By Rodney Long, Jr., MSSA, LSW
I believe that happiness is a choice. Truth be told, as a therapist and a person, one of my core beliefs is that almost everything is a choice. Things are rarely thrust upon us without us having some say in the matter. Now, we may like the options we have to choose from. Maybe all choices are terrible options, but it doesn’t change the fact that we almost always have options to choose from.
If you’ve never known how to choose happiness before then there’s a good chance that happiness won’t feel like a choice. It will feel like no matter what, you just can’t be happy. You may feel like you’ve been dealt a crappy hand and that not everyone is meant to be happy. The belief that you can’t be happy is built on what therapists call an Original Point of Reference and it forms your Core Beliefs about how you feel.
Allow me to push up my glasses and nerd out a bit. The basis of a lot of therapy is what we call Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The premise of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is that our thoughts (cognitive) affect our feelings and our feelings affect our actions (behavior). Put another way, what you think affects how you feel which affects how you act.
An example of this is if people teased me as a child, I began to overeat. My thought may have become, food makes me feel better. This leads to the action of overeating. Thus, forming various Original Point of Reference such as: food makes feel better, I don’t look good, I can’t control my eating. The only way we’re able to choose happiness or anything else is by learning how to do that. By learning how to create new Original Points of Reference and Core Beliefs we can change the way we think, feel, and act.
Let’s return to the overeating example. In order to escape the cycle of overeating we could use what we call Reframing. This allows us to change our point of view. A reframe of our eating may be: I need food for sustenance and enjoyment, but not to be a primary source of joy (thought/cognitive). I feel better when I eat healthy portions, which allows me to feel more positive and continue to make positive changes (behavior).
This brings us to a larger point. Focus on what you can do, don’t worry about anything else. Put another way, I can’t control everything, I can only control my role in things. Regardless of our lot in life, we always have the option of choosing to be happy, choosing to be positive, and choosing to look for the silver lining. More importantly, we always have the option of reframing. If life isn’t going the way you want it to, take some time to think about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
For many, our thoughts are affected by what we watch on TV, what music we listen to, and who we interact with. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate and focus on how we can bring more positive thoughts into our life. This will allow us to feel better and as a result we will be able to continue to carry out those positive actions.
If you allow positive things in your life, you’re more likely to continue with positive things. Good in equals good out as we say. If you’re allowing too many negative influences in your life, reevaluate if you’re choosing happiness. If you’re not, it’s time to find more positive influences in life. Maybe that’s church. Maybe it’s a dodgeball league to make more friends. Maybe it’s a change you’ve been fighting.
So often we get stuck in this idea that our lives are settled and they can’t be changed. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. Do something you haven’t done before. Take a chance. Visit the art museum. Go out alone. A popular saying is “In order to have something you’ve never had, you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done.” This is true in many ways. If you’re not choosing happiness, maybe it’s time to do something different and embrace the changes that can help you be happier.