Think of happiness as a state of doing rather than a state of simply sitting and being happy. Being happy is not just a quality we simply choose, although the realization of happiness does depend on choice. Being happy is an action and therefore something we do, and we do this by constantly making choices that allow us to experience happiness. The quality of happiness is not a one which we attain and maintain in the background of our lives as we perform the act of living. Instead, it is a state that we enter, willfully, through intentional action and which is sustained with proper thought and activity.
This blog is rife with examples that happiness is a decision not a reaction. Deciding to be happy comes down to the choices we make: eating nutritional food to nourish our body; being physically active to maintain the health of our body through which we enjoy life; meditating so that we learn to control our thoughts and to focus our intentions properly; seeking to understand that many things are out of our control and to focus only on what little we can control; maintaining a sense of gratitude; building loving and lasting relationships with other people. These are all qualities of the happy person but the choice to embody these qualities precedes happiness, eventually allowing us to arrive at such a state rather than happiness itself leading the way and causing us to behave as a happy person might.
The reason this idea merits discussion is that many people tend to delay in their thoughts and actions believing that they must become happy and THEN be able live the life they want. This is putting the cart before the horse. Happiness is not the vehicle that drives the cart of a quality life, quality habits, and quality decisions, but rather quality habits and quality decisions create the quality life which becomes happiness. Happiness itself is the destination we hope to reach through making proper choices but it is also a journey and the moment we begin that journey, in proper thought and action, we have already begun to arrive at the destination to a certain extent.
A deeper and more lasting understanding of happiness is on the horizon as we become more accustomed to making the habitual decisions, day after day, to realize happiness in our life. Someone who has practiced healthy eating, exercise, and meditation may likely have a deeper sense of happiness than the person who just began their journey but both have arrived in a sense at the same state of being – through the act of doing, albeit not equally arrived.
There is a catch. The state of happiness is not a checkpoint that we reach and then maintain without further work. In many modern video games, when characters reach a certain point in their quests, they can save the game and know that whether they get lost or killed, they cannot regress beyond the checkpoint at which they have most recently saved their progress. Life and happiness don’t work that way. People who exercise in the gym know this well. Just because you made the right habits to lose those nagging 15 extra pounds doesn’t mean they won’t come right back the moment you back off, as you neglect the positive decisions that brought them there while regressing back into old habits.
The same habits that bring us to happiness: choosing to accept ourselves; maintain our core values; nurturing our mind body and spirit, are the same habits that keep us there. The happy person is constantly undergoing the act of balancing their happy habits against the negative habits that may lead back to unhappiness or caused us to be unhappy to begin with. The tightrope walker on the high wire does not find balance and remain static having found it, but rather is constantly undergoing the act of balancing. If someone were to ask a happy person if they were happy, the correct response would be that they are “being happy” or “doing happy” rather than simply “am happy.”
It is worth reminding ourselves that happiness is a choice, and that that choice is made through dozens if not hundreds of decisions we make every day. It is in the choice to remind ourselves not to be upset by tragic events in the news. It is in our choice to not be angry at the driver who cuts us off. It is in the choice to feel grateful for something when our gut emotional reaction is disappointment. It is in the choice to eat healthy fruits or vegetables rather than a donut that will bring us bloating and regret. Happiness is indeed a choice but the choice to be happy is not a grand decision to suddenly feel elation and joy towards the world but a series of small decisions that lead us gradually to that feeling of elation and lasting joy that we know as happiness.
This is not to say that the antithesis of any of the aforementioned choices and habits are inherently bad. A deeper realization of happiness is found when we embrace these seemingly negative behaviors rather than suppress them entirely, an act that forces us to repress our natural self. In order to fully comprehend the light, we must know what darkness is. To love life, we must understand death. And to truly feel happiness we must know unhappiness.
Therefore, do not shun the urge to enjoy a decadent meal, nor feel shame at choosing to stay in bed rather than wake early and go for a run, nor to watch sitcoms rather than meditate. These antithetical behaviors are only bad when they become the primary habit themselves rather than the balancing forces to the proper habits. In moderation these types of decisions only add to our experience of happiness both by allowing us to experience the wholeness of life as well as providing us the opportunity for respite from what can otherwise become a strenuous exercise on our will power to NEVER falter. For if we are constantly tasked with having to make the proper decision, even for the benefit of our happiness, the stress of the matter will eventually cause us to succumb and likely sweep us further from the correct course in the form of a binge as opposed to occasional minor deviations.
Identify the habits of happy individuals and recognize the moments in your own life where you have felt most happy. What sort of decisions did you make that created such a feeling? Reflecting thusly will identify the habits that can guide you to happiness. From there path is mapped. All you have to do is make the right choices continuously over time, navigating carefully the occasional set back, and you will begin to live life as a happy person.