People often say that happiness is a choice. But what does that mean exactly? When we look at the world and our circumstances, so much of that seems like it is out of our control. Bad things can happen to good people. Sometimes it feels like when it rains it pours. That guy just cut me off. My boss is an asshole. I got into an argument with a loved one. I’ve got a cold. My car won’t start. And maybe there are more serious complaints to add to this list. My parents got a divorce. A loved one is very ill. A friend betrayed me. And we keep wondering why me??? Why do all the bad things happen to me?!  How exactly are we to choose happiness when random, bad things can happen at any moment?

That is how I used to think of the world and my circumstances. Every bad thing would add to the evidence file that the world was just not treating me fairly. I mean, I knew that life wasn’t fair, but it seemed especially unfair to me the way I saw things. So how exactly did I change this?

THE SHIFT

If you read my previous post, then you know I struggled with depression for a time in my life. During that time, my husband and I moved to Europe so I could attend graduate school and we had no health insurance. No health insurance meant no anti-depressants. I was forced to feel the full range of emotions the anti-depressants had been dulling for me. While this actually ended up being one of the biggest hidden blessings of my life, it was definitely not pretty at first. Especially navigating these emotions while simultaneously trying to learn about living in a new culture. Kinda messy.

Being forced to face all my problems with no buffer, eventually it became clear that  I was faced with a choice. I had to do something about my state of mind that didn’t involve drugs, or risk spiraling out of control. I made a decision that I HAD to change.

I read the book Pschocybernetics, which I hardly remember the content anymore, except that it explained to me in a very rational way that happiness is indeed a choice. And that you can make a choice to cultivate positivity in your life.

I remember thinking to myself, “how is being positive going to change things for me when I don’t even believe these positive thoughts”? But, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I started saying one positive thing a day to myself. And surprisingly, despite my doubt, after a while I actually started to believe the positive things I was saying! My view of the world and myself slowly changed.

I guess this is why people always say, fake it until you make it. Because that shit actually works.

THE EXPLANATION

I cannot express to you how much this one practice fundamentally changed my life. Little did I know that day when I made the decision to do something about the way I was feeling and force myself to think differently that I was making a much larger life choice.  As very wise person once said, “the most important decision we ever make is whether we believe we live in a friendly universe or a hostile universe”.

It’s only now, eight years later, that I’m beginning to understand what an important choice this is. This one choice will determine how happy you are on a day to day basis. It will determine how successful your relationships are. It will determine how much you learn. It is a core belief that is the lens through which you will view all of life’s events. Because of this, it is the one thing that has the power to determine the possibilities and therefore the destiny of your life.

Although I would like to believe that this is some mystical, magical idea, it is not. Some people would probably even say that positivity is for hippies and delusional, unrealistic people. I would argue otherwise.

You see, when we spend our lives saying “why does all the bad stuff happen to me”, “life sucks”, “I can’t do that”, we are focusing on the negative. We are choosing to believe that the universe is a hostile place that we need protection from.  Instead of seeing the possibility in less than ideal situations, we revert to protectionist, self-preservation practices. This mentality severely impacts our ability to problem solve, to grow, and to learn, which in turn limits the possible paths for our lives.

Think about it. If you’ve already made your mind up that life sucks, what motivation will you have to go out and change things to make it better? If you tell yourself negative things like “I hate my job”, then what motivation will you have to request new assignments that expand your skills to help you in the future? If you have already made up your mind that even today sucks, what motivation will you have to do things that might make it better like exercising or noticing the beautiful sunset on your drive home from work?

If we have that kind of attitude, then we are constantly waiting for external factors to make us happy. The only good days are those where the guy didn’t cut you off, your boss was nice and your car started, these are the days where everything external went our way. Or we say to ourselves, I’ll be happy when “x event” happens. Our fate lies outside of what we can control. Happiness is fleeting and unpredictable.

In my opinion, it is far more delusional and unrealistic to rely on these uncontrollable factors to determine the direction and quality of our lives.

Living this way doesn’t mean that I don’t have bad days or experience sadness and anger. Now, when I have a bad day or a bad week, I don’t beat myself up. I don’t wallow in my frustration and say why me? Instead, I look for the lesson hidden in the challenge. I allow myself to feel the emotions of the situation, but I always come back and ask, why has this challenge presented itself in my life now? Why do I feel this way and what can I learn from this? There is always a purpose and a lesson to be learned. And that is something positive indeed.

You see, when we cultivate positivity, not only do we start perceiving life’s events in a more beneficial manner, we create a foundation and belief system that allows us to start challenging all the negative beliefs we hold about ourselves. Suddenly, when you catch yourself saying “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not pretty enough”, “I’m not organized enough”, “I’m not smart enough”, there’s another voice that speaks up and says “that’s not true”! This is where the true transformative power of positivity lies. It is these beliefs that hold us back from doing the things we want in life more than anything. If you can change these beliefs, you can seriously change your destiny.

THE CHOICE

I think back to the moment where I thought “why should I think positive when I don’t feel positive”? This, my friends, is where the choice lies. The choice of what you are going to tell yourself. You just have to be aware enough to make a conscious decision to create new beliefs. By choosing to ignore my past limiting beliefs and cultivate positivity, I created space for something new in my life. I chose to believe in a purposeful and friendly universe.

Once I created that space, my mind started collecting evidence that life is good rather than unfair and bad. Amazing. I realize now that when it comes down to it, there are probably equal amounts of evidence in the world to support both beliefs –  it really just depends on what you look for.

These choices are embedded into every moment of life. The choice is yours and yours alone. Are you going to wait for someone or something to come along and make you happy? Or are you going to rely on yourself? It’s up to you.

Oh, and that wise person who said the quote about the most important decision you’ll make in your life, it wasn’t some spiritual teacher, Buddhist monk, or yogi. Yeah, that was Albert Einstein.

Tell yourself that you are awesome, even if you don’t believe it. I promise, eventually you will.

THE ACTION

It’s one thing to read this post and say, yes this makes sense to me! But, that only gets you halfway there. The real change doesn’t occur until you take action.

My tips for starting a practice of positivity (and it really is something you have to practice!):

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Yes, this is my bathroom mirror. Sorta crazy, but oh so great.

  1. Put sticky notes on your bathroom mirror with uplifting sayings. I do this and it’s a great way to start and end your day. I’ve also experimented with sticky notes in the car. Put it somewhere where you will be forced to read it often.
  2. Download a free positive quote app for your phone. I use +Quotes and Daily Quote, which both send you one quote a day. I often pick my favorite and set it as my phone’s home screen as a constant reminder.
  3. Start a gratitude practice. Don’t know what to be grateful for? You are alive and breathing for one. Every day is a new day for two. You at least have that, if nothing else. If you’re reading this you have access to technology. This list goes on and on if you look hard enough.

What do you do to cultivate positivity in your life? Share your tips in the comments!