Happiness is a choice. I know you’ve heard the statement before and it almost sounds a bit cliché, doesn’t it?
