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Happiness is a Choice

Rev. James Trapp quote

I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. - Dalai Lama

Admittedly, it had me scratching my head. The 17-year-old daughter of one of Hollywood’s most famous couples recently claimed her life is, in her words, “excruciatingly terrible.”

On the surface, she had everything anyone could want–a successful singing career, anything material she desired, the choice to explore whatever the world had to offer and loving parents who supported her in whatever she wanted to pursue. She even had a hit song when she was 10 years old.

Yet, she believed her life was “excruciatingly terrible.”

Thinking about her situation reinforced my realization that happiness is not the result of what happens outside of us, but something we can have regardless of external circumstances and conditions. In other words, happiness is a choice.

So how can we exercise this choice? It’s an important question to ask. While there are no definitive “how to’s” here is one five-step system to be happy:

  1. Own your own happiness. Take control of your happiness out of the hands of other people or things. While important, family members can’t make us happy, our partners can’t make us happy, nor can material things sustain true happiness. We must own our happiness and take full responsibility for bringing out the joy that lives inside us. Anything that brings us counterfeit happiness will eventually leave us dissatisfied. Happiness is an inside job.

  2. Challenge your story. The young lady who believes her life is terrible is likely tormented by the story she is telling herself and how she sees life. Oftentimes, we tell ourselves a story as if it is the truth, instead of realizing it is simply our interpretation. When we get entangled in the story, we sometimes let the narrative beat us up. We can choose to challenge the story by changing how we talk to ourselves about ourselves. We wrote the script. We can always change the dialogue.

  3. Enjoy the journey. Life is not a destination. Sometimes people delay their happiness until they reach a certain level in life—until they get that degree or promotion or get married or retire. They say, “When such and such happens, then I will be happy.” But we are here to enjoy the journey by seeing every day as valuable. Every small win is an opportunity to celebrate. We don’t have to wait! Each moment in life is a miracle. Your life is a miracle, so value it. Because if you don’t make yourself valuable, no one else will.

  4. Cultivate and deepen your relationships. While no one else can choose our happiness, relationships are important. Make relationships count. That includes our relationship with God, the Universe, the Force or whatever we want to call it. As long as we know there is something greater than ourselves (and this something keeps spewing out stars and galaxies and keeps the Earth revolving around the sun), we know we don’t have to bear the brunt of the weight of what’s going in life. We can lean on that which is changeless. Relationships also include the ones we have with ourselves. It is important to love ourselves. If we don’t, we can’t expect anyone else to respond in kind.

  5. Balance work with play. After working diligently, make sure there’s some play that balances it out. On the other hand, if all you do is play without working, you lose out on making the contribution you are here to make that will help our communities, our country and our world evolve. As one person advised me, “It’s OK to take what we do seriously, but don’t take ourselves too seriously.” Keep it light. Keep it balanced.

Or as the words in Bobby McFerrin’s song note, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

Peace and Blessings,


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