Thursday, February 26, 2009

How come you're happy?

I've been thinking about this a lot the past month or so: is happiness a character trait or is it something learned? Is it chance or is it choice?

I think I'm a pretty happy person. I try not to focus on the negative. I laugh frequently. I smile and am fairly relaxed. Am I that way just because I'm wired to be that way or do I have a choice? I rather contend that it's both. The best I can see it (and I'm no psychologist!) three things created my happiness:

1. I think I'm wired to be positive. It's not a great effort for me to see the good in things for the most part. (I am also wired to be these things, I think: sensitive (ugh), contemplative, rational, un-creative (double ugh).)

2. I had a great, happy upbringing. Both of my parents are generally happy people, so it's the behavior I learned.

3. I choose to be. Especially in the past couple years, I have really focused on the Law of Attraction. It has caused me to have to phyically shift some negative energy to positive have definitely discovered the benefits of that!

What do you think? We've puttered about this in blogosphere here and there, but haven't dedicated a discussion to it. I'm sincerely interested in all your thoughts!

55 comments:

sis amy said...

I think happiness is a choice. We all have bumps that might make it easier to feel the negative side of things, but overall the power of the mind and positive thinking should allow one to choose to be happy. I agree that stable and happy homes and being surrounded by happy people makes it easier to feel happy. But I know that I can decide to make a bad situation happier by thinking different. I also know that I can be miserable when the mood strikes. But both I feel are my choice:):):):):)

Laura Jean said...

I definitely have an opinion on this. Generally speaking, I think people are happy by choice. I think that if you're not 'wired' to be happy, you still can choose to be happy. However, if you've been unhappy your entire life, it may not even occur to you that things could be different. Also, one truly cannot control chemical imbalances that can cause depression. You can choose to seek professional help- but if you've never been there it's hard to understand how difficult it is to do so.

Then there are life situations. Events that happen in your life can either make it very easy, or very difficult be happy. Feeling unhappy is healthy when it's situational, I think. But I think that doesn't pertain to this post, being I think your talking about life in general.

All that being said, since last night I've been trying to "re-wire" my brain to produce POSITIVE energy. I didn't realize how much of a funk I was in- I was completely lost on how to put out positive energy, which usually is not an issue for me! Yikes!

MindiJo said...

I totally agree with Amy and Laura.

Happiness is definitely a choice. However, you can't help things like depression. Actual depression. You need professional help.
Not just, "I'm so depressed, my life is so hard right now." Those kind of times, you can pull yourself up out of with positive thinking.

We all know people who dwell on all of the little things and make themselves completely miserable. When in reality, they could have a pretty decent life. If they just let themselves. Then there are the people who have so many things going on, you almost find it amazing that they can still be happy.

However, I do believe the way that you are brought up plays a major roll in all aspects of your life. That being said, if you had a bad childhood filled with different kinds of abuse: physical, emotional, alcohol, etc. It is possible to come out a completely different person. Just because you "learned" those things, doesn't mean you have to do them. You can CHOOSE to be a better person. Believe me, someone very close to me has gone through this exact scenario and come out an amazingly well rounded person.

It's all about choices. And I, also, choose to have a happy life.

Leanne said...

This really makes me think. I think I'm so happy because my life is pretty charmed right now. Healthy kids, bills that are (thus far) paid, a husband who takes great care of us...the thing is, I acknowledge that this is TODAY. Life is full of changes and challenges and I'll have my share. Absolutely. I hope I have gained the skills necessary to get through those. When I think back to the most difficult time in my life, I wonder if I was "happy" then? Probably not. I emerged happy, though. :)

Elizabeth said...

I just read an interesting book by a brain scientist (My Stroke of Insight - excellent, highly recommend it - you may never think the same way again) where she pointed out that negative emotions have a 90 second loop. If we choose to run the loop longer than 90 seconds, we are making a choice to continue feeling that emotion.

