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Happiness is a Choice

I know it is a cliché: happiness is a choice; but it’s a cliché backed by empirical evidence. In practice though, it isn’t always that easy. Speaking from my own experience it takes a lot of work to engage in the type of self-awareness needed to alter one’s mood by simply switching focus. But hear me out and you might be whistling a happier tune by the time you finish reading this…

While researching positive psychology I have seen the studies that point to a genetic predisposition to happiness. Some researchers in psychology argue that we inherit our ability to be happy and that the level to which we are able to derive satisfaction in life is significantly influenced by our genetic make-up. However, in the study Long-Running German Panel Survey Shows That Personal and Economic Choices, Not Just Genes, Matter for Happiness researchers observed 60,000 Germans over the span of 25 years, and found that levels of individual happiness actually correlated stronger with setting goals and personal choice and less on genetic factors.

In the long-term, those who value family and personal relationships seem to be happier than those who are focused on material success and/or career advancement, which strengthens the argument about happiness as a choice because personal relationships are an area where we have much better control over external outcomes. For example, we can decide to be a good friend (or not), but we cannot decide to force our company to give us a promotion.

Happiness is a Choice

So how is happiness affected based on personal choice? There are many easy ways we can influence our own behavior that will help improve your mood. One way we can increase happiness is by making a conscious effort to focus on the positive attributes of any given situation. Deciding what to focus on in any given circumstance is a personal choice, and one of the most straightforward ways to increase happiness. There are more subtle ways as well… For instance, making an effort to keep a mild and friendly pitch when we talk has shown to increase mood. In the study Speech Pitch Frequency as an Emotional State Indicator, evidence suggests that the pitch and tone of our voice reflect and affect our emotional state. Gentler tones will also maintain low stress levels in the people around us. Another example is, accordingly to the brief report Keep Smiling: Enduring Effect of Facial Expressions and Postures on Emotional Experience and Memory, the simple act of choosing to smile. Simply making an effort to smile more has been shown to have a positive effect on our well-being in numerous ways and happiness is one of them.

In short, current scientific findings are challenging that happiness is somehow outside of our control. Simply being cognizant that you have power over your emotional state, and coming to the realization that you can actively decide how you are effected by certain life events, can help increase your overall happiness in very profound ways. If you have any tactics that work for you, please share them in the comments below.