Happiness Is a Choice

In 1972, psychologist Paul Eckman suggested a list of basic emotions that people feel and display. This list includes: fear, disgust, anger, surprise, happiness and sadness. He later expanded this list to include: embarrassment, excitement, contempt, shame, pride, satisfaction and amusement. Add to this is the definition of emotion by Hockenbury and Hockenbury, “An emotion is a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response.”

A life altering incident around the age of 8 made me believe that life sucked and was crappy. That incident happened to come in the form of being molested. From that point on, I was miserable and life was extremely negative; negativity ruled my thoughts, words and actions. You could ask me at any given time how my day was and I would respond with, “shitty.” 

Unconsciously I had chosen to view life negatively and it had become my motto. I did not know that one could chose to be happy and anything that looked remotely pleasant was something alien and to be avoided. I had programmed myself to experience life through an unpleasant lens and when anything happened to or around me, my bodily response was to curl my lip and respond with a nasty comment. So how could happiness be a choice?

One day in 2010 my mother asked me how I was doing and I gave her a typical grouchy response. She frowned at me and asked if I was ever happy; it took me a while to really absorb her words. It made me sad to realize the extent of my unhappiness so I replayed the day and urged myself to find one happy thing about it. Believe me this was far from easy! I finally settled on the happy fact that I had finished all of my work for the day.

Without realizing it, I began to utilize two of Susan Whitbourne’s 5 ways to get your emotions under control; which anyone can find success with a little effort. These steps are:

  1. Select the situation: Avoid the circumstances that trigger unwanted emotions
  2. Modify the situation: Accept your strengths and less than strong abilities
  3. Shift your attentional focus: Focus on your achievements rather than others people’s 
  4. Change your thoughts: Replace your thoughts that lead to unhappiness with thoughts that lead instead to joy or at least contentment
  5. Change your response: Take a moment before you react; take slow, deep breaths and reassess your emotion before responding

From that point on, I was actively using steps 4 and 5 and they made a tremendous difference! I made a conscientious decision to find at least one good thing from each day and focus on that. Without realizing it, I was making a choice to let happiness back into my life. Little by little, I learned how to present a more neutral and relaxed face to the world and myself, which helped a lot in lightening my days.

Though it’s been a lot of work to change my thought process and reactions, I have become a much happier person with effort and conscience choice. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all sunshine and light without a negative thought in the world. I’m still the same person, just a better rounded one. I still have down moments and can get irritated, but that’s normal. It’s my reaction to life and events that I’ve changed. Today I chose how I will react to situations and decided if it’s worth the energy put in to that emotion or reaction. 

Anyone can change their mindset IF they want to and regardless of their life’s situation; past or present. If you’re ready for a positive change, I encourage you to try one of Susan’s 5 steps as it’s worth it.

Until next time, discover the power of choice!

Cherry, K. (2016, June 21). What Are Emotions and the Types of Emotional Responses? verywell. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/what-are-emotions-2795178.

Whitbourne, S.K. Ph.D. (2015, February 7). 5 Ways to Get Your Unwanted Emotions Under Control. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201502/5-ways-get-your-unwanted-emotions-under-control.

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