You may have seen the phrase "happiness is a choice" on a social media post or heard it repeated by a motivational speaker. While the people who say that "happiness is a choice" may be well-intentioned, their sentiment could ignore some of the realities of happiness and how happiness can occur.
Happiness is a temporary emotion. The phrase "happiness is a choice" can be reductive, and it disregards that many people don't have a choice regarding their mood or state of mind. For people living with depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions, feeling happy might not be a decision to make, regardless of effort.
Learning the hurts beyond this phrase and considering alternatives can be beneficial if you want to spread and grow happiness in your life.
Happiness Can Be Complicated
If happiness could be chosen at any given moment, it may be inferred that many people would choose to feel happy. However, happiness comes from a complex mix of elements, and many of these elements are out of one's control.
Several studies have found a relationship between happiness and socioeconomic status. Additionally, evidence shows connections between happiness and geographic location, gender, and age. Mental health concerns can also have a significant impact on happiness. Finally, physical health, job, and social support might cause a difference in whether someone is happy often or not.
So many of the factors that lead to happiness may not be easily changed or controlled. For some people, a few alterations may help them achieve happiness. However, for many, it can be more complex and take a few more steps. The idea that people can choose to be happy is an oversimplification that disregards research.
Can People With Mental Illness Choose To Be Happy?
Major depressive disorder (MDD) causes an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that can lead to prolonged sadness and difficulty finding pleasure in previously enjoyed activities. Depression often makes it hard for people to perform everyday tasks, including those that relieve symptoms. For this reason, the notion that people with mental health disorders like depression should "choose to be happy" is unhelpful and unrealistic.
Mental illnesses like depression are often treated with medication and therapy simultaneously. A therapist can help people with depression manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes that may improve happiness. However, if a chemical imbalance occurs, happiness may be short-lived.
A stigma surrounding mental health concerns can make living with them more difficult. The idea that mental health is a choice can increase this stigma and discourage people from seeking help. These sentiments can make it seem like the symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses are someone's "fault."
Saying "Happiness Is A Choice" Can Make Those Who Are Unhappy Feel Worse
It's healthy to experience all emotions, including sadness, grief, fear, disgust, and grief. The more communities normalize these emotions and decrease the stigma surrounding them, the less shame may surround them. Urging someone to choose to be happy can further stigmatize mental health concerns. Validating someone's experiences and offering them hope and love may be more effective.
If Happiness Isn't A Choice, How Do You Find Happiness?
Happiness not being a choice doesn't necessarily take away from the possibility of happiness for anyone. People with or without mental illness can feel happiness as an emotion. If you're looking for a phrase to replace "happiness is a choice," you might try "happiness comes from within" or "happiness is an emotion to cultivate over time."
It can be challenging to derive happiness from external sources instead of from yourself. You can connect with yourself in several ways to increase the opportunity for happiness and moments of joy in your life. Below are some proven ways of positively impacting your mental well-being.
Foster Close Relationships
Studies have shown that one of the most vital indicators of mental and physical health is the presence of close relationships in a person's life. Having a support system can significantly contribute to your mental well-being. Consider reaching out to a friend you haven't spoken to in a while or getting lunch with an acquaintance you'd like to get to know better. If you don't have a social support system, building one might be difficult, but there are ways you can get started, including the following:
- Finding a support group in your area
- Joining a club at your university
- Going to a meet-up in your city
- Talking to a therapist
- Attending group therapy
- Joining online groups for people like you
- Volunteering abroad or in your community
- Getting to know people with different backgrounds than you
- Attending a religious or spiritual community gathering
Expressing gratitude for the people and situations you appreciate can help you focus on the positive. Try writing down what you're grateful for in a journal once daily or telling someone you're close to that you appreciate their friendship. Each day, you can take a moment to think about what makes you feel the most appreciated. Try to find ways to honor that or give back through opportunities like volunteer work.
Donate Your Time
Volunteering can benefit your mental health. Volunteering your time is a rewarding way of giving back, finding satisfaction, and feeling more socially connected. Consider contacting your favorite local community organization or non-profit to see if they have any opportunities available. The Red Cross may also have local volunteer opportunities in multiple areas.
