Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Happiness Is Best Achieved With Slow and Steady Choices

Happiness takes work, effort, and a positive mindset.

Key points

  • Rather than look for a quick payoff, those who attain happiness focus on regular habits that bring them joy in the long-term.
  • Alcohol can negatively influence one's ability to make thoughtful decisions that can lead to happiness.
  • Maintaining a positive mindset is key to happiness and requires daily practice in watching one's thoughts and controlling one's reactions.
Photo by Gabriel Silvério on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Gabriel Silvério on Unsplash

I live in Southern California. A lot of folks who live in this part of the state jet over to Vegas for the weekend because it’s so close. They head there to enjoy shows, world-class restaurants, and fancy resorts. But there’s another thing that draws people to the Neon capital of the world, and that’s gambling.

Years ago, I heard a story about a man who was seemingly living the American dream — had a good corporate job, a wife who he loved, and a good amount of money in his savings. From the outside, it looked like he had everything, but on the inside, he was completely exhausted and worn out from working all of the time. He decided he had had enough and quit his job, sold his home, and bought an RV to travel the country in.

The first destination of the trip was Las Vegas. When they got there, the husband was tired from driving and decided to go to bed. His wife, on the other hand, was too excited to sleep and instead spent the evening gambling while her husband dozed in their newly purchased RV. When the husband woke up in the morning, his wife wasn’t next to him. He went into the casino to look for her and he found her crying uncontrollably. After he calmed her down, he learned that she spent the evening gambling away their retirement. The only thing they had left was their motorhome.

The importance of making slow and steady choices

You may know someone who shares a similar story. They spend many years working, only to lose their savings in a matter of days, or even hours. This happens to many of us because it’s easy to make choices that have negative consequences. For example, we may find ourselves at a party and we have a few drinks. We decide to drive home anyway, but on our way, we get a DUI, or worse, we crash the car and injure someone. Life can change in a heartbeat. Especially when we make fast and rapid choices.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that happiness is best achieved when we make slow and steady choices, instead of fast and impulsive ones. You may have heard this phrase before: “The slow and steady win the race of life.” This particular phrase is from the story of the tortoise and the hare, where the tortoise, who moves much slower, beats the hare.

I’m arguing that the tortoises of the world win the happiness race.

The influence of alcohol on decision-making

Let’s start with an example to better illustrate this theory. A group of guys plans a trip to Vegas for a weekend. They drink heavily and make choices based on their intoxication. When we’re intoxicated, it’s more difficult to pause and think about our choices before we make them. We forget momentarily that our decisions have consequences, and sometimes these choices, like gambling when we’re down, have real-life consequences.

Growing up, I had a distant relative who was drinking one night and decided to drive. He was driving his cousin home and ended up driving into a ditch on their way home and killed her. As a result, he went to prison. A decision made in the moment, such as drinking and driving, can have lifelong consequences.

These are extreme examples, but the general point here is that we make hundreds of decisions a day, and sometimes those decisions, especially when under the influence, have really terrible results. I believe that when we slow down and focus on each day as they come, we’ll crack the code to unlock our happiness.

Practicing a positive mindset

But things are always easier said than done. Happiness takes work, effort, and a positive mindset. The last ingredient, a positive mindset, is oftentimes the most difficult to maintain. It’s easy to let our mindset be affected by external factors like the news, our work, our relationships, etc. People who develop a positive mindset practice every single day to maintain their happiness by watching their thoughts, changing their thoughts if need be, and controlling their reactions. Over time, maintaining that mindset becomes easier, and leading with a positive mindset becomes their first instinct.

Ultimately happiness is based on a slow and steady pace throughout life. When we rush into things, we find ourselves in trouble. When we pause, take our time, and reflect on the pros and cons before us, we’re better equipped to make smart decisions. We want to channel our inner tortoise, not our hare. This not only helps us make better decisions, but it can help us slow down our pace, savor life more, and enjoy the in-between moments that often get looked over.

Maintaining habits that bring you joy

In my experience, those who focus on living life at a slower pace put a greater emphasis on developing healthy habits like meditating, exercise, eating well, and limiting their alcohol intake. These practices create overall health, and it’s easier to create these practices when we’re already in a happy place.

I travel pretty frequently. When I’m not at home, I do my best to maintain the same practices — meditation, exercise, eating well, maintaining my positive attitude, and practicing gratitude. Of course, there are exceptions, but I place a very high value on my happiness, so I do my best to engage with activities that I know will bring me joy.

Happiness is not about impressing other people. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. From the outside, it might seem bizarre to place a higher value on family time vs. working towards that promotion or spending time alone meditating vs. attending a party.

It’s important to maintain the habits that bring us joy. People who are in good shape frequently work out. It’s the same idea when it comes to happiness. We must practice our habits regularly to feel that consistent feeling of joy. And we may not seek the thrills of life as much, like drinking, or gambling, but there are other thrills we’ll choose to partake in — listening to the birds, watching a sunset, or going for a walk.

There are so many ways we can find beauty and peace in life. When we develop a liking for a slower pace, we’ll notice more, engage more, and make better decisions. We’ll learn to appreciate taking a pause and weighing all of our options before we decide on something.

It’s important to remember that when we practice our happiness habits every day, it’s a form of self-care. We’re putting time into work on ourselves and improve our overall lives, which is a beautiful thing. It will take work and patience, but eventually, we’ll win the happiness race.