I Choose Happiness; What are you Going to Choose?

I’ve been doing a lot of research on happiness lately.

As many of you know, I started a new position as a professor of Psychology this January. It’s been a good ten years since I’ve delved into all things Psych, and I’ve enjoyed diving back in. What I’ve been finding excites me. Some of this I had known, but haven’t thought much of in the intervening years. But much of it is new. The research keeps revealing new information, and the more we understand about happiness, the more I find myself in awe at the intricacy of our biology, our emotions, and ultimately, our spirituality. We are not an accident. Our design is not an accident. We are amazingly and wonderfully made.

happiness-flowchartThe more that is learned about our biology, the more we realize it is wrapped up in our spiritual/emotional self. We are also beginning to realize that we have more control over who we are, what we feel, and even sometimes, the health of our own bodies than we previously understood.

This excites me. We are not at the whim of fate. We are not a pawn in the hand of chance. Our happiness is not contingent on what we have/don’t have or even what happens/doesn’t happen to us. Our happiness is not determined by outward forces, but rather by inward resilience, and everything is indicating that this can be learned. Happiness is quite literally a state of mind.

I’m a bit of a control freak, so I can’t help but love this. I can control my own happiness. I’ve always believed that, but now all the research is backing up that belief. I might not be able to control the random hand of chance as it forces itself into my life, but I certainly can control how I respond to it.

I have often wondered why two individuals can experience the exact same conflict and yet have a completely different response to it. Is this merely the result of personality differences? Is it simple genetics? Are some predestined to be more capable of handling conflict than others? Are they simply, genetically speaking, more resilient? Is there an X factor–some unknown factor that creates resilience? What exactly is resilience anyway?

I’ve always struggled with the idea that it is purely genetic. That simply isn’t fair. Why should some be given the ability to deal with life’s difficulties and others not? It simply feels a bit too Calvinistic to me, stinking too much of predestiny. Would God really stack the deck against us like that?

My husband and I have both experienced a lot of grief and loss in our lives, an exceptional amount, at least by American standards.

(Nolana aplocaryoides) Pan de Azucar National Park

I tend to bounce. That doesn’t mean that I never feel depressed; I most certainly do at times. It doesn’t mean that I never get angry or feel twinges of bitterness; I’m no stranger to either of these feelings. What it does mean is that, no matter how horrible the circumstances, the sun peeps through the clouds. I see a solitary flower growing in the desert. It might be scraggly and undernourished, but I still find that flower. The weak ray of sunshine somehow manages to find its way past the cloud cover.

In other words, I always find hope. Hope in today. Hope in a better tomorrow. Hope that if I keep fighting, there will be something good at the end. Hope that there is a purpose to all the pain.

lostgirl05-300x168Sometimes I feel like a prize fighter. I scrape myself off the mats, still sore and bruised and bleeding. I’m barely able to stand, but by golly, I’m going to stay in the ring and give it another shot. I’m going to keep fighting, and when I feel like I can’t fight anymore, I’m going to dredge up some more chutzpah and somehow keep going even if it’s on will alone.

Sometimes I question my sanity. I know I’m going to get knocked down again. I know that by putting myself in the ring, the blows are inevitable, but I do it anyway. One would think that after being beaten to a pulp, I’d have a better sense of self preservation than that.

Or maybe, at an elemental level, I understand something hugely life altering…that life doesn’t exist outside of the ring. That life, with it’s blood, bruises, and broken limbs, is still vastly superior to a life lived in the bleachers–observing, but never participating.

Bobo-Doll-experimentAll I know is that, no matter how many times I get knocked down, something inside of me makes me bounce back up again. I just keep getting up like one of those bobo dolls, no matter how hard you hit them, no matter how hard you try to keep them down, they somehow keeping getting up.

Sometimes I’ve compared myself to a buoy. Buoys can be submerged, but they always rise. I know that no matter what life throws my way, I will rise. Life will be good again. And the hope of that sustains me in the periods of drought and famine.

Aaron, on the other hand, doesn’t bounce. He reminds me of a rock thrown out on the water. He tends to sink. When things get dark, they tend to be black. He can’t find the sun. He begins to wall himself off, protecting himself. He is like a turtle that crawls into his shell and no amount of coaxing will get him to come out.

We are polar opposites in this. I am an optimist and he is a pessimist. I bounce whereas he sinks.

optimism-pessimismSo, does he just throw in the towel and say that, “Well, since I’m genetically pre-disposed to sink, I guess I’ll go ahead and lay down and die. What’s the point anyway?”

