I was glamping in an elegant Airstream in a land of sunny skies, craggy mountain ranges, and saguaro cacti—Tucson, Arizona. The trailer next to mine was a cool, vintage model and stenciled on the back was this thought:
“Today, I will be happier than a bird with a French fry.”
Which begs the question: Can we choose to be happy?
Based on my experience, I believe happiness is a choice. And if a choice, then perhaps the old adage, “Practice makes perfect,” comes into play:
“Note to self: Anything you have ever wanted to be good at, you’ve had to practice. If you want happiness, practice being happy. Keep these handy tools in your backpack to help along the way: gratitude, observation, presence, and perspective. Maybe also a candy bar.” – Nanea Hoffman
9 Happiness Choices
During my husband’s cancer years and the consequent widow years—when the blues and anxiety and self-pity showed their ugly faces from time to time—I made choices to vanquish them. Some of these choices will be easy, and others will take grit and grace. But they have the power to create happiness and joy:
1. Dance, hike, swim, throw punches at a bag — in a word: move
Even while he battled cancer, my husband determined to be as active as possible. If you had caught us hiking to the tops of tall mountains, or slushing through powder in snowshoes, or stroking our oars in synch across an icy alpine lake, you would have noticed our ear-to-ear grins.
2. Get outdoors
The simple pleasure of being outdoors went a long way in creating joy for us. And when you throw in some movement with the outdoor-ness … well, then you have double happiness.
3. Listen to your favorite tunes
Music has the power to affect our moods, which is why calming music flows out of elevator speakers, and upbeat tunes are played in stores, and inspiring/fighting music is blasted at sporting events. Put on soaring music and see if your spirit doesn’t soar.
4. Keep a journal
There’s science to back up the benefit of capturing our fears and frustrations and hopes on paper. Even if you don’t enjoy writing, commit to journaling for two weeks. And if you find it helpful, continue writing. (I’m pretty sure I saved my husband thousands of dollars in psychotherapy costs by keeping a journal.)
5. Practice gratitude
Inspired by Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, I’m on my third journal of numbering 1,000 things I’m grateful for. It’s easy to list gratitude when life is going swimmingly. But consider looking for things to be grateful for in the hard places. And see if it doesn’t make a difference on the happiness meter.
6. Monitor your mindset
This relates to #5 because I think intentional gratitude is a mindset choice. But setting our thoughts in an optimistic direction takes in so much more. It prefers courage over fear. And hope over despair. It embraces peace, as we intentionally boot out anxiety and worry. It chooses good humor instead of taking ourselves too seriously. I suspect that all these things feed each other. Gratitude brings contentment that fuels a positive way of seeing things, which helps us battle anxiety, which makes room to usher in joy and happiness.
7. Get creative
I can’t describe how happy it makes me feel to knit soft, fuzzy things for all the beautiful women in my life—daughters, sisters, nieces, and friends. Whether it’s watercolor painting, photography, cooking, designing landscapes, or repurposing old junk into cool new stuff, it matters that we get out our imaginative side and create some happiness.
8. Hang out with incredible people
How do you feel after hanging out with people who whine, who can’t see the positive in anything, who gossip viciously, or make fun of others? And then how do you feel after being around people who challenge and inspire and hold you accountable in love? Does the crowd we hang out with affect our happiness? I’m thinking yes.
9. Focus outward
Flying to Tucson for those two weeks of dog-sitting and glamping in an Airstream was going to be a twelve-hour travel day. From Oregon to Seattle to Los Angeles to Tucson. So to make it more pleasant, I set an intention to look for opportunity to show random kindness along the way. As a result, glee overflowed on what would have otherwise been a long and tiresome day.
When my focus is on me, I feel my broken heart intensely. I live every day in the changes I didn’t want to happen. But until I begin focusing outward on the hurts and needs of other people, and until I begin doing something to help alleviate their load in whatever small ways I can, the pain of my loss and sorrow will fill the room and steal all the breathable air.
Ironically, the barren wilderness years—those years that included a live-in mom sinking into Alzheimer’s, job loss and financial setbacks, cancer, and eventually widowhood—taught me gratitude in the middle of the losses. Those years shaped me to look more like compassion and empathy. They provided opportunity to grow and learn and be stretched, which was rather painful at the time.
So, how does heartbreak lead to happiness?
If, in our losses, we allow God to shape us into new purpose and if we practice that purposefulness to help make a difference for others going through hardships, then happiness shows up and adds beauty and color to our dry, black-and-white space.
This thought from the ancient book of psalms:
“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11).
What if—instead of pursuing happiness—we chased down gratitude?
What if we lived intentionally in every moment that we’ve been given with our people? What if we noticed our surroundings and the simple pleasures that make up a sweet life?
And what if we focused outwardly to see where we could lighten the load for others, maybe raising their happiness meters a bit?
Would that cause joy to spill over into our lives? From experience, absolutely.
With recent world news, it can seem like happiness it out of reach. Here’s how to focus on the good: Finding Happiness With A Scary Future Ahead – 190