Opinion: Happiness as a choice

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I had an interesting discussion with my sister over Christmas break about attitude has caused me to deeply ponder what it means to “be happy.”

It seems to me that in the majority of our lives people are searching for something to make them “happy.” How often do we look to the future thinking, “if only I accomplished blank, or was blessed with a blank, then I would be happy and my life would be better.”

While my sister and I discussed these thoughts, she talked about how a few days prior, she watched a documentary on PBS. In the documentary, it featured a world-renowned doctor by the name of Shawn Achor, who wrote the book “The Happiness Advantage.”

In this doctor’s studies he traveled to a remote part of Africa, thinking to himself that he was going to this poverty-stricken village to bring some light and hope into the children’s lives there. To his surprise, as he entered the school and started asking the children about their circumstances they responded with utmost gratitude for all of their blessings and seemed to be some of the happiest children he had ever seen.

They just felt privileged to have the opportunity to go to school when they knew their parents didn’t have that opportunity. As a result the doctor decided to change his plans and just study these children and see what made them so happy.

Throughout his time there he found that despite the conditions they were living in, these children were happy due to one thing: their attitudes. They chose to be grateful and focus on the good instead of the bad.

Thinking about this story, I reflected on how many times in my life I have not chosen to see the good before the bad in my life. If we were to be completely honest with ourselves, how many of us could say that at one point we have not wallowed a bit in our own self-pity. I would have to raise my hand and say “guilty” to anyone who asked me that question.

In Dr. Achor’s book he talks about how he believes, through his studies, that a person can literally re-wire their brain in the morning to become a happier person by being grateful. He says that in the morning when you wake up, think of three positive things about your life that you are grateful for and consciously focus on those things, and then through doing this you will have a happier day.

Does this idea of listing things we are grateful for ring a bell for anyone else? To be honest, I chuckled to myself when I heard this because this is what our church leaders have been telling us for generations. How many times in the recent past have we heard President Monson give a talk to the Church about gratitude? I can name at least three in the last year.

This idea of gratitude is not a new theory. The scriptures are riddled with the idea of finding happiness through gratitude, as are psychology books and talks by our church leaders. Despite this fact, for some reason it’s still a hard idea to actually put into practice, at least for me some of the time.

I’m not saying that there is one solution on how to find happiness and contentment in your life, because it’s not always that simple. We all come from different backgrounds and experience different challenges in our lives. Some people legitimately struggle with chemical imbalances and with illnesses such as depression. There is no easy fix to any of this, but I believe there are ideas that can help in certain cases.

With the exception of those individuals who suffer with illnesses, I believe that we could all be a bit happier if we realized that most of the time, happiness is a choice.

One of my favorite quotes goes like this: “Happiness is a choice, not a result. Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happy.” I personally believe that this is true. No matter what is going on in my life, there is always something to be grateful for. I will always have the choice, no matter the circumstance, to choose what kind of attitude I am going to have that day.

At the start of every semester there are always a million things to do. There is a lot to look forward to but also a lot of stress that seems to be coming our way. We have two choices. We can either choose to think, “This is going to be a great semester, and despite all of the things I need to do I am going to choose to make it great!” Or we can think, “Ugh … another semester full of stress and work, how am I ever going to survive this?”

This semester I’m making a resolve to thinking more positively and live more in the moment. It is good to think of the future, but it is also important to be grateful for and happy with your life in the moment. Because in the end I know it’s ultimately up to me to choose to have a happy attitude or not.

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