Mindfulness exercises can help you focus on the present moment and become more aware of your feelings, thoughts, and emotions, as well as what's going on around you. In one study, researchers found that the ability to remain present and mindful is connected to improved mood. Standard mindfulness practices include deep breathing, meditation, and thought-acceptance exercises.
Limit Your Screen Time
A study by Nielson Total Audience found that American adults spend around ten hours daily in front of a screen. Their research has shown that the more time people spend on social media, the more likely they may be to experience symptoms of depression. Although social media can help you connect with others, it may isolate you and cause feelings of loneliness or inadequacy due to self-comparison.
Care For Yourself
Taking time to nurture your body and mind can significantly impact your mental health. Self-care may include taking a bath, walking, or reading a book. Studies have shown that getting enough sleep each night, eating a healthy diet, and exercising can all positively affect your mental well-being.
Happiness may be less abundant when your mental well-being is negatively affected by a mental health condition, stress, or a conflicted relationship. Whether you're living with a mental illness like depression or want to address complex feelings related to sadness, loneliness, or stress, talking to a professional may benefit you.
Some people face barriers to treatment that can also cause barriers to happiness, such as financial challenges, availability challenges, or rural living. If you face these barriers, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp might be most advantageous.
Studies have shown that online therapy is an effective method for treating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions that can negatively affect mental well-being. Online therapy allows you to participate in therapy remotely via live chat, phone, or video. If you're struggling to get out of bed some days, an online therapist can talk to you where you're at without requiring you to get dressed, shower, or prepare for an in-person session.
What makes happiness a choice?
Saying “happiness is a choice” can sometimes make it seem as though becoming happy is as simple as flipping a switch in your brain. While happiness is more than making a decision, making the commitment to seek happiness starts with a simple choice. Happiness tends to coincide with a fulfilling life driven by close interpersonal relationships, achieving goals, and an optimistic outlook. It is likely impossible for anyone to become happy overnight, but choosing to dedicate yourself to crafting a lifestyle conducive to happiness can be done anytime.
Happiness is a choice because every person can choose to make the best out of their circumstances and strive for a happy, joyful life. Happiness does not require perfection; you don’t need a problem-free life to be happy, but you may need to spend time cultivating happiness. You might spend weeks or months developing happy habits, but your effort will likely be worthwhile.
Why is happiness not always a choice?
When a person chooses to be happy, they are choosing to commit to the pursuit of happiness. No one can become happy overnight, and viewing happiness as a choice may make it seem that all one needs to do to be happy is flip some mental switch. It is possible to dedicate yourself to happiness through effort and personal growth, but it is rare to receive instant gratification.
Because of this, many are disillusioned by the fact that the road to happiness is paved with a significant amount of unhappiness. Choosing to be happy doesn’t mean that a person feels happiness all the time, but rather that they are committed to making decisions that encourage happy moments. That commitment may be difficult to maintain. Some mental conditions, like major depressive disorder, might prevent someone from choosing to be happy.
Why do we need to always choose to be happy?
Happiness is a conscious decision that a person must make again daily. Making that decision is not always the easiest option; many people become distracted by anxiety, anger, stress, and other unpleasant feelings. Chronic negative feelings brought on by adverse life circumstances can significantly lower mental and physical health, making the pursuit of happiness even more difficult. Over time, negative influences in a person’s life tend to build up and compound, which may make happiness seem unreachable.
Always choosing happiness means constantly renewing your commitment to increasing your emotional well-being. That might mean focusing on self-improvement, like building more self-love, engaging in meditation practice, or putting extra effort into managing your emotions, like reaching out to a friend for support. You need to choose joy every day to avoid letting negativity build up and overwhelm your optimism and positivity.
Is happiness our own choice, or does it depend on others?
A person’s happiness is almost entirely within their control, but it often doesn’t seem that way. A relatively new concept in psychology, the happiness paradox, offers insight into why happiness often feels like an impossible choice. The happiness paradox is based on research that suggests people who pursue happiness directly are less likely to achieve it. Researchers theorize that the more people focus on a broad, abstract goal like “being happy,” the less focus they dedicate to concrete steps that actually help them achieve it.