That being said, I agree that happiness is a choice, and that we are all wired for it (more so than most of us realize - same with creativity, Leanne :) . Though there are chemical imbalances that could affect this.

Leanne said...

Lib - do you think I have a chemical imbalance that affects my creativity? LOL. I think very logically and inside the box, it's hard for me to step outside of that. Perhaps that's something I can train, too...?

Elizabeth said...

Ahhhhh .. I lost my comment. :(

I think I said:

no/yes

I think that:
a) we have a narrow definition of creativity and so don't always realize where we're using it
b) we don't nurture it
c) it can be stifled (inner/outer critics, influences, expectations ..)


I have heard very good things about this book if you're looking to nurture it - but I haven't read it yet - http://www.amazon.com/12-Secrets-Highly-Creative-Women/dp/1573241415

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Mary has always refused to dwell on the obstacles that she encounters in her life. She knows her life isn't "the norm" but compensates for the bumps in the road.

(for those who don't know - Mary has a terminal condition called spinal muscle atrophy (sp). She's paralyzed from the waist down and has been in a wheelchair since age 5. She is married and has 3 darling little boys and a super husband. She lives a very full life because she chooses to be happy. Anyone who has ever known her will tell you the same thing. She's amazing.)
Shari

Anonymous said...

all of a sudden I'm paranoid abour posting Mary's last name? Can you delete it Leanne?

MindiJo said...

Hmmm. I'm really thinking this through. Leanne, you really have me thinking about this. Can you be happy when you are going through a difficult time? I mean, really honestly happy?

The hardest time in my life was when Zane's dad died. We watched him take his final breath. It was heartbreaking and forever changed me. And the fact that Zane settled all of his business after his death didn't help. It was a constant reminder in our life for a long time. Besides that, there were other issues going on that were less than happy, too. Could I say I was happy then? I'm not sure I can. And I've always been a pretty happy person, I would say. Thankfully, I was pregnant with Maddie at the time. So when I had her, we were able to feel a sense of happiness again. Although, there still were these other things try to overshadow that.

I don't know, it's hard to say. But I think a happy person will just work their way through a time like that, without it taking over all aspects of their life. And try their hardest to be happy again.

Hmmm. It's an interesting thought.

MindiJo said...

Oh. Whoops. Didn't mean to write a book here.

Leanne said...

Here is Shari's comment with the name removed:

I agree with the general opinion that we can choose to be happy. (except for the mental health issues). For those who know my dear friend Mary, there's my case and point. There have been time when I have choosen to be grumpy and tried to blame it on other factors (ie: the long winter!) and it makes me and everyone around me miserable. Although it is hard to battle, I know that I am empowered to adjust my outlook, count my blessings (over and over again), and enjoy life.

Elizabeth said...

Mindi: I believe that you can, but that it is a lifelong process to work towards. You have to decide to be happy (not "I'll be happy, as long as ..", but "I'll be happy, no matter what") and then work through everything that tries to prevent that. It really is a spiritual path. Life is what it is, all we can really change -in the moment- is what we're thinking.

Leanne said...

Wow, what a great conversation. Here are my new comments:

I think I don't mean "happy during hard times," I mean "happy in general." We all know people who are generally pleasant and happy and some who are not. That's the general term I was thinking of, so I think those of you who suggest that during hard times we may not be happy are absolutely right. But if our general attitude is good, then I consider us happy. For example: let's say that the real estate market gets worse and I have absolutely NO business this year. I'll get anxious. I'll have to make some really hard life decisions (is it time to downsize, is it time to get a 'real' job (is that even possible?)), etc. I'll have to take some serious ACTIVE decisions regarding my happiness and work hard to continue to see all the GOOD things that will be there in spite of my challenges.

Look at people like Mary (like Shari said) or Julie - who has such amazing energy even though she's smack dab in the middle of the worst crisis I can think of as a parent. She's still kind and loving and hopeful. I consider her happy, even though I'd be willing to bet she has plenty of her own moments.

