Sorry, But Happiness Is NOT A Choice (And Don't Let People Tell You It Is)

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happiness is a choice

“Happiness is a choice” is something I see posted on Instagram and on Facebook often. 

It comes from a great place and is meaningful to many, but there are definitely times where you have no ability to be happy, try as you might. 

People suffering from depression, anxiety or trauma can’t just snap out of it and decide to be happy.

Trust me they would if they could; no one wants to stay miserable for no reason. Depression is a bio-chemical disorder, which affects your brain, hormones, and neurotransmitters.

Genetic influences are usually shown to account for around 35-50% of happiness — meaning that your genes may predetermine up to 50% of your emotional well-being. 

In addition to this, environment has a large influence on our mood. Being abused or victimized, working for someone who is narcissistic or hostile, or being in a bad marriage are all examples of situations where your mood is constantly pulled down. All is not lost, though; if the environment changes, so may the relative impact of both genes and environment.

There are many things in life that are outside of our control and frequently the emotions involved are not conducive to happiness. 

You can’t just choose to be happy when someone you love has died, or your heart is broken because you got dumped, or you just got fired and have no fall back money saved up, or a natural disaster hit like it recently did in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico or when a deranged mass murderer kills at least 59 people at a concert. 

You can’t just choose to be happy when bad things happen or when it feels like the world is conspiring against you. 

All of us have had those years where just everything we try seems to go wrong — someone hits your car, you have medical bills piling up, your roof starts leaking, your grandmother passes away, your dog runs away and gets run over, your partner asks for a divorce, your job demands are unobtainable... No matter how much you want to be happy, sometimes it is just not possible. 

With that being said, life is a journey and there are several things though that can help all of us to have more moments of happiness and have the best quality life possible.

1. Good relationships

Strong, healthy relationships that make us feel connected with others keep us happier, healthier, help our brains function for longer and keep our memory sharper and they extending our life expectancy. 

At age 50, the top indicator for who would live to be healthiest at age 80 was satisfaction in relationships, according to Robert Waldinger, MD who is the current director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in this very moment and to allow everything else to fade. 

There are lots of online videos and tutorials but the best way to learn is to take a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. There are presently over 500 studies showing the effectiveness of meditation and anyone can benefit from cultivating the skills of mindfulness — particularly in our busy modern lifestyles that are often characterized by high stress, multitasking, media-induced unhealthy behavior.

Mindfulness has been found to increase positive emotions, decrease feelings of depression and anxiety and decrease your stress response.  

RELATED: How To Manage PTSD And Reduce Triggers (So You Can Feel HAPPY Again)

3. A daily gratitude list

Daily gratitude can increase your level of happiness. By intentionally focusing on the good parts of our day, the positivity grows.

In fact, it only takes 21 days of writing down three things you are grateful for every day to begin reaping the benefits. 

4. Sleep

Ask any parent and they can tell you the outcome of sleep deprivation both on the child and on themselves. 

When we’re exhausted, our risk for depression increases and we’re more likely to experience higher stress level. It has also been linked to increased risk for severe physical disorders such as stroke and diabetes and, and also linked to weight gain. 

Who knew by sleeping longer, you can lose weight and be happier?

5. Diet

Who hasn’t heard of someone who gets "hangry" when they haven't eaten enough (or enough of the right things)? 

Eating balanced meals makes us feel great, keeps us energized throughout the day, and helps us focus and think clearly

Several studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acid in fish is directly related to lower rates of depression, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, and seasonal affective disorder as well as helping to stave off cognitive declines. Eating fish on a routine basis or including fish oil supplement in your daily routine is an easy way to increase your happiness and boost your body against depression and dementia.

6. Smiling

Smiles are contagious; this is one of the first things babies learn to do. 

Smiling increases your attractiveness and it lifts both our mood and those surrounding us. Stress levels decrease and the world both looks and feels better.  

Your neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are released which causes you to get a little extra zap of happiness — it also lowers your heart rate and blood pressure all of which are related to a healthier and longer life.   

7. Animals

Pets of any kind bring us joy and happiness.  

Recent studies have shown that even just having weekly visits by a therapy dog can help reduce loneliness amounts elderly and it decreases the need for medications. 

People with animal companionship have fewer minor health problems, have better psychological well-being and have decreased feelings of loneliness and isolation. In children, studies show increased self-esteem, increased cognitive deployment and 70% of families report an increase in family happiness due to having a furry friend.

8. A giving spirit

According to a study looking at the relationship between kindness and happiness, kind people experience more happiness and have happier memories (Otake, Shimai, Tanaka-Matsumi, et al, 2006).

Simply by counting acts of kindness for one week, people appear to have increased gratitude and happiness. Overall happy people tend to be more kind in the first place and being tasked with random acts of kindness can increase their level of happiness, kindness, and gratitude.

9. Positivity

Optimism has long been proven to be one of the leading factors in subjective well-being. especially in times of adversity.

As a result, optimism (the belief that things will work on in a positive way and expecting the best in all possible ways) is one of the top things to strive for, due to it having a huge impact on almost everything in life. Positive people tend to cope with life stressors in an active and direct manner instead of avoiding their problems. Optimistic people tend to proactively take care of their health, and in turn, they have better physical health. 

Studies have shown that optimistic people have a more energetic, task-focused approach since they actually believe they can accomplish great things and due to this they have more persistence in education and are more likely to have a higher income and they tend to have higher chances of successful relationships with others.  

RELATED: Optimistic People All Share ONE Thing In Common: They're LATE

10. Exercise

Not only do you look better and have increased energy, but on top of that, physically active people feel as sense of accomplishment in meeting their personal fitness goals. 

Regular exercise helps improve sleep (think of little kids running around and then crashing at night), and research has shown that exercise mimics the effects of an antidepressant on the brain, and can be as effective if done 3-5 times per week with none of the side effects. 

Who does not want to look better and feel better?!?

The goal of pure life-long happiness is completely unobtainable, and having this as a goal automatically sets you up for failure a vast majority of the time.

So instead of trying to will yourself to feel better by "choosing" happiness, set yourself up for happiness to become your reality. Hopefully, following some of the advice in the list above will get you started on the right track. 


Sonja Raciti, Psy.D. is a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist who specializes in trauma, addiction, childrenand families. Marc Raciti, PA-C is the author of I Just Want To See Trees: A Journey Through PTSD. You can follow their blog at Healing Wounds.

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