Is Happiness a Choice?

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?

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

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 presentation 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  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.

Special note: I take medical conditions such as clinical depression and anxiety into account when discussing “Is Happiness a Choice?” in my webcast. I underscore that intentional activities such as meditation, exercise, and proper nutrition will not cure mental illness, though they will help tremendously.

For example, medical research has demonstrated that exercise (an intentional activity) improves mood in individuals with anxiety and depression. And in turn, enhances personal agency and locus of control ⇐ the number one (environmental) contributor to happiness.

The Happiness Choice

  1. Celebrate your one-of-a-kind happiness. 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 to you, and only you.
  2. Embrace your freedom to choose experiences within your control (e.g., gratitude, helping others, forgiveness ), and the power to let go of what is not (e.g., the past, the opinion of others, the weather).
  3. Need help getting started? Try any or all of these 13 simple intentional activities over the course of a month, a day, or a year. The choice is yours!

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Related Post: You hold the key.

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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Celebrating Female Mentors and Visionaries.

‪Happy International Women’s Day!

I am grateful for all the women in the world who paved the way.

Including my mom. The first psychologist in the family.

A role model, mentor, and encourager. Today & Always.

Who are you grateful for today? ♥️💃‬

How do you prepare for work each day?

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

I value positivity and a sense of security in the classroom, above all else.

For it is only when students feel safe, supported, and uplifted are they motivated to learn.

Creating a harmonious classroom atmosphere happens long before the school bell rings.

Which is why my preparation for teaching psychology includes both physical and mental preparation.

Ultimately, the more relaxed and happy I am, the more calm and content my students will be.

I am grateful for every student I teach and I want to make sure that they get the best of me.

Physical Preparation for Work = Exercise

Mental Preparation for Work = Psychology

How do you prepare for your job each day?

I believe in you.

As a psychology professor (and former school psychologist), I talk about mental health issues with students every single day.

My classroom is a safe place for students to be themselves.

Which is critical when working with youth (18-24) who represent the highest proportion of individuals with mental illness.

Education helps bridge the gap between fear and freedom.

And so does an open heart. And an open mind.

I believe in my students. In their potential. In their dreams.

I believe in their ability to overcome challenge, adversity, and self-stigma.

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Students need my support and encouragement.

And an educational community that truly cares.

Because self-stigma is real. 

And often more silencing than social stigma.

Because sharing our story is one of the scariest and most liberating things we’ll ever do.

Be it about mental illness or another vulnerable part of our lives.

Which is why the best place to open up the conversation about mental illness is to meet students where they are.

These are their words.

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 Ontario student mental health helpline ⇒ Visit Good2Talk.ca

Hold the vision. Trust the process.

Create a vision for your life that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning.

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This “Why Vision Board” was created by my psychology students this past September.

Why Vision Boards in the classroom.

At the beginning of the semester, I ask my nursing students to share their reasons “why” they wanted to become a nurse. Why this program?

This simple question gives students insight into what motivates them. Something I consciously tap into throughout the school year.

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Students are enthusiastic about learning at the start of  the semester. New textbooks. Colourful notebooks. Dreams still fresh in their minds.

Illuminating lifelong dreams has the most impact midway through the school term.

This is when students truly need a boost in motivation (right about now). This is the time where I insert their original “Why” vision board into my PowerPoint lecture slides.

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 “Why Vision Board” created by a different group of students.

Halfway through the semester, students are surprised to see a photo of their own words, projected onto the big screen.

They are instantly drawn back into their reason “Why”.

An animated discussion ensues where students compare their initial motivations with their current state of mind and affairs.

Rekindling their dreams. Giving them a much needed reminder as to why they picked their program in the first place

What’s changed? What’s stayed the same. And why?

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Why Vision Board” in action!

Ultimately, their “why vision board” transports them to a higher place, well above the stresses of their exams, to a place where all their dreams began.

Boosting their motivation. Lifting them up. Multiplying their energy.

A simple why? question that works. Every single time.

Reminding them why their dreams matter.

Why school matters. Why they matter.

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Reignite instrinsic motivation in one simple step: Ask yourself “Why?” you do what you do. Every chance you get!

Related Post: What's your why?

What’s your mantra?

This is my mantra.

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This will always be my mantra.

I write it on my bathroom mirror. I post it on my refrigerator door. I tape to my office wall. I speak of it every time I teach.

These 4 simple words remind me to focus on what’s good, what’s working, what’s infinitely possible.  Even (especially) when 99 things are going wrong.

Sometimes the blessings are obvious. Sometimes they’re hidden.

But at the end of the day, if you can find one good thing in the course of a day, you have found your reason.

Sometimes it’s simply breathing.

Other times it’s the moments that take your breath away. ❤️

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What mantra lifts you?  Encourages you?  Focuses you?