Mindi - thanks for sharing that story; it's facinating.

Anonymous said...

This makes me think of my husband. His family is, in general, very pessimistic. They are always looking for the catch or what the worst will be in a situation. I grew up in a home with a very (maybe overly) positive, cheerful father and that set the tone in my family. Karl didn't know any differently, coming out of that kind of home. It was a loving home, just not a positive one. He has had to make the choice to be happy and positive, but growing up in a negative home makes that is default emotion during tough times. I play the role of cheerleader. So - it is most definitely a choice, but I would imagine most default to what they grew up with in hard times. It's learned behavior and it is hard to shake what is ingrained.

Interesting discussion, Leanne! You make me want to start blogging too. :)

Krista

Leanne said...

Libby - not sure if I care that I'm uncreative. I'm sure that I can think of areas I'd like to be more creative (new client solicitation, for example) and certainly artistically, but I'm pretty happy with my logical thought process. I like the order of things...

Definitely something I'll be exploring, though, now that I asked myself the question. :)

Leanne said...

Krista - that is facinating. I don't know Karl that well, so of course I didn't know that. I can totally see that. I know people who grew up in similar homes, but have NOT made the choice to change how they see things and are subsequently fairly unhappy people.

You SHOULD start a blog...I'd love to read it!

Anonymous said...

lately I've been feeling so happy that I almost feel guilty. things are going well right now while many friends and loved ones are struggling with lost jobs, health issues, etc. I decided that I need to remember to be thankful. Always. Certainly my turn will come. But for today, all is good. The "happy" test will come someday and I hope I can remember what today feels like so I will have the drive to work through it.
Shari

Elizabeth said...

I think you have inspired a post on creativity .. I will have to post it this evening. :)

Anonymous said...

sorry if my last comment was annoying. I feel like if someone is having a bad day and see my outburst of happiness it may be irritating. Or maybe not. I don't know. Just thought I'd cover myself. I'm not used to expressing my thoughts online. If I had a blog I'd be like, "well my last comment might be taken the wrong way", or "Let me make myself more clear". Ugh. I'll just keep blabbing on my sisters' blogs. Or not.
Shari

~ Junkyard Jennifer said...

Great conversation. I agree with all that's been said.

Having had PPD in the past (that's past tense, lest anyone have the misperception that I still do because I so freely talk about it...), anyway, having had it, I agree with Laura that sometimes you need help to be happy. But in life in general, it is a choice we each can make.

No matter the difficult trials laid before us, we can choose to be happy. Of course, there are circumstances as Mindi mentioned and plenty of other trials where we can't be happy 'for a time' but I feel that, from my own experiences, in general, if you're more optimistic it makes it a lot easier to bounce back from those life circumstances.

I'm an optimist and even though we've had our share of financial trouble this winter, with Mark out of work, along with our other trials, I am still generally 'happy' and optimistic. Not necessarily all the time or every day, but that's my choice, too, if I wish to dwell on it...! :)

When I had PPD, we also were struggling at that time, financially, and I quite literally 'couldn't handle it'. I'm 'handling' it now and still enjoying my life!

Life is full of bumps in the road, what we make of those bumps is up to us! Even in the worst circumstances, we can learn to get past and deal with them if we choose. Choose happiness. And, if you're unable to do that, choose help. That is sometimes the most difficult thing to do, as Laura said, but it is possible.

~ Junkyard Jennifer said...

Shari - Enjoy your happiness! We shouldn't ever feel 'guilty' for being happy. :)

MindiJo said...

Okay, I agree. I thought about it. You can still be a happy person during hard times. Think about it: people who are generally positive will deal with hard situations in a more positive way, right? It's the ability to know what you need to do for yourself that contributes to how happy you are, I think. Believe it or not, moving down here helped amazingly with some of our battles.

Shari: Oh, I totally get what you are saying. Not annoying at all. Sometimes, I feel guilty, also. However, I realize that there are people who wouldn't want to be in my shoes right now. Some people just feel really sorry for us that we live down here. But that's not how we look at it. Everyone's situations are so different. And we all have our trials. The ability to see past them and see our blessings is an amazing thing.

