I posted about happiness the other day on Facebook. Got some great comments. I asked if happiness was a choice.
I do not believe that happiness is a choice. At least, not in the way that most people think of happiness. Before I tell you why, let me quickly define what I mean by happiness.
Happiness is state of being. It’s not how you might feel during a one-hour period, or one afternoon. It’s how your LIFE is going, and how you feel about how your life is going. Let me give an example, using people we all know.
Most people would say, for example, that Michelle Obama is a happy person. Her life is going well. She seems fulfilled and vibrant. She seems happily married, loves being a mother, and is really passionate about lots of great causes. Her life is way better than she would ever have imagined it going and you hear her talking about that often.
On the other hand, Kanye West doesn’t seem happy. To me at least. I like lots of his music, but, as a person, he just doesn’t seem happy. He picks on Taylor Swift. And as far as I can tell, Taylor Swift seems to be a pretty, well, happy person. Kanye seems rude and arrogant and mean and hostile and, well, kind of like Donald Trump.
Donald Trump doesn’t seem happy to me.
But George W. Bush and Mitt Romney seem happy.
Ronald Reagan seemed really happy.
If you ever watched The Office, Jim would qualify as a happy person. Just seemed generally content and satisfied, in love, little angst. Angela did not seem happy. She was petty and aggravated and, you know what I mean.
So, could one choose to be happy?
One could choose pleasure. You could eat or relax on the couch or have sex. And for a short time, you feel good. But happiness and pleasure are not the same. Happiness is more like the ongoing mood, more like contentment, or general fulfillment. So can a person simply choose to bring about a certain mood? No. Of course not — you cannot simply choose to feel happy in the same way you could choose to raise your right hand.
If you are giddy because you just won $42 million in the lotto, you can’t simply choose to be depressed.
If you’re passing a kidney stone, or just found out you got cancer, you can’t just simply choose to be in a happy mood. You can say “I’m happy” all you want. But, inside, you’re not.
At this point, some people want to bring up outliers like Victor Frankl. He talked about being happy when he was starving in a concentration camp. I’m not talking about outliers here; I’m talking about the rest of us. When you’re running late to work and you have no gas in your tank and have a splitting headache and you left your wallet at home, and your boss is an ass and you think you might get fired, there’s not use trying to pretend you are happy.
And if your father and brothers just got executed and you saw it all and you’re 7 years old and bombs are going off everywhere and you’re starving and traumatized, don’t give me any bs about mindfulness or Buddha. It sucks. You are not happy.
Also, biology and chemistry and genetics and family of origin play a big part in all of this — it’s easier for some people to be happier than others because of privilege and genetics. (As an aside, those with privilege are the ones to think that all the ones without privilege should simply choose to be happy.)
Okay, finally, you can create a kind of life by the choices you make. And in doing so, you can have, in most cases, a happy life.
For example, education helps liberate the mind and helps with employment, so you can go to school.
Making money makes life easier so you can get a job.
Taking care of your body makes you feel better, so you can work out and eat well.
And getting along with people as best you can make us happy because we need friends and family.
In short, we cannot choose our moods most of the time. But we can choose rightly and to live wisely, which will create happiness — a longer-term state of well-being.
P.S. If you’re really interested in the topic of happiness, read Aristotle. Just google “Aristotle happiness” and you can spend a life studying his ethics. It makes me happy.