice of perception. How do you CHOOSE TO PERCEIVE your everyday life? Do you ever find yourself “eager” to start the day? Surely you do… but usually “on occasion.” Why not most every day? Why not wake up and think this day is a new normal? Let’s see what it brings and then jump in with fervor!

Ok, Pollyanna, come back off your unrealistic cloud. Every day something bad WILL HAPPEN. Every day someone will offend you. Every day will not be filled with what you perceive as adventure. Nine Inch Nails has a song titled “Every Day is Exactly the Same.” Trent Reznor can really nail it (haha) sometimes. The lyrics are powerful. And… NIN is my favorite musical group. (No kidding. Seen ‘em several times live.)

Okay, so it really does come down to a choice. I can choose to take Trent Reznor’s side and look at each day as the same as the next, or I can CHOOSE to look at my ordinary things as really cool things. Every action is an opportunity for happiness and contentment. I just have to make it so.

This runs hand in hand with the popular philosophy of “mindfulness” (which I will write more about in another post). Mindfulness is simply about being fully present all of the time and being “mindful” of each experience as a new one-of-a-kind experience. This includes those things I do every day, like driving my car. Believe me, if you ride with me then it really IS an adventure. The result: genuine happiness.

Here’s What Works for Me

As I’ve written before, the writer of Ecclesiastes suggests that we “tell ourselves” that our labor (or life) is good. In addition, I have found that I must “act” in ways that generate happiness.

Here’s what’s working for me currently. And… I still have a long way to go:

  1. My morning routine: every morning I eat immediately after awaking, meditate, read, and journal. 60-90 minutes every morning. After more than a year, it has become the time of day I look forward to the most. I am genuinely happy in this routine. And it provides a calmness and clarity to my day… and life.
  2. Schedule things I like doing each day. I make “me-time” each day. It may just be reading.
  3. Try to live fully in the present, which means to be conscious of the value and fun of even ordinary things.
  4. Smile frequently and intentionally.
  5. Listen to others. Really listen to others. When I focus on listening it forces me to become even more engaged in a conversation and generally helps me enjoy that conversation even more. And, it results in a “mindful presence.”

Gosh. The list could be longer or shorter. The point is this: do you desire a happier and fulfilling life? If yes, then… it’s your choice!

Happiness is a

Chosen State of Mind

Photo courtesy of Juanmonino at istockphoto

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