Happiness is a Choice
Barry Kaufmann the founder of the Option Institute and student of Bruce Marsico, the creator of the Option Method, has stated a fundamental and important secret of of Happiness which is that "Happiness is a choice". In fact that is the title of one of his books. The reaction I would have had a while back to a statement like that would have been that it is nonsense. I would have said "I want to be happy and I'm not, so it is absurd to say that happiness is a choice. External tragic events can happen over which I have no control so happiness is not a choice.
In 100 A.D. Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher once said
What disturbs people's minds
is not events
but their judgments on events.
More than 1800 years later this sentence is quoted by both rational emotive and cognitive therapists. Throughout history this wisdom has been put forth by different people. Marcus Aurelius said
what your thoughts
Abraham Lincoln said
will be just about as happy
as they make up their minds
Charles Popplestone (whoever he was) said
always control circumstances,
but you can control
your own thoughts
We have some degree of control over our reaction to events and to that extent happiness is a choice. The more we understand about happiness the more power we have to achieve it and the more it becomes a choice.
Often people do not choose happiness. That may sound strange, one would expect that everyone would choose to be happy if they were in the position to do so. If I am anxious to get something done quickly I sometimes tell myself that I have to hurry and things will be bad if I don't hurry and by doing so create anxiety within myself. What I am doing is choosing to be nervous rather than happy in order to get something that I want. If I am worried about something happening e.g. losing a job, I might make myself more worried than I already am so that I will take action to prevent myself from losing the job. In this case making myself afraid and unhappy is a defense mechanism against the threat of losing my job. Likewise I disapprove of myself if I spend my time on enjoyable activities other than work. This is another way to motivate myself to spend more time working. My choice to disapprove of myself is a choice to be unhappy since that is the end result. Of course if I lose my job because I didn't spend enough time on work I'd be unhappy as well but the point I'm making here is that for whatever reason, people sometimes choose to feel unhappy. In addition to generating anxiety to motivate ourselves I sometimes don't want to be happy because I want to fight against a threat. It might make me feel important to think I can do something against the threat of terrorism for example and that might be a reason I want to think about doing that instead of trying to be happy.
Not all emotions are by choice. We may be naturally anxious about a situation. We may be frustrated because things aren't going our way. In these situations we can choose to try and not feel this way or to feel this way even more strongly. Sometimes I dwell on things that I am upset about because I want to change them. Once I have made a plan of action to deal with the situation dwelling on the situation doesn't help and just generates unhappiness. Yet sometimes I dwell on it anyway and so make myself unhappy. We can call motivating oneself by creating unhappiness "negative self motivation".
Barry Kaufmann described negative self motivation beautifully in his book To Love is to Be Happy With. He wrote,
I realized how I had used myself against myself because of what I had believed. I dreaded obesity and rejection in order to motivate myself to diet. I feared lung cancer so that I could stop smoking. I became anxious about unemployment as a way of pushing myself to be more conscientious and to work harder. I felt guilty to punish myself now in order to prevent myself from repeating a "bad" behavior in the future. When I surveyed the environment, I saw people punish in order to prevent, fear death in order to live, hate war in order to stay in touch with their desire for peace. Unhappiness was used as a motivator to help me take care of myself and to try to get more....All this so that eventually I would be happy or fulfilled.
Pressure at work is probably a major source of unhappiness. I have caught myself thinking "I can't be happy because I have to push myself". Dealing with pressure at work is discussed on the Coping With Work page of this web site.
c o p y r i g h t ( c ) 1 9 9 9 - 2004 Karl Ericson Enterprises. All rights reserved
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