Obviously not. Giving into hopelessness and depression is never an answer.

What the research shows us is that though it might be much more difficult for the self-professed pessimist to rise back to hope and happiness after a huge blow, it is still in the realm of possibility.

Blog-Entry-1-AmeyGod made us all capable of great resilience. It just comes easier to some of us than to others.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share the tools I have, along with some of the new research out there. I haven’t figured all this out yet–no one has. I am not claiming to be an expert, but more a pilgrim. I am pooling my knowledge of psychology, my understanding of God and the human spirit, and my own hard-won experience in an effort to share the the wisdom I’ve learned and the tools that have proven to work.

If you’re an optimist, you probably do some of this instinctively, but we can always get better at how we manage stress and crisis.

If you’re a pessimist, don’t throw in the towel and consign yourself to a glass half full mentality. It’s a lot of hard work, and it takes some dedicated cognitive therapy, but you too can begin to experience the buoy experience of resilience.choose-happiness



10 thoughts on “I Choose Happiness; What are you Going to Choose?

  1. This was a beautiful read. This really inspired me to keep fighting and to never give up, no matter how difficult things may seem to get. Choosing happiness is a great choice, because people tend to shy away from negative energy. Major Key professor Graham, major key.

  2. This is Elizabeth, from one of your psychology classes.
    I definitely agree that genetics aren’t as powerful as we may think. I have depression, anxiety, and insomnia. If genetics determined happiness and survivability in times of difficulty, I would certainly be the first to go. Honestly, it is very difficult to overcome obstacles and not feel hopeless. However, I find that I have been blessed with persistence and a loving family. No, I don’t ever truly “bounce back”, I just simply choose to smile. I believe genetics and external events have a significant impact, but human resilience is much more powerful. I can most definitely be categorized as a pessimist, but I’d like to think of myself as a realist.
    I just have to remind myself how my loved ones would feel if I gave into my hopelessness. I also made myself a “happy board”, it’s a poster board with pictures of things that make me happy and words of encouragement from loved ones. I hope these ideas might help somebody else in my position because I know how hard it is to even get out of bed sometimes.

  3. This is Erica Wong from Psychology 2301.C03, and I believe this was very inspiring and has urged me to take my happiness into my own hands. I have always been one to let people or situations affect my happiness, but I have recently realized that I am in control of my happiness, and that the way that I react to situations is ultimately up to me. After reading your blog, I am determined to make some changes in my life to allow myself to achieve the happiness that I have always longed for.

  4. I love this! I love to see you as a person that will always bounce back from the tough times. Its amazing to see someone that will always find the light because we can’t always chose whats going to happen, but we definitely can make sure we continue to be happy!

  5. I just stumbled across your blog when searching happiness. After going through what my therapist called the worst divorce that she has seen in 30 as a therapist, and spending a lot of time in therapy, especially group therapy, it’s so empowering to know that you can control your happiness. The next steps, however, is the hardest one. It’s recognizing that not only can you control your happiness, but you are the only person who can control your happiness and your sadness, your successes and your failures. You may have others around you propping you up you up or pulling you down, but you made the choice is to have them there and, ultimately, no one is responsible for your happiness but you.

    • I’m so glad you stumbled on my blog and that you found it empowering. I’ve been going through my own bit of nasty so I’ve been MIA as I battle to put into practice everything I know. Even though the ball is on our court, it doesn’t mean that it is easy. Doing what we know we should do, and what we know will help, can still feel like an uphill climb! Best of luck to you! Keep climbing! You will make it! 🙂

  6. This is Megan Sambrano, from Gen. Psychology C03.
    Choosing our happiness, this blog! I firmly believe that happiness is not a result – it’s a choice. We do need to choose to happiness in our life, I know some of the things I consider hard times in my life are minimal to others but during those times, personally I thought it was hard to get back up and keep going. But I always bounce back and always try to be optimistic and choose happiness. I remember that we talked about the “happiness gene” in class but I don’t think anyone is going to go out to and have genetic tests ran to figure out if they don’t have to try to be happy anymore just because they are predisposed to it. I know our mind has more power than that. I couldn’t agree more with your statement – God made us all capable of great resilience. It just comes easier to some of us than to others. You are definitely an inspiration.

    • It was actually a “niceness” gene. So far, we haven’t found a happiness gene, and I hope we never will! I want to believe, and so far research supports it, that ALL people can CHOOSE to be happy! 🙂

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