Putting on My Happy Shirt Choosing happiness by the way we live BY: Troy Murphy |August 2017
Adobe Stock Images
"Happiness is a choice," we hear; the accusatory finger pointed at the sad. We are told, "If you suffer, struggle or feel sad, it’s a choice." Happiness, they explain, is a simple decision, like choosing which color of shirt to wear. I disagree. Moods don’t always change by simply declaring, "Today I am going to be happy." Our moods and our emotions have evolutionary purposes—survival implications. We can, to a certain degree, manipulate emotions through mind games, discounting biological warnings, dismissing guilt, and convincing ourselves wrong is right. Defense mechanisms, an unconscious version of this process, do just that—change the perspective to soothe disruptions. Emotions guide behavior in response to experience and being happy all the time disrupts that purpose.
Scientists during a 1954 experiment stumbled on an interesting finding. They implanted electrodes on the medial forebrain bundle of rats, hooking the connection to a small pressing bar enabling the animals to stimulate themselves. By pressing the bar, the rats stimulated a pleasure center in the brain. Stimulating pleasure too precedence over all other activities. The rats would press the bar to excess, foregoing food or sex. The implanted electrodes bypassed normal emotional drives, creating pleasure, but interfering with normal survival behaviors. (John C. Eccles, Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self, publisher: Routledge, London 1989)
Severe drug addictions may also create the same disruption. The intoxicated state relieves anxiety but also inhibits escape behaviors, ultimately, creating more problems than the momentary pleasures solved. Living requires exposure to adverse happenings. We grow through the challenges, disappointments and losses. We shouldn’t hide from the world, convince ourselves to smile, and glory in some apathetic sleep of happiness.
I agree, happiness is a choice, not a choice on how to feel but in how to live; similar to choosing to be intelligent. We don’t gain knowledge without choosing activities that educate. We must gain knowledge through reading, attending school, and engaging in challenging discussions. We become educated. We can fain knowledge by limiting experience, avoiding explorations into unknowns, and conversing with those who always agree. We may feel smart; but stupidity remains.
"Happiness is a choice, not a choice on how to feel but in how to live."
Choosing happiness, real happiness, requires more than manipulation of the emotional system. The emotions direct behaviors to escape danger and pounce on opportunities. We shouldn’t feel happy if we are doing the wrong things, violating trusts, sacrificing the future, or damaging our health. The body warns of these deviations from wisdom with guilt, shame, or sadness. We must be responsive to experience, not a happy zombie oblivious to reality.
We need to quit stimulating pleasure zones through deceptions, convincing ourselves things are alright when they are not, dodging responsibility when we are responsible, and avoiding explorations that challenge comfort zones. Instead, we should choose happiness by creating happiness, developing skills that improve our lives. Some avenues to pursue happiness may include: optimism, compassion, integrity, following passions, enthusiasm, patience, kindness, and healthy relationships. This is not an exhaustive list. Healthy behaviors, when integrated into our lives, create happiness. We must purposely work to develop a healthy environment. Slow down, quit pushing the happiness lever and make proper choices, knowing what you want, learning how to get it, and moving towards those intentions.
By making healthy choices, we choose to be happy. So yes, my dear friends, "Happiness is a choice."