Can You Choose To Be Happy
As the song says “Don’t worry, be happy!” A question I’ve always had is, can you just choose to be happy regardless of your current situation. And if so, is that a good thing. Well of course optimism has been well studied and has been scientifically proven to have numerous benefits both physically and mentally. People who are optimistic tend to be more successful in day to day life. They have more friends and a better social scene. People tend to gravitate to happy positive people. I mean who wants to be around Debbie Downer all the time. People who are happy and optimistic tend to be able to handle stress better and can weather the eventual down times that everyone goes through. But what I was curious about is whether you can make yourself happy or is it solely based on outside circumstances.
There is no doubt outside circumstances can have an effect on our happiness. The key I think is to what extent or degree we allow this to happen. I guess to look at it another way – in reality how we react to something doesn’t change what happened, but why not choose the reaction that best helps us in the situation both physically and mentally.
The Science Behind Happiness
There have been quite a few scientific studies that prove just the act of trying to be happy, or choosing to see the positive, can in fact produce the effect of being happy. Some of it is the force of habit and how our subconscious works. If we make the consistent effort of choosing to be happy and seeing the glass half full pretty soon we will create the habit – our subconscious takes over and we naturally respond with a more optimistic attitude.
In two studies done recently it was demonstrated that the act of choosing happiness produced the outcome. In the first study, two sets of participants listened to ‘happy’ music. Those who actively tried to feel happier reported the highest level of positive mood afterwards. In the second study, participants listened to a range of ‘positive’ music over a two-week period; those who were instructed to focus on improving their happiness experienced a greater increase in happiness than those who were told just to focus on the music.
Beyond just feeling happy now, studies have also shown that when people intentionally look for the positive and choose to be happy they tend to see more opportunities for growth and success. When you are happy and optimistic you tend to have more confidence to take more risks that can lead to even more success. Should one of these risks fail that person has the optimistic foundation to fall back on in order to get back on their feet.
Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, suggests our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned. His studies suggest that the brain can synthesize happiness and that you don’t have to just “stumble upon” happiness just out of random events in life. In other words we can actually control and create our own happiness pretty much anytime we want.
There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.
— Albert Einstein
Related Post: Contentment vs Striving
Steps To Choose To Be Happy
It’s good to expect good things to happen and even hope good for good things but you don’t need to be fully invested in their outcome. In other words don’t make it a be all – end all situation if it doesn’t come to fruition. In most cases you can usually try again with a different tactic and possibly succeed.
Live for the now. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come. All you really have is right now. It just makes sense to choose to be happy in the here and now – why would you choose unhappiness.
I think another key is to accept that you cannot control everything especially other people. Other people have their own agenda and in most cases you cannot change them. But realize what you can control – your own mind. You can be be the captain of your mental domain and choose to be happy regardless of the situation. Some people use the phrase “let go and let God”. Or like the Beatles said “Let it be.” So control what you can and let the rest go and you’ll be happier for it.
Resources For You
- Ted Talk – Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness
- Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies
- Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
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