Happiness is…

“We tend to seek happiness… when really happiness is a choice” says a piece of art that I’ve seen in a catalog. I try to live that idea, and last year I came across a video on the TED website that sums it up nicely. It is a talk by Srikumar Rao about not waiting to be happy until some event or change of condition happens. Rao believes that we are hard-wired for happiness (think of babies and how often they laugh). He essentially says that we have everything we need to be happy right now.

When we’re kids, we joyfully sing about happiness. “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…” or as Charlie Brown sings, “…Happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.” But when does that unbounded happiness of childhood start eroding, and all of the worry, inferiority and judgment of life take hold? Do we recognize happiness when it is right under our noses?

If you go on the Amazon web site and do a search for self-help books about happiness, 8,894 results come back. Clearly, people are spending a lot of time (and money) figuring out how to be happy.

My students have been working lately with the idea of locus of control. Having an internal locus of control means that you take responsibility for the outcomes of your actions, while an external locus of control suggests that you tend to blame other people or outside events for how things turn out. While it can be tempting, and maybe immediately gratifying, to shift control to luck or outside influences, people are generally healthier and handle stress better when they take responsibility for their own behavior and its outcome.

I think of happiness in a similar fashion. Why blame someone else because you are unhappy? Why wait for the right job or the right house or the right person to be happy? Why not make the decision to be happy right now, in this moment? It doesn’t mean everything will be perfect in your life; you just decide to be happy anyway, without waiting.

How can we recapture some of our hard-wired happiness? In every moment, we have a choice of how to respond. By consciously shifting our responses to gratitude and acceptance, rather than resistance and judgment, we can move one step closer to joy, contentment and happiness.

Robert Green Ingersoll once said, “Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here…”

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