The happiness paradox can make it seem like happiness is outside of a person’s control, and they may turn to external validation to restore their sense of well-being. A person who cannot manage their own happiness may depend on others for validation and approval, without which they may become distressed. When the need for attention and approval from others becomes extreme, the person may venture toward mental illness, such as possibly qualifying for a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder. Building self-esteem, increasing confidence, and improving social skills are all viable ways to reduce the need for external validation.
Can people determine their own happiness?
People have a lot of control over their happiness, but most people cannot simply snap their fingers and immediately become happy. Most people determine their own well-being by committing to the pursuit of happiness, which entails dedicating themselves to a lifestyle that encourages positivity and optimism. If they engage in habits known to increase overall well-being, like exercising, maintaining close relationships, and working on self-improvement, they will likely report an increase in happiness.
People can determine their own happiness by dedicating themselves to positivity and eschewing negativity. It is a process that often takes critical self-analysis, time, and considerable effort. Long-lasting happiness likely cannot be achieved quickly, but if a person commits to continuous improvement, they will likely see an increase in their happiness.
Is happiness the most important purpose in life?
Every person determines what the most important purpose in life is to them. While some people may believe that happiness is the most important, others may believe that happiness results from living your true purpose rather than the purpose itself. People may also believe that the pursuit of happiness is the most important purpose rather than attaining it. No matter what you believe, consider taking ample time to think about your purpose in life and what happiness means to you. Finding happiness often begins with critical self-examination, and taking the time to figure out your purpose is likely to be beneficial.
Is happiness an important factor for success in life?
Evidence suggests that happiness is closely related to success in many domains. Happy people tend to have higher work performance, better health, higher income, more friendships, and higher marital satisfaction. However, there are still some uncertainties regarding the direction of the relationship. If all one can say is that happiness and success are linked, is success leading to happiness, or is happiness bolstering success?
Contemporary research suggests that the same things likely drive happiness and success. A person with the tools to be happy and improve their overall well-being can likely use them to increase their chance of success. Psychologists in the field of positive psychology refer to skill sets that allow a person to flourish. Flourishing in this context refers to being healthy and free from distress but also feeling a zest for life and engaging with the world.
Martin Seligman, an American psychologist, developed the PERMA model to describe what allows humans to flourish:
- Positive Emotion. Humans have some control of positive emotions regarding the past, present, and future. Choosing positive thoughts and looking on the bright side helps enable good well-being.
- Engagement. Fully utilizing skills and strengths, and regularly overcoming challenges.
- Relationships. Close, meaningful relationships are essential for most humans to flourish.
- Meaning. Every person needs a sense of purpose.
- Accomplishment. Achievement, competence, success, and mastery are important flourishing components.
Can happiness be the same for everyone?
Happiness has been inconsistently defined for likely all of human history. Modern philosophers tend to describe happiness as a long-term emotional state based on life satisfaction and subjective well-being. That definition is broad and likely means very different things to different people. How each person defines their life satisfaction and well-being will likely differ based on many factors, and it is unlikely that many people have the same definition. Some people may find happiness in their physical body features, other people in their achievements, and others in helping others, just to name a few.
Although everyone will likely define happiness in a slightly different way, there are common themes that frequently appear. Many people find that pursuing happiness directly is not productive and may even hinder their journey to becoming happier. Many people also find that positivity is an important part of happiness; adopting a positive attitude and increasing self-acceptance is likely beneficial. Finally, evidence suggests that forging strong social connections is likely an important, nearly universal factor of happiness.
How can you influence your own happiness?
While everyone’s path to happiness will take a different form, some themes are common to everybody. Research has revealed three frequently reported steps for achieving happiness, indicating that these steps may represent core elements of becoming happier:
- Stop Focusing on Happiness. The happiness paradox states that focusing on happiness directly makes it less likely it will be achieved. Focusing on concrete goals, like improving self-esteem or practicing gratitude, is likely better.
- Find Your Happiness Triggers. Think deeply about what situations give you a sense of joy or contentment. It might be participating in a hobby, visiting a loved one, or developing a new skill, just to name a few.
- Expand Your Social Network. Evidence suggests that good social relationships are one of the best predictors of happiness.
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