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Choose to be happy

...because you do have a choice


There are those who scoff at the notion that happiness is a choice. "It’s not as simple as that,” they insist on telling me, “you can't just decide your problems are meaningless, that your stresses don't exist.”

Of course you can't.

The nature of that response shows a lack of understanding about the nature of choice, the ongoing nature of decision-making. Simply deciding or choosing to be happy won’t automatically make it so – any more than deciding to become a doctor will grant you your medical degree and hours of internship all done. Having made a decision, a choice, to be happy, you then have to work at it.

It's tempting to say you have to play at it, because play sounds like a more fun approach than work – but the truth is that there is actually a certain amount of work involved as well.

There ought to be another verb, one that includes both work and play that suggests you are serious in your intent but playful in your approach. Plörk perhaps, except that without the German umlaut we’d pronounce it to rhyme with pork rather than work.

Perhaps there is such a verb already out there and I just haven't found it yet. (Cue Susie Dent! Help me out here.) Perhaps we need to trawl other languages to find it.

As an aside – because I am choosing to be happy and I find playing with words a joyful thing – I wonder about frivolity. Can one frivol? Or does one frivolt? And if not, why not?

Back to the point, working at being happy sounds like a contradiction in terms, but being happy does take study and application.

Firstly, you have to discover what makes you happy.

How can you possibly bring more of "it" into your life if you don't know what "it" is?

Start with a definition. "Define happy.” I can hear the scoffers again, but this is important: what kind of happy do you want to be?

Are you looking for contentment? Or exhilaration? Do you want the intense emotion of transcendent pleasure? Or the near non-emotion of being in the zone? You might want a mix of all of these and more. What about joy? Awe? Inspiration? Frivolity? Hilarity? Amusement? Delight? Enchantment?

If you don't know the answer, your first assignment is to catch yourself smiling. Spend some time noticing what makes you feel good, if only for a fleeting few seconds...especially if only for a few seconds. And don’t focus purely on the cause, but ponder what kind of good you feel. Nail it down.

Don't be led by what makes others happy. Maybe something that everyone else loves, you find a bit so-so: good, but somehow not good enough. Say, you're sitting on the beach watching the most spectacular sunset and you’re thinking “yeah, pretty…but, yes, and, erm, so...?”

So there's nothing wrong with you, it's just that sunsets ain’t your thing. That's cool, leaves more space on the beach for the rest of us. Perhaps you need the thrill of a fairground ride, or the awe of the view from a mountain top.

Or maybe you don't care about the view at all and will happily munch your last Jaffa cake in the fog and the rain just relishing the fact that you achieved getting to where the fog and the rain are.

Then: once you know what kind of happy, and the kind of things that deliver that kind of happy…it's easy. Just go look for them, do them, make time for them...

Easy? Ok, maybe not easy.

Simple, yes, but not easy. Everything else in your life will get in your way. Everything and everyone else in your life will conspire to persuade you that your happiness is actually down in the grey zone at the bottom of the to-do list. You know the zone: that last four or five items that are grey-washed because they've been on the list so long they're fading away. They've struggled and survived from list to list because your really DO want to get them done.

No you don't. If you did they'd making their way up the list into the red zone: the "I really absolutely pain of death must get this done today" zone. The grey zone is fog. It's only there to make you feel busy and/or important. Get rid of it.

If 'be happy' is in the grey zone, it implies that either you don't want to be happy (unlikely) or you feel that you don't deserve to be (bullsht) or you're in the "most people" category.

For most people "Be happy" won't even make it onto the list.

What if it did? What if, the first thing on the top of every day's to-do list was "Be happy"? What if we really couldn't consider we'd achieved anything in the day unless we'd ticked off that most important item? Found a little space in which to be happy? Would that work?


What would probably work more easily is to schedule the actual things that make you happy. Give them the same priority as the work, as the family, as the community service, as the fitness regime, as whatever else it is that takes up your day and your week.

So go on put something in the diary. Get out tomorrow's to-do list or your weekly schedule and carve out some fixed not-to-be-moved time (however small) and write one little thing that has absolutely no other purpose other than to make you happy. Not by making someone else happy, not by completing a work schedule that's been driving you bonkers, that's accidental happy. You're looking for deliberate, by choice, happy.

And stick to it. Commit to it. Do it, regardless of anything other than sanity, life or limb disasters.

Don't think you can be that selfish? Then just remember the information in the aeroplane: in the event of oxygen being needed to be deployed, put on your own mask before attempting to help others. If you're not happy, you're not going to be much good at making other people happy, especially the people who care about you, because they will notice.

Being happy makes you stronger, more resilient. You can work harder and longer and smarter, when you're happy. You make better decisions. You create virtuous circles for yourself and your family and your teams.

There's a lot of discussion about how contagious negative emotions are…how misery loves company. But you know what? Joy does as well; contentment can also be infectious in a slow comfortable kind of way; enthusiasm sparks inspiration.

So whatever else you do this week, schedule in a little happy-clappy-smiley time

~ or a little deeply-quiet-pleasure time

~ or an awesome adventure time

~ or whatever your kind of happy might be. Choose it and use it.

And check out the picture for this week's blog. It's a detail from a decorated giraffe on the outskirts of Worcester taken earlier this month. Snapped and shared for no other reason than just looking at it makes me happy.


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