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Make Happiness Your Choice

How you can choose to be happy, here and now.

We place a lot of conditions on our happiness. We tell ourselves that we’ll be happy when we land that dream job, find love, are able to afford our dream house, have children, travel the world, have enough money tucked away for a comfortable retirement—the list can seem endless, and we can spend our lives waiting for the perfect conditions for our happiness.

But the reality is that happiness is not about having, achieving, acquiring, or arriving. Happiness is a choice. And we can choose to be happy, right here, right now by seeing the good amongst the challenges.

What exactly are we talking about when we talk about happiness? Happiness can be defined as “a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life, one with a sense of meaning and deep contentment.” More than just a positive state of mind, happiness also brings physiological benefits, such as a longer life span, better cardiovascular health, and a stronger, more resilient, and robust immune system. We are also more likable, and more likely to be successful and we enjoy greater satisfaction in life. A longitudinal study to determine what makes people happy and healthy that began by Harvard University in the 1930s determined that the level of happiness in one's relationships was a huge factor in good health and longevity.

Putting happiness on hold

If happiness is so good for us, how is it that we end up putting it on hold?

When we were children, we lived in the moment, fully alive and awake in the present. Ask anyone who spends time around young children, and they will tell you that having a good time is always the goal. But as we grow and take on more responsibilities, we take on roles, responsibilities, and pursuits to meet the expectations of others. We learn to postpone gratification, and lose the ability to engage with and find joy in the small pleasures of life. Gradually, we abandon happiness as an integral part of everyday life.

By the time we reach adulthood, we have life goals and dreams, and we get used to working and striving to build the life we desire. Being exhausted and over-extended at the end of each day can become a way of life. We begin to postpone our happiness: Once we pass that exam, get that position we’d like to have, take that vacation, find the perfect partner, house, car...

But happiness postponed can be happiness lost, and life can become a series of missed opportunities. We spend a great deal of time in our heads, ruminating, worrying, and catastrophizing. We put ourselves in a hapless holding pattern or focusing on what we are lacking. We’re like passengers on an aircraft, disconnected from the world, waiting for happiness to touch down.

The case for living in the moment

Instead of waiting for the perfect conditions for happiness, we can make a conscious choice to be happy in the present, in the moment. When we do, we open ourselves up to a world of increased happiness. We begin to notice and enjoy the many pleasant moments that show up in the course of a day. We begin to take advantage of and appreciate the people and the many good things we already have in our lives. Rather than ruminating over worst-case scenarios, we begin to stand up to our negative thoughts and self-talk and begin to think more positively about our prospects and goals.

When we live in the moment, we also become more aware and in tune with those around us. We’ve all felt the powerful connection of talking to someone who is really listening, rather than being distracted or preoccupied with thoughts in their own head. When we are fully present, we relate more authentically to others and feel more connected, to others and ourselves. In short, when we allow ourselves to live in the present we show up not just for others but for ourselves.

Showing up for yourself

Showing up for yourself means just that: making a conscious choice to be happy, not at some point in the future, but now. Showing up for yourself means taking care of yourself, standing up for yourself when life’s demands overwhelm and threaten to derail your sense of well-being. You decide to make healthier choices for yourself. You slow down, refresh, or regroup when you need a break. You start saying No to requests that will drain you of your limited resources of time and energy and prevent you from doing things that bring you joy. You seek out help when you need it, challenge negative self-talk, and seek out relationships that align with what makes you happy.

No time like the present

Your life takes place in the present. It is in the present that we connect with ourselves and others. The past is nothing but memories and the future is just our imagination. In the present, you interact with others, seize new opportunities, learn to trust your capabilities and attributes, and make choices that will positively impact your life.

Happiness is a choice. Here and now, you can choose happiness. Give yourself permission to be happy. Realize that you do not need to wait for your ideal life to be happy. Happiness is something you can have every day, starting right here, and right now. Here are five steps you can take today to factor happiness into the equation of your life:

  • Remove the conditions you place on your happiness.
  • Think positively and enthusiastically about your prospects, no matter how distant your goals.
  • Be kind, not only to others but to yourself.
  • Challenge negative self-talk and self-doubt, and trust and expand your skill sets to be better.
  • Connect with yourself every day by spending time doing something you love and enjoy.
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