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Why Happiness is not Always a Choice (+5 Tips on Dealing With it)


Chances are, you've come across at least one print art in your life with some version of the words: ‘happy thoughts only.’ Although these phrases are well-intentioned, they mistakenly suggest that we always have control over our happiness. As much as I wish this was true, it’s simply not the case. 

Happiness is determined by a vast range of complex internal and external factors. A happy life is reasonably achievable for most of us, but for some, happiness is significantly more difficult to obtain. There are factors beyond our control that impede happiness such as socioeconomic status, genetics, and mental illness. However, just because you’re not able to choose happiness right now doesn’t mean that you never will. With the right perspective, resources, and support, happiness can be within reach. 

In this article, I’ll explore the various factors that unfairly hinder happiness for some people and the strategies to help you cope with these circumstances.

Can happiness be hereditary? 

Although happiness is a choice for the most part, it turns out some humans are born with a greater disposition for happiness. 

Your genetics may not guarantee happiness, but they do determine your personality to some extent. A study on the genetics of personality discovered that some people are born with personalities capable of creating an ‘affective reserve.’ These people are able to use this reserve of happiness to cope better with life’s difficulties. 

Factors beyond our control that deter happiness 

While happiness is attainable for most of us, it’s a lot more difficult for some people. Some are at a disadvantage, while others are simply not wired for it. 

It’s significantly easier for those with greater access to resources to choose happiness. A study suggests a correlation between quality of life and life satisfaction. People who lack security, financial stability, and spiritual harmony report lower levels of happiness.

Another study found happiness to be higher among people with access to financial resources and social support. Those who are better off financially experience higher levels of life satisfaction. When you have access to support such as therapy, it becomes easier to determine and overcome the factors in the way of your happiness.

While access to therapy does help, it’s significantly more challenging for those with mental illness to choose happiness. According to one study, mental health is the strongest indicator of happiness. Those who suffer from a mental illness are less likely to be happy than those who don’t. 

Tips on how to deal with it 

As much as we wish we could simply wake up and choose happiness, that’s not always possible. Regardless of whatever circumstance in your life is preventing you from being happy, here 5 tips to help you deal with it. 

1. Practice gratitude daily 

There’s a reason why every self-help book seems to contain a chapter on gratitude. Gratitude is consistently linked with greater happiness. Those who are more grateful tend to experience more positive emotions and blissful moments. It also helps people cope better with difficult situations and negative emotions. 

I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness - it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude.

Brené Brown

Gratitude teaches you to acknowledge the good things that come your way. It trains your mind to notice goodness even in the most unexpected places. From the kind stranger who held the door open for you at the coffee shop to the way the sky looks at sunset, gratitude allows you to appreciate what you typically overlook. This makes it easier to find moments of joy in the mundane. 

The practice of being thankful for something at least once a day can dramatically shift your life perspective. To start a gratitude practice, take a few moments before bed each night to reflect on the day’s events. Try your best to name at least one thing you’re grateful for. The more you can name, the better. It’s also a good idea to write them down in a journal. This way, you can look back and read about all the good things that have happened to you. 

2. Create a self-care routine 

When you feel at your worst, your self-care often suffers. Ironically, this is when you need self-care the most. This is why it’s essential to create a self-care routine that eventually becomes a habit. 

You might not be able to choose happiness, but you can choose to take care of yourself. A self-care routine is a powerful antidote to life’s biggest stressors. True self-care, the type that goes beyond bubble baths and a tub of ice cream, isn’t always easy. It means showing up for yourself even when you don’t feel like it.  

If you’re interested in building a self-care routine, here are a few ideas to consider including in your daily routine: 

  • Sleep for at least 7 hours. 
  • Make the bed in the morning. 
  • Meditate. 
  • Go for a walk. 
  • Prepare nutritious meals for yourself. 
  • Exercise. 
  • Drink at least 8 cups of water. 
  • Journal. 
  • Read a book before bed. 
  • Practice gratitude. 

When you invest the time and energy into taking care of your well-being, you give yourself your best chance of being happy. 

3. Assess your relationships 

Numerous studies have shown that the quality of your relationships influences your happiness. The longest study on happiness ever conducted found that people who are satisfied in their relationships live longer and happier lives. Therefore, it’s crucial to invest time and effort into the relationships that matter most to you. 

On the other hand, if you’re in an unhealthy relationship, it’s possible that might be contributing to your lack of happiness. Your relationships are meant to support and uplift you, not drain your energy or make you feel small. 

To assess the health of your relationships, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Can I be fully myself around this person? 
  • Can I communicate with them openly about anything? 
  • Do I trust this person to be honest with me? Can I be honest with them? 
  • Does my chest feel lighter or heavier when I’m with them? 
  • Do they respect my boundaries? 

It’s important to examine your relationships and identify those that are unhealthy. Remember that it’s okay to walk away from relationships that no longer serve you. 

4. Embrace yin and yang 

The complex philosophy of yin and yang or yin-yang has been around for over a thousand years. It’s a beautiful concept with roots in Taoism that essentially explains the balance that permeates all aspects of life. According to this philosophy, seemingly opposite forces such as light and dark are actually deeply interconnected.

This means that without pain and sorrow, we wouldn’t be able to fully experience happiness. The worst moments of your life make your best ones all the more meaningful. Yin-yang suggests that pain and suffering are necessary human experiences that allow happiness to be possible. 

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

Rumi

So if you’re going through dark days, keep going. If yin-yang is right, brighter days are bound to come soon. You might not be able to choose happiness today, but someday, you will. Life will balance itself out. 

5. Seek professional help 

Happiness is often not a choice for anyone suffering from mental illness. If anxiety or depression is preventing you from experiencing happiness, consider seeking professional help. Your mental illness is not your fault, and you are certainly not alone. But it can be tough to remember this without the proper support. 

It’s possible that a chemical imbalance in your brain is the barrier between you and happiness. A therapist can prescribe medication to help you regulate your mood and gain back control over your life. You may not be able to choose happiness while suffering from a mental illness, but you can make the brave choice to go to therapy.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, we've condensed the information of 100's of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Closing words

Even though happiness is not always a choice, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your life. Learning how to deal with negativity, connecting with people on a regular basis, volunteering and improving your habits can all help you become a happier person. Happiness might not always be a choice, but loving yourself and improving your life can be.

Andrea portrait

Andrea Araya

Writer

Writer and recovering perfectionist from Canada. A huge fan of stories, empathy, and matcha lattes. May or may not have a tendency to cry at everything especially acts of kindness.

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