I see this idea floating around the web, especially on social media a lot. Is happiness really a choice? If you’re depressed are you really choosing that state willingly? It kind of reminds me of the type of advice depressed people used to get all the time — “just snap out of it,” or “pull yourself together.” As if. If a depressed person were to see this idea, I think it would make them feel worse not better.
We can find ourselves anywhere between suicidal depression and blissful happiness, and I would say most people are not choosing their state consciously or willingly, but there are certainly ways to choose happiness. Because happiness is a state of being, and there are causes for that state of being.
Imagine for a moment you are in a really happy mood — feeling jolly, free, giggly, funny, spontaneous. Why? It’s most likely you had plenty of sleep, ate the right foods so you had good nutrition, maybe got some sun and some exercise, maybe decided to stop thinking about all that stuff that had been bothering you, and just focus on things you love.
It’s so critical to have the right information for happiness though, because some things aren’t so obvious. Some things can keep you trapped even if you think you’re doing the right things. Food is a big one. Grains and dairy for example can be a pitfall. So you could think you’re eating a healthy diet because you’re eating plenty of whole grains when in reality, you’re keeping yourself trapped. That’s not a choice but lack of knowledge of possible barriers to happiness.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can have a profound effect on our mental state. For example, nearly everyone is deficient in magnesium which can cause anxiety and insomnia. Essential fatty acid imbalance is a cause of chronic inflammation, which is at the roots of nearly every chronic disease including depression. Vitamin D is critical yet most of us aren’t getting enough sun. I could give you a thousand examples like these and none of it could be called choice if we don’t know about it, but it could definitely make you feel unhappy.
So we can make happiness a choice if we understand the causes of happiness and choose to build them into our lives as a top priority. This is wise, because all we really want is to be happy! Everything we do, whether we realize it or not is so we can feel good.
But on its own, the single idea “Happiness is a choice,” I think could leave someone confused and feeling responsible for being less than happy with no clue about how to change it. The way to change it is to understand the true causes of feeling happy and go after those causes quite single-mindedly. And THAT is a very good choice!
Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.
Read Chapter 1 “The Happiness Secret”
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