Trying to make sense of life and to learn living it happily.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Choices: To What Extend Do They Define Happiness

art by ~EyesOfTheBeholderInc

My life.... My Choices...
~ Folk Wisdom

Our lives are defined by the choices we make.

Every day we are faced with a plethora of choices: obvious or unconscious, difficult or easy, important or insignificant, unnoticeably minute and life-changeably major. When I shop for a toothpaste, which one do I choose? When it is time to pick a major, which one do I choose? When proposed a hand in marriage, what do I do? When I crave chocolate, do I treat myself to a piece or abstain? When my daughter takes too long to do her homework, do I help her, let her do it at her own pace, or scold her for getting distracted? When I write this paragraph, do I list more examples, or get to the point?

Our actions are our choices carried out. And all our choices are based on our values and the place of happiness in our priorities.

We all know that we want to be happy. We want it for ourselves, our loved ones, and possibly for all.

However, rather often we knowingly choose to do things that do not make us happy, when we believe that these things take higher priority in life. When we are younger, we tend to concentrate on more palpable goals - fitting in with peers (and doing things that we would not want to do by ourselves), completing education (and stressing over grades and fees), getting a nice job (even if we find it unfulfilling), finding a spouse (or bearing the societal pressure to find one), having kids (and giving up a lot of freedom), saving up for some possessions (and denying self others), etc. Later, we may sacrifice our own happiness for our loved ones, for the call of duty, or out of fear to change anything. Or we may believe that we simply do not have another choice.

As we age, as we go through certain experiences and learn from them, as we become more established and secure, as be become wiser, our views about life priorities change.  We may place happiness higher on our priority list. Each one of us modifies our live views for different reasons. Some survived a life-threatening situation and realized that life is too short to be unhappy. Some have a pessimistic child and want to lead by example by embracing positive emotions. Some believe that being happy is the ultimate meaning of life. All of us have our own different reasons.

Changing priorities will affect the daily choices we make. We may decide that we care for our peace of mind more than for a successful career, or for judgment of others, etc. So we may forgo a promotion at work that entails long hours and more stress. Or decide to move from the city to the suburbs or vise versa. Or something else we would not dare do when we were younger.

art by ~Persephone842
Our choices are defined by the balance between our desire to be happy and doing what we currently believe is the best course of action. Unfortunately, it is impossible to always do only what we want. So we ascribe our unhappiness to less favorable choices we have to make. How can we be happy when we want to play outside and instead we have to study or work? When we want to read a book, and instead we have to do the dishes? When we want to devour a juicy hamburger, but we are told a carrot is a healthier choice?

The paradox of happiness is that even though we believe it depends on our choices, in the grand scheme of things it really does not. When we have to do something out of obligations, or pressure, or whatever circumstances, we are able to still be happy. We may not be happy with the circumstances, but we can learn to be content with ourselves in these circumstances.

The key is to remember that we still want to be happy, and choose to be happy instead of sulking or waiting it out. Like Abraham Lincoln said, people are as happy as they make their minds up to be.

Usually, we do not focus on desire to be happy, we just know it is true. So when we deal with the stress of everyday life, we oftentimes almost forget about it. We get into foul moods over small staff like traffic, or getting a stain on our cloths. Without noticing we concentrate on the routine, letting go of our overall intention to be happy.

Therefore, when we are presented with challenging choices and trying circumstances, it is very helpful to remember both the fact that we truly prefer to stay happy and the way we arrived to this conviction. As we recall the experiences and thoughts that shaped our determination to be happy, we will be able to cope with situation we view as negative.

For example, the next time we find ourselves in an unfavorable situation, we can say to ourselves, I want to be happy anyway, because life is short and I do not want to live it depressed. Or because everything is relative and nothing is as bad as it seems. Or (insert your own individual reason to continue to be happy).

We should clearly understand the reasons why we want to be happy - and not the general goodness reasons, but our personal, individual ones, the ones that convince us that happiness is a priority above some others. Then the circumstances will no longer hold such overwhelming power over our state of mind. We will be able to transcend through them, not let them interfere with our mood.  We will be able to choose what is necessary for us to choose and not let the choice affect our spirits.

The choices we make are important. But there is only choice that truly affects the level of our happiness - our choice to be happy. While the rest of our choices shape our lives, this one shapes our attitude.

Exercise: Remember the reason for wanting happiness and prioritizing it high.

Think about the questions below. Try not to give in to popular notions about happiness or the meaning of life. The hankering to be happy is for your own benefit, not anyone else's. So uncover your own personal ideas and notions, your personal answers.  

Is the importance and supremacy of happiness self evident to you? Are you convinced that being happy is your goal and priority?

If you believe so, look back on your life and remember what experiences and thoughts brought you to this conclusion?

How would you explain to your children that they should stay happy in any circumstances?

If something made you doubt your own priorities, would we be able to convince yourself again? How?

If you found yourself in an unfavorable situation, would you give in to the bad mood or be able remember to try to keep good attitude? What would it take for you to not only stay calm, but actually be positive - a quote? memories of past experience? thoughts of the future? the transience of life? thoughts of the divine? meditation? duty to your loved ones? duty to yourself?

* My post about setting priorities is here: http://olgarythm.blogspot.com/2012/10/happiness-how-to-get-your-priorities.html

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