A few months ago, I was having a heart-to-heart conversation with a friend about happiness, work and relationships. For the last few years, my mantra has been to say “I choose happiness” when things don’t go my way. Why? Because life is too short to spend it unhappy with my choices. I can keep complaining, or I can do something to change the situation and feel differently.
My change in mindset stemmed from deciding to let go of some relationships in my life that kept me feeling like I was in a constant cycle of negativity because they fed the negative thoughts and failed to reinforce or inspire positive ones. It wasn’t an overnight change, but by reflecting on my actions and my reactions, I’ve been able to make better decisions about what is healthy for me.
Letting go of those things coincided with a much-needed shift in my attitude after moving cross-country and spending the first two years feeling completely homesick and sad about leaving the people and places I loved so dearly in my rearview mirror. I spent a lot of time those first two years comparing any given thing in LA to it’s counterpart in Chicago.
“We become what we think about.” —Earl Nightengale
I had never intended to move away from Chicago—not just because my parents and my sister still lived there, but also because I LOVE Chicago. I grew up there. I spent 8 years living and working in the city after college. It’s where I attended grad school and met my husband. I made huge strides in my career there. I always imagined raising a family there. It will always be home to me. But I got a job offer that gave me a chance to start fresh in a new place, and go completely outside of my comfort zone; it was something I needed to do to grow.
Though, I wasn’t always happy in Chicago if I’m being completely open here. There’s comfort in familiarity and feeling like a big fish in a small pond. In LA, everything was new and weird and so far away thanks to traffic. I failed to look at it as an opportunity to find new familiar things, and instead wasted time comparing everything and holding my old life up on a pedestal—including the parts I wasn’t totally happy with and that I was OK with leaving behind. It wasn’t a productive way of spending my time.
“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” —Abraham Lincoln
Dealing with anxiety and depression after my grandma passed away in 2015 put me into an even more difficult spot. I wanted to grieve. I wanted to feel sad. I wanted to feel my feelings and not push them away or act like I was OK on the outside, when truthfully, I was crumbling on the inside. But having anxiety and depression means that I have to make conscious choices every day about how I face the world and how I choose to react to everything I encounter. Do I want to be angry, sad, pissed off? Of course not. (Although it’s OK to have those feelings. I just don’t believe in wallowing in them for an extended period of time.) But I still have to get out of bed every day and do things. I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And I still have bills to pay, so even if I wanted to stay in bed, I couldn’t. I have to be an adult.
When things aren’t going my way and I say that I choose happiness, it doesn’t always mean I’m actually happy about whatever it is. But it does mean that I’m actively choosing to change my attitude, or at least try to, so that I don’t feel unhappy and harbor negative feelings too often. It’s an effort to at least neutralize the negative feeling if I can.
So, if happiness is a choice, why do so many people insist on being miserable? It’s a difficult habit to change, to be sure; but it can be done. You just have to really want to change it.
Be intentional in how you choose to spend your energy because it is a choice, and nobody else can choose it for you. Your happiness doesn’t depend on other people or your circumstances. You have to decide to experience happiness.
P.S. The book in this photo is a page from Meera Lee Patel‘s “Start Where You Are: A Journal For Self-Exploration” and I highly recommend it as a way to practice mindfulness. There’s a day planner version coming out in June that’s available for pre-order, too. You can follow Meera on Instagram to see more of her gorgeous work @merelymeeralee.