Choose Happiness

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” –Nelson Mandela
“Avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness,” –A quote from some movie

Americans avoid discomfort: We use air conditioning because we don’t like to be too hot. There are multiple cart-return areas in the parking lot at the grocery store because we are too lazy/inconsiderate to walk our carts back to the store (and some people leave them in the middle of the lot because they can’t even be bothered to take them back to the nearest cart-return!). There are elevators, escalators, and even people-movers so we don’t have to walk the actual distance between places. We avoid tough conversations, even if we know the outcome might improve our situation. Our drive to avoid discomfort has led to countless ways we try to make our lives more comfortable, but have we accomplished our goal in so doing?

Take a moment to picture your day: What are all of the modern conveniences you utilize as part of your daily rituals to make things easier? What decisions have you made lately that really take you out of your comfort zone?

The idea that we make choices to do (or not do) something to avoid unhappiness or because of fear presented itself a couple times recently and it has been resonating with me ever since. It first came up when I was watching a movie about happiness from where one of the above quotes is derived. I don’t actually know if it is the exact quote but what I have sums up the essence nicely.

The second time was just a few days later in my yoga class when my instructor read the Nelson Mandela quote about making choices at the beginning of class. The two seem married to each other, reinforcing the other’s message. More importantly, they got me thinking about my life and how I am living it.

Every action during the day, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is a result of a choice. Will you get up or hit the snooze button? Will you have oatmeal or a smoothie? Will you tailgate the guy that cut you off or allow some space? Will you write your blog post or put it off so Melissa has to write one instead?

I have often been heard to say that our choices either take us toward health or away from it (probably another quote I heard somewhere from someone) but I wonder if really, when it comes down to it, we are making our choices out of fear or simply to avoid unhappiness. What if we analyzed each choice based on our hopes or what would make us truly happy? Let’s look at a few of my recent choices as examples:

1)  Because I now live in Estacada (or as Melissa calls it, California), when I come to work I am there for the full day. Except in rare circumstances it is not worth it to drive home between classes and training so I am in Portland from 6am-7:30pm some days. We frequently do work at New Seasons because they have free Internet and there are always groceries to buy so we don’t feel guilty about using said free Internet. Also, there are always free samples. This particular day I purchased apples and almond butter, so I was all in-the-clear to use the Internet without any guilt. However, I was also feeling especially sad about my cat who has gone missing. Conveniently, the bakery is located right next to the sitting area at this particular New Seasons. Long story short I purchased a cookie for $0.99 and ate it instead of one of my apples. No matter which measure you take, this choice took me away from health; it was money I didn’t need to spend; it was made to avoid unhappiness; and it reflected the fear I had about the worst-case scenario with Joon. This is not to say I regret eating the cookie (sometimes you just need a freaking cookie!) but it was obviously a choice that was not in alignment with my hopes and I knew was not going to make me truly happy.

This general scenario with food plays out all the time in our lives. The unfortunate circumstance is that our choices with food that are made to avoid discomfort often end up making us feel more uncomfortable – sluggish, guilty, overweight, ashamed, bloated… How would life be different if (the vast majority of) our food choices reflected our hopes and what we knew would make us truly happy?

2) I was recently asked to fill in on my friend’s Cascade Lakes Relay team. This is a run much like the Hood to Coast, but set in Central/Southern Oregon – I would be running 22+ miles over the course of 36 hours or so. My friend is a fast runner – like she wins marathons type of fast – and I know at least one other of her teammates is nearly as fast as she is. I am a competitive person and, when I sign up to do something, I don’t like to half-ass it. Now, while I whole-heartedly believe my training at POINT will ensure that I am capable of completing this race, I also know that I will not have time to put in a lot of running miles before it. To a competitive mind and an ex-competitive runner, completing the race and performing at a level I know I am capable of are very different things. The race is over my husband Josef’s birthday so I had a perfect out. Instead, I accepted the invitation, despite my fear that I would slow the team down and, in a small way, that I would misrepresent POINT. Instead, I chose to go with the knowledge that: being a part of a team makes me happy; tackling physical challenges motivates me; and all the rest of my cross-training will give me the strength to finish.

How often do we avoid doing things because we are afraid we won’t be able to do it or of how we will look doing it? Think of everything that you’ve ever been invited to do and all the things you thought have looked cool when other people do them butthen thought, “I’d never be able to do that!” What if you tried them? What if we all acted in alignment with our hopes rather than our fears?

3) A much larger decision that has been whispering in my ear for quite some time and has now become much more pressing is the decision to have a kid. Josef and I have talked and talked about it in a very non-committal way, but now that we are both 35 the choice needs to be made. The themes here are fear, hope, and happiness. Our fears are not surprising: 1) I just started a small business that requires a lot of physicality, has early mornings and late nights, and earns less money than I have ever made in my adult life; 2) we could lose the wonderful life full of freedom we have right now; 3) as I am now 35 years old I would officially be having a “high-risk” pregnancy; and 4) ultimately, I am afraid that maybe it is just societal pressure pulling me to have a kid… Maybe I don’t even want to be a mom… Maybe I do… There’s no way of knowing for sure. As with most “big” decisions, a certain amount relies on faith… on hope.

Making decisions based on your hopes can be as simple as examining the other side of the fear-coin: We hope that we will be able to financially provide all that is needed for our child; we hope that having a child will enrich our lives beyond our imaginations and leave our current way of life as just a distant memory; we hope that our child will be able to grow and thrive in this life without undue stresses; and, ultimately, we hope that we are prepared and excited for the responsibilities of parenthood so that we can live our happiest life together as a family.

It seems that making decisions based on hopes would be easy… and it is! The initial step in the process of choosing happiness is just a mental shift. That mental shift, however, is the start of a landslide. When you begin making decisions based on your hopes you realize that real, personal change has to come in order to carry out your choice; there has to be a plan. This is the hard stuff but it is also the good stuff. This is the stuff that changes the game from avoiding unhappiness to seeking true happiness.

So, what do we accomplish by avoiding unhappiness or discomfort, by choosing our actions out of fear. What do we accomplish by staying the same? The answer is nothing. We become stagnant. There is incredible potential in each of us. Imagine the pep-talk you would give your friends to try something new; to get out and grab life; to seek happiness. How different would their lives be if they made decisions based on their hopes. How would their happiness impact you? Now be your own friend and give yourself that same pep-talk. Stop avoiding unhappiness and live a life founded on things that make you truly happy.