The Happiness Choice

Me, 2015 in Solomon Islands. I feel happiest and most authentically me when I am connecting with people. To me, happiness is the shared human experience.

I spent too many years of my life being unhappy. I always thought happiness was something that just happened to people. Now, I realize that happiness is a choice that we have to choose every day. Each day starts with the decision to be happy or unhappy. Society gives us the impression that our happiness needs to come from something, someone, or an outside force, but happiness has to start from the inside.

In 2004, my work took me to a remote part of Ethiopia, where I spent Christmas thousands of miles away from my family. I didn’t realize how transformative this trip would be, but it forever changed my life. We were in a tiny village where most of the people were nomads. They lived in small tents and only possessed what could easily be carried as they wandered the land. By American standards, these people had nothing - no television, no car, no house, and minimal material possessions, but these were the happiest people I’ve ever met because they had everything that mattered. They were happy to be alive, they had their family, and they had everything that mattered. If these people in this remote village of Ethiopia can be happy with just what they have at that moment, then we can be happy too. They chose to be happy and not to focus on what they didn’t have but instead embrace and love what they do have. Not only were these the happiest, but they were also the most giving people I’ve ever met. They were overjoyed to share whatever they had, and they gave willingly and lovingly.

My life has never been the same since. I would love to say that I’ve renounced all material objects and given up all of my beautiful worldly possessions but that’s not true. But when I think about when I don’t have I think back to those people in Ethiopia. Throughout my career, I traveled to remote areas of Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, and the Middle East, and there is one thing that people have in common - happiness is found in the gratitude of community, family, and connection.

Happiness is active, not passive. If you sit around waiting for something to make you happy, you’re never going to be happy. Happiness isn’t something that happens to some people. There aren’t the lucky few who happen to get to experience true happiness. Happiness isn’t winning the lottery. Happiness isn’t finding $100 on the sidewalk.

The first few years I was married I thought that it was his responsibility to make me happy. I used a lot of excuses for not being happy - bad childhood, bad life situations, poor self-image, and more. I used every excuse for not being happy, but I realized that I needed to look for excuses to be happy. I have so much to be happy about, and I feel like I wasted so many years not being happy.

A lot of happiness came from letting go of stuff that was not serving me. I put far too much effort into relationships where someone didn’t care as much as I did. I let go of toxic family relationships that I had felt obligated to maintain. Most of all, I was terrible about setting boundaries and advocating for myself.

Happiness is a choice, so stop saying ‘I’ll be happy when (fill in the blank).” “Stop telling yourself these lies: I’ll be happy when I get out of debt, I’ll be happy when I lose weight, I’ll be happy when my kids are older, I’ll be happy when I get a better job, I’ll be happy when I get a new car.” Stop telling yourself these things because they aren’t true. These are lies that keep you from living in the moment and keep you from being happy right now. The truth is, things aren’t going to get better if you are unable to be grateful for what you already have. What if those things never happen and you get to the end of your life never being happy because you never got that new car?

To find more happiness in your life, look around and be truly grateful for what you have at this moment. Have gratitude for everything that you have worked for and accomplished. When you can feel grateful for what you have, happiness comes a lot easier because it is no longer something that you are waiting to arrive. It’s already here.

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