Is Happiness a Choice?

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The Happiness Question

Have you ever wondered why some people remain upbeat and positive despite the chaos that surrounds them while others are utterly miserable even in good times?  What explains the difference between these two groups of individuals?

Are happy people just lucky people born happy? And unhappy people born miserable?  Or is happiness a choice we make day by day, moment to moment?

The answer to this question is twofold. On one hand, 50% of happiness is predetermined by biology (e.g., inborn temperament) while the remaining 50% is influenced by life circumstances and intentional activities.

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The Happiness Formula

As stated above, research indicates that approximately 50% of happiness is genetic (e.g., temperament), 10% is life circumstances (e.g., income), and 40% is intentional activities (e.g., daily exercise, meditation, forgiveness).

Though we may have little control over genetics and/or life circumstances — we do have personal agency when it comes to intentional activities. Be it a walk around the block, gardening in the backyard, or simply relaxing by the fire.

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Being an optimist (and a positive psychologist), I tend to focus on the parts of life where I have influence. For both myself, and the people around me.

Even though you might not be the happiest (or healthiest, or richest, or most zen) person in the room, you (like me) have room (potential) to grow and expand – no matter your life circumstances or genetic make up.

The Happiness Webcast

In the webcast below, I explore the happiness formula (genetics vs. environment) in more detail. Including: 1) the developmental origins of happiness, 2) how individual differences in personality affect happiness, and 3) the paradoxical relationship between traumatic life experiences and happiness (posttraumatic growth).

Happiness Talk

Click on  Is Happiness a Choice Webcast  to learn more.
The video is in webcast format so it requires Adobe software.
It will run on your computer, but might not work on your phone.

The Happiness Choice

  1. Embrace your freedom to choose intentional activities within your control (e.g., gratitude, helping others, fitness), and the power to let go of what is not (e.g., the past, the opinion of others, the weather).
  2. Celebrate your one-of-a-kind happiness determinants. Do not compare it to your brother or your sister, or to a neighbour or a (facebook) friend. FOMO is the “thief of joy”. For what determines your happiness is unique to you, and only you.

“If positive psychology teaches us anything, it is that all of us are mixture of strengths and weaknesses. No one has it all, and no one lacks it all.”

Related Post: Happiness in One Word

Are you a highly sensitive person (HSP)?

Cherish your sensitivity. It is your superpower.

Do you experience more stress than the average person? Are you overly sensitive to external stimuli. Chances are, there is nothing wrong with you or your coping strategies.

Instead, your brain may be more sensitive to stress than the average person. You may in fact, be what Dr. Elaine Aron has coined “A Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP).

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Neurological differences found in HSP’s.

Brain scans show that HSP’s have “heightened activity in empathy-related brain regions” including the anterior insula (insular cortex), highlighted in the brain scan below.

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The intensified response of highly sensitive people (HSP) to stress is not a choice – it’s biological. HSP brains are wired differently than the average person. This fact has been clearly supported by scientific research.

Self Test: Are You Highly Sensitive?

  1. Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  2. Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  3. Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  4. Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  5. Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  6. Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  7. Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  8. When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?        

Source: HSP Self-Test                                                                                            

Harnessing HSP’s Strengths (aka Superpowers)

The main challenge for most HSP’s is to acknowledge their heightened emotional sensitivity, understand their unique emotional needs, and finally to employ distinctive strategies for coping with stress. Helpful websites and resources below –

  1. A Guide to the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) by Dr. Judith Orloff
  2. Coping Strategies for the Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Ted Zeff
  3. How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Dr. Elaine Aron
  4. Highly Sensitive People in the Workplace by Janine Ramsey
  5. With Care, You and Your Sensitivity Will Flourish by Deborah Ward

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The domino effect.

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Smile like you’re changing the world. Because you are. 🌸

We often think of changing of the world as some great big, grand gesture. Performed on stage with millions of people watching. When in fact it’s just you and me (and 7 billion others). Smiling, connecting, caring, and loving. Every moment. Every encounter. We are the dominos.

Who are you?

Self-awareness is the starting point for personal success. Until you know who you are, how will you know what truly motivates you?

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Reawaken your passion for work and life by reflecting on “Who you are“.

  • How would you describe yourself in one word?
  • What are 3 of your strengths?
  • What are 3 of your challenges?
  • When do you feel most alive?
  • What is your favourite movie? Book?
  • What is your dream job?
  • What is your dream place to live?
  • If you could have 5 minutes alone with anyone (dead or alive) who would that be? What would you ask them?
  • Do you prefer being indoors or outdoors?
  • What is (was) your favourite subject in school?
  • If you could own any car, what would it be?
  • What character trait is most important to you?
  • What makes your heart sing?
  • Do you prefer spending time alone or with people?
  • What is your favourite ice cream?
  • Are you a morning or a night person?
  • What is your favourite song? Band?
  • Finally… How do you define yourself at the very core of your existence?

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Live your dream NOW.

The stress of waiting.

The list is long when it comes to student stress. But by far, one of the greatest sources of stress is waiting!

Students are always forecasting into the future. Every single moment of student life is about waiting. Waiting for grades. Waiting for summer. Waiting for graduation.

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Forever in a day.

Students become frustrated waiting for what feels like a lifetime to practice the profession they’re in school for.

Textbook readings, class lectures, and endless exams seem miles away from actually doing their dream job.

Days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years. Time moves at a snail’s pace.

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Infinity in their minds.

For students, there are too many years before they can finally live their lifelong dream of becoming a nurse, a lawyer, a carpenter, a designer, a psychologist.

“Don’t worry, it will all be worth it in the end”. Easy for a professor to say. Challenging for a student to live. A day is infinity in a student’s mind.

(Little do they know that one day they will look back and fondly recall their college years as the best years of their lives.)

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 Bridging the (time) gap.

Listening to students lament year after year about the waiting game got me thinking (and dreaming) of a better way! Asking myself how I could bridge the (time) gap between education and profession.

My goal is to help students claim ownership of their present time. To help them live their dream job every single day. To remind them that life purpose does not require a job to be realized.

No more waiting.

Students do not have to wait a lifetime to experience their dream job. Instead, they could live the core elements of their chosen profession every single day – in so many wonderful ways. Simply by living on purpose, in present time.

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Accounting students could help their friends get a better understanding of their finances. Show their neighbours how to do their taxes.

Carpentry students could assist their family in the renovation of a kitchen.

Child and Youth care workers could volunteer at an after school program.

Nursing students could help out an elderly couple at the grocery store.

Social work students could give a seminar at a college residence about mental health.

Seniors could show first years the best spots to study on campus. Listening fully, completely to every freshman they meet.

Living your dreams. Every single day.

Using “bite size” mission statements,  I help students identify the key attributes of their dream profession.

During this exercise, students realize that “Life Purpose” is 99% about LIFE. Something they live every single day.

And that no one needs to wait one more year, one more day, or even one more moment to live life to the fullest.

Ultimately, students (and their professor) discover that Life Purpose is about following their heart, sharing their gifts, and shining their light.

One bite size dream at a time.

Related Post: Shine Your Light

You were born to thrive.

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Do not fear challenge or adversity.

Run towards it. Not away from it.

Use it consciously. As a stepping stone.

To rise up.

To propel yourself forward.

To begin again. 

For strength is ultimately built from challenge, from difficulty, from overcoming.

You were born to thrive!

Watch my video for helpful strategies on how to thrive.