Is happiness just a decision?

It sounds so simple. If it were just that simple then why isn’t everyone happy? All of the time?

Simple, but not easy.

Happiness needs to start from within, with training your inner voice and thoughts, the running commentary narrating our lives to us.  If this is negative then everything is framed from that point of view and it will be hard to feel happy. We need to stop the negative self-talk and reframe our thoughts. Sounds easy? No. Personally, this is a constant mission. When we first start to notice our inner voice and hear what we are saying to ourselves it can be very surprising. Noticing our inner thoughts is the first step to changing them.

“I believe that happiness can be achieved by training of the mind.”

Dalai Lama

When asked if happiness is possible for all, the Dalai Lama replied, “Yes. I believe that happiness can be achieved by training of the mind.” He went on to explain that he used the word ‘mind’ in a broader sense than speaking of a person’s thinking or intellect. He explained that by bringing about a certain inner discipline, we can undergo a transformation of our attitude, our entire outlook and approach to life. By identifying things in a person’s world that brought both happiness and unhappiness a person could then gradually work to eliminate the things that brought unhappiness and cultivate the things that brought personal happiness.

If you want to read more about teachings of the Dalai Lama about happiness you may enjoy reading the book, The Art of Happiness from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler.

Action Step:
1. Make a list or a mind map of all the things that bring you happiness?
2. How can you cultivate these things?
3. Make a list of the things currently in your life that bring you unhappiness.
4. What can be done to reduce or eliminate these?

Discipline is also considered a key factor in happiness according to Plato. Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived around 425-350 BC. He was greatly influenced by Socrates, his mentor. He writes extensively about wisdom, courage, moderation (self-discipline) and justice being key to a person’s happiness. His beliefs distilled to a basic level are that wisdom has to do with the intellect and the wise person will recognise morality and apply it to their own life. Courage meant courage to face one’s adversities and also to have the courage of your own convictions. Moderation and self-control of our desires for strong drink, sex, food etc is key to having a good character and also happiness. Justice too was part of having a good character in Plato’s opinion. The just person has a healthy soul, in which reason rules the appetites and our desire for honour. The just person is fulfilled, at peace, and truly happy.

Plato’s ideas are considered to have been part of the creation of Western philosophy and religion and his books and writings have never been out of print

Will Smith also tells us self-discipline is akin to self-love and key to success and happiness. He has been quoted extensively.

Click below to hear his full motivational speech on the subject.

“You cannot win the war against the world if you can’t win the war against your own mind.”

Will Smith

Exercising self-discipline does give you a sense of being in control. Well, truly, control over yourself is all you will ever have the power to control. Living up to your own expectations and working towards long-term goals and aspirations can bring you happiness. Doing this by having the self-discipline to not give into the short-term desires and pleasures will keep you on track and give you a good sense of satisfaction and long-term happiness.

Action Step:
1. Write down your dreams and goals.
2. What things can you do that will help you reach your goals?
3. What can you do right now or today or this week that will bring you a step closer?
4. Can you commit to doing this thing and giving yourself this gift?
5. When will you start?

But the idea of always having to exercise self-discipline certainly doesn’t sound happy. In fact, it sounds pretty dour and serious.

Self-discipline needs to have a reason why. Why do you want to resist the momentary pleasure of that thing, whatever that thing is for you? Whether it is a burger, a drink, a drug or a video game or whatever is stopping you. Giving yourself a reason why gives your self-discipline purpose. But be kind to yourself. Ensure that your reason why is because you are working towards a positive goal or purpose. If you have this it will help you to find motivation when you need it.

Action step:
1. For each of your dreams and goals make a list of why you want to achieve them.
2. How will working towards the goal or achieving the dream improve your life?
3. How will it make you feel?

Personal happiness comes back to the way we view and how we frame events and situations.

Using and repeating positive affirmations are great to help us retrain our thoughts and help us see our situation in a more positive light. I also like motivational quotes and inspirational sayings. The ‘Happiness is a Decision’ Facebook and Instagram pages publish a daily thought or meditation to help us see the positive side. Even when we have the knowledge we still often need a daily reminder.

We can change our inner voice from being judgemental and grumpy us to being open and positive. It just takes practice and time and, yes, a bit of self-discipline. That is why I am always telling myself that happiness is a decision. This reminds me that I am in control and I can give myself happiness at any time.

Megan Ruffino
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