Everyone is in charge of their own happiness. I know it sounds like a cliché and at times, frankly not true. It’s not like anyone chooses to be unhappy, right?
Well, yes, but… While we may not choose unhappiness, it’s not like we don’t have any control over what happens to us. Life is entirely made up of choices, most of which are ours to make, and that includes our choice to be happy.
So how do you control happiness and how do you make the choice to be happy? Keep reading to find out the answers.
- The components of happiness
- Is happiness really a choice?
- How can happiness be controlled?
- Closing words
The components of happiness
Happiness is not just some abstract notion or an unreachable dream propagated by fairy tales. It’s a very real, multifaceted thing that plays a role in everyone’s life.
Everyone’s happiness is a little different, meaning that the components of happiness also differ from person to person. Still, there are some fundamental components or dimensions that should apply to (almost) everyone.
According to psychologist Martin Seligman, a leading author on the field of positive psychology, the three dimensions of happiness are:
- Pleasant life - the attainment and enjoyment of daily pleasures
- Good life - identifying and using our unique skills for enrichment
- Meaningful life - contributing to greater good
The definition of happiness incorporates each of these elements, and so, a happy life is a life lived with those three dimensions in mind.
When I work with my students or clients, many of them name happiness as a goal. When I asked to describe what happiness means to them, many give similar answers. Good health, financial and physical security, good relationships with friends and family and a fulfilling career are all common answers.
In a way, all of these things are related to the three dimensions outlined above. They just play different roles to different people; some people find health to be more important than career and vice versa.
Of course, Seligman’s theory is just one way to look at happiness, but it’s the one we’ll be focusing on today, and it’ll soon be clear why.
Is happiness really a choice?
If happiness is a choice, why are some people unhappy? Why would anyone settle for less than happiness?
While most of our decisions are ours to make, there are some things that are out of our control. Let’s use mental health as an example. While we can definitely take care of our mental health to prevent some disorders, we cannot control the genes we are born with. Because of this, we cannot prevent some disorders and even treating them is a struggle.
It should come as no surprise that people who suffer from a mental disorder are less happy. In such cases, the person may find it impossible to be happy, no matter how hard they try.
In most cases, however, happiness is a choice and requires some work to acquire. Of course, there are some things that are out of your control, such as societal and environmental factors (for example, I live in Estonia, where we have entered the dark season. It’s quite difficult to feel happy and positive when it’s dark outside when I get to work and dark when I leave).
But, as Martin Seligman writes in his book Authentic Happiness:
“The very good news is there is quite a number of internal circumstances [...] under your voluntary control. If you decide to change them (and be warned that none of these changes come without real effort), your level of happiness is likely to increase lastingly.”
Happiness is a choice in two distinct ways.
Firstly, many of the things that make up happiness - career, health, relationships, etc - are a matter of choice. For example, our health is largely dependent on the choices we make - how and what we eat, how we move, where we live, and so on. As such, our overall happiness is also dependent on these choices, as a long-running study conducted in Germany found.
Secondly, we can also make the choice to be happy. This does not mean that by deciding to be happy, we are somehow immune to struggles and stressful situations. Certainly not, and neither will choosing happiness prevent “bad” things from happening.
- Rather, choosing happiness means re-examining our thought patterns and beliefs, some of which may be completely unhelpful.
- Choosing happiness means choosing growth and learning how to deal with everything that life throws at you.
- Choosing happiness means making the choice to live your life to the fullest, and finding a balance between productivity and pleasure.
If you look back on the components of happiness, you’ll find that having a pleasant, good and meaningful life is often up to us. We create meaning, we decide which pleasures we enjoy and we seek enrichment by utilizing our skills.
Barring certain situations and genetic factors, happiness is, more often than not, under our control.
How can happiness be controlled?
So how do you go about controlling happiness? Let’s look at a couple of ways.
1. Find meaning in life
Remember how living meaningfully is a component of happiness? Good, now use it to your advantage.
To control your happiness levels, try to find your why. Why do you do what you do? The answer to that question may also be the answer to a happier life.
Give my last article a read, if you want to know how to find your meaning in life.
2. Enjoy the simple things
Finding meaning in life is great, but not everything you do has to have a meaning. Sometimes, a good cup of coffee is simply a good cup of coffee - a simple pleasure to make you a little bit happier.
Finding and enjoying these simple pleasures can have a cumulative effect and you’ll find yourself noticing more and more little things that elevate your mood and well-being.
If you're looking for a long list of new things to try, here you go!
3. Stop comparing yourself to others
Everyone always seems happier, healthier, richer and more interesting than you. If you keep comparing yourself to them, you’ll only dig yourself deeper into a hole of negativity and resentment.
4. Recognize and change unhelpful thought patterns
It’s normal to experience negative thoughts sometimes, as long as you don’t fall prey to them. But often, we have these negative thought patterns that stop us from living our best life.
For example, you may find yourself thinking that every setback is catastrophic and your fault. But is it really? Are you really responsible for every bad thing that happens? Chances are that it’s not the case and that your own brain is lying to you.
These unhelpful thoughts are also stopping you from being happy.
In order to take control of your thoughts and your happiness, you need to start noticing and changing them. Use this simple worksheet from Therapist Aid to get started.
5. Track your happiness
Editor note: I want to mention here that I've been tracking my happiness for almost 6 years now. What does this mean? It means I spend 2 minutes every day reflecting on my day:
- How happy was I on a scale from 1 to 10?
- What factors had a significant effect on my rating?
- I clear my head by jotting down all my thoughts in my happiness journal.
This doesn't allow me to control 100% of my happiness. But it does teach me to understand 100% of the things that influence my happiness. This allows me to constantly learn from my evolving life. It's how I purposefully steer my life in the best direction possible. This is how I can control my happiness! And I believe you can do the same.
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Happiness is made up of different parts and components, and yes, some of them are out of your control. Most of them are up to you, though. Life is a series of choices that are ours to make, and that includes our choice to be happy. While not always easy to make, there are some surprisingly simple changes you can make in your life to take control of your happiness.