Leanne, Love this post. And the discussion. Deep thoughts.

MindiJo said...

Totally agree with JJ. Her comments appeared while I was still typing.

Laura Jean said...

Beware, Laura's got more thoughts!
I know we're talking about happiness here, and I agree in general one can choose to be happy. However, I can't help but think about the variety of emotions we feel. Why are there feelings of sadness, of anger, of disgust...if we aren't meant to feel them at some point??? I've been through A LOT of therapy (who would've guessed?!) and I learned over and over that you cannot control the emotions you feel. You cannot control if your response to something is a feeling of anger. However, how you deal with that anger is what makes you who you are. I think it's okay to feel emotions as they come to you. It's okay to be sensitive and feel offended. I even think it's okay to let you mind dwell on it as it processes it. Then at some point you have the decision: do you continue to dwell on it, or do you take action to re-focus that emotion? For example, my default negative emotion is anger. If someone says something that hurts me, I get MAD. And I usually let myself be mad. Then I either punch Mr. Balloon, or write out my thoughts. Eventually, the anger will pass. But I don't feel guilty for being angry. Emotions are meant to be felt. Honestly, one thing that bothers me are people that refuse to feel 'negative' emotions. Those who ONLY see the good in every situation. Let's be realistic- sometimes life throws us hardballs and it just plain sucks. That's okay, right?
'Kay, I'm done now. :D

Leanne said...

Really interesting, Laura. I agree. You are allowed to respond to anything however it works best for you. I think we all feel different things. For example, I get sad. Honestly, I get *angry* once every few months probably. (Unless you count the short-lived anger I get at my kids when they're not listening or something). I think I feel sadness more often. And even that is not a lingering emotion for me...although I recognize that I haven't had anything REALLY sad happen in a long time.

Elizabeth said...

Laura, I agree completely. Just because you choose to be happy does not mean that you don't feel the other emotions. It means that when another emotion comes up, you actually feel it, realize what it is, realize why it's there, process it, accept it .. Trying to push certain feelings away gets you into just as much trouble (more so, sometimes) as continuing to dwell on it does.

MindiJo said...

Bravo, Laura! That makes a lot of sense. And if they ONLY see the good in every situation, they are lying! LYING!! People who claim they are only happy are trying to convince themselves of that exact thing. Although, sometimes it does help to fake your way through it, speaking from experience. It's true- you can't help but feel other emotions every once in a while. There is nothing wrong with that.

What's irritating (to me)is when people see more of the bad than the good. And if you are pessimistic, you probaby think just the opposite.

Julie said...

Drat, somehow deleted my whole comment!

Anyway, hi! I'm back on blogs again which means we're HOME. Yay! I missed everyone.

This is a very interesting topic, Leanne. Great post! Loved reading all the comments so far.

Are you successful in life if you achieve happiness? I don't know. Maybe. I think that despite the rough stuff that is inevitable, if you find goodness or joy in each day (whether it be people, encounters, or just the little things) the feeling of happiness is a by-product or result of that. Not the goal, but the reward?

ethiopifinn said...

what an inspiration you have been here, Leanne!
just wanted to pipe in...
I LOVE the concensus we have here. We can choose how we handle our responses to each day's events, yes, I agree. I feel there is a fine line to balance it all. Even when life seems to be pushing me over the line, counting my blessings over and over again (Leanne) is what helps me see that my underlying countenence is happy. Sometimes I have to be methodical in the counting, to remind me why the happy me is the me I choose!

Julie said...

Still thinking... :)

I think happiness is both chance and choice. Gregory and Jackson are both happy little guys, despite the pain that they've felt (obviously two very different kinds). That is in their nature, I think. At some point though, doesn't it becomes your perspective on things? I realize that some experiences can make it hard to be positive and also with depression you can't snap your fingers and be happy either.

I agree with Laura's last comment. And to expand on what she said, I am a little skeptical of the perpetually peppy person! Let yourself feel whatever you're feeling, even if it's junky, and let me too. :)

Laura Jean said...

I love the last sentence of Julie's comment. See? She's an optimistic person, and she still allows herself to feel, as she says, "junky" sometimes. I try to be that way also. Optimistic, I mean, with moments of junkiness. :)

Leanne said...

Junky is an appropriate word. ;)

Leanne said...

Last year I had a good month where I was having anxiety. I've noticed that more as I'm getting older. I would feel my heart racing in the middle of the day. I'd stop in the middle of my living room and say a prayer. I'd take a deep breath and know that God heard my prayer and it would be okay. 15 minutes later I'd find myself doing the exact same thing. I think God was saying, "Seriously!? Again?! I just told you it was going to be okay." And then I'd remember that, and the anxiety would go away. I made it through the challenges that persisted then and came out of it better. But I had to sincerely PRACTICE being happy and calm. My point? Hmm...? I think that I agree that sometimes *things* overcome our general state of happiness. But like Jenny said, what is your countenance? I love that. That's that bottom layer...that base. And as long as that's solid, you can feel as junky as you want from time to time. Like others mentioned, its even IMPORTANT to feel every emotion that crosses your path.

Boy. You all have made me think today!

Julie said...

"You can't be a beacon if your light don't shine"! :)

Julie said...

Listening to the CD you made for Laura, Leanne. That song "You can't be a beacon" just came on and made me smile.

You talked about anxieties- they're so hard to overcome, aren't they? Something I struggle with as well. It does take practice to not worry. Take care!

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

(Double posted on accident)

Julie L. said...

Thanks for the morning read with my coffee, Leanne. :) Such an interesting topic.. I thought I'd throw my 2cents in as well.

I do think for the most part happiness is a choice- however I don't think that it's quite as easy as chanting, "I'm happy, I'm happy" and be truly happy- you can probably fool yourself into thinking it for a while but it will probably catch up with you. I think that to be happy you need to recognize the good and the bad, then try to adjust your life so that there isn't a lot of optional bad piling up.

Have a great weekend

~ Junkyard Jennifer said...

I love how Laura put it, about feeling every emotion! Well said.

And, I agree with Mindi, those who are 'chronically peppy' aren't being truthful to themselves or others. It's hard to relate to those who pretend life is always roses--who can't admit when things may not be going so great...

It's okay to say 'I'm having a bad day', or 'a bad time'. You can still be a happy, optimistic person even if you deal with anxiety or hard times and trials!

Like Leanne said, say a prayer, or focus on your hobbies, the things you love and you'll be happy... Sometimes it just takes a bit more work than other times.

Anonymous said...

41 posts?!? Holy smokes. Just talk about happiness and politics and you've got yourself a book. hmm... Politics AND happiness? :)
No really though, we simply do not have ONLY feelings of happiness because we are here on earth. And while we are here, things are not meant to be perfect. But we are here only for a short while and I think we all agree that it is up to us to decide that we are going to live our life happily. And deal with the other feelings as they come along and choose to get through them.
Shari
Shari

MindiJo said...

Plus, I'm also happy cuz you are my friend.

Laura Jean said...

Ditto to what Mindi said. Plus you're my sister, and that makes me happy. ...most the time...KIDDING- all the time! :D

Elizabeth said...

Just want to comment on the idea that people who are perpetually peppy aren't being truthful .. I agree with feeling all emotions, but I do not think that everyone who is always happy is fooling themselves or ignoring emotions lots of the time. Just because we think that a person's life isn't going so great, and that they can't be happy .. doesn't mean that they see it that way. They may have an entirely different perspective on it. When we say, "they can't admit that life isn't going so great", we're putting our perspective and assumptions about that situation on them. Some people are so grateful to be alive that they see everything as a blessing. Some people see events that others would see as a trial as an opportunity. Some see "perceived troubles" as blessings in disguise. ...

MindiJo said...

Still disagree. Happy people are like that. BUT happy people still aren't happy 100% of the time. And the idea that you never have an off day is ridiculous. If you have a bad day, it's okay to show it. Just so long as you aren't hurting anyone else in the process. But, those kind people who "never" have a bad day are few and far between. Most of us have a healthy attitude about what emotions we can and cannot show.

MindiJo said...

It's like the girl who tells everyone how incredible her husband and marriage are- then a week later is filing for divorce. Some people feel like they have to put on a farce. Life isn't perfect. And it's okay that it isn't. In fact, it's good. Because something good comes out of everything bad.

Laura Jean said...

Elizabeth~ I think I get what your saying, but I personally think it's healthy, for example, to mourn a loss. It is healthy, for example, be angry about restrictions on stem cell research when someone you love could be saved by the research. I think Leanne is choosing to live a life in which she STRIVES to be happy. A life where she chooses to be happy. But, trust me, Momma ain't always happy! (Sorry, Leanne, couldn't resist!)

Maybe I'm repeating others...

Oh, and Leanne, to answer your question, I happy because the sun is shining today, and because Gregory is home, and because we're seeing long lost friends tomorrow morning, and then meeting more good friends tomorrow night. I'm also happy because Davin and I are going out together tonight. And I'm happy that Jackson comes home tomorrow. And I'm happy that the house is clean. And I'm happy...eh, you get the idea! :)

Leanne said...

That's true: Momma is NOT always happy. Except when someone calls her momma. That ALWAYS makes her happy. (See me talking in third person Facebook. Really gotta stop that.) Except now that I think about it, I realize that I use third person simply to call myself Momma once in awhile, even off of FB.

All of you make me happy. No question about it. *group hug*

Leanne said...

I think true happiness is very personal. Adding to what Mindi said, people choose to or not to share their happiness with others. In the case of the woman who was happy and then divorcing, she might have known *herself* that she wasn't happy, just unwilling to share that with others. That's a whole other discussion, I think: what we choose to share with others and why. (Maybe next week?) Anyway, I'm sure, like most things, it can be put on some kind of spectrum and that your happiness can move up and down throughout your life. And the consensus seems to be that we can choose to work to be happy.

May each of you find a way to see the bright side...XOXO

~ Junkyard Jennifer said...

I was going to respond to E's comment in regards to what I'd said, but Mindi summed up my thoughts precisely!

I get where you're coming from (E) but revert to Mindi's comment for my feelings on what I meant by what I said in my previous comment. :)

Leanne, awesome conversation!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I've been busy the last couple days and now I had a chance to read this interesting post....

I can't really add much to the discussion, but I also agree that happiness is a choice. I don't ALWAYS choose happiness in each situation, but I think deep down, I am still happy. I don't know if that makes sense... One of the reasons I say that is I could be crabbing at my husband or kids and then someone else comes into the scene and I can laugh with them or have a decent conversation. So, the happiness must still be there somewhere! Life would definately be better if I always chose the "happy" way, but I haven't figured out how to perfect that yet! Give me a few more years! I do know that life is more bearable if you look at the positives rather than the negatives. But, I don't always do that either!

I also am guessing that most who responded to this are generally happy. I wonder how someone who isn't would respond. Would that person say they have NO choice?

I was waiting for the If momma ain't happy... comment as I read through these. Cause the main thing is, if she ain't...watch out! :)

Anonymous said...

Oops, I forgot to leave my name,so I guess I can claim the post above... (I just figured out that I can leave anonymously the other day, so I am not really used to this yet)

Angie

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that the unhappy person wouldn't dare to comment on this post!
Shari

Elizabeth said...

LOL, I think I got sidetracked and never made the point I was trying to make .. but I think in the end, we all generally agree.

I'm trying to imagine what I'd say to this post if I were generally unhappy, but it's such a hard thing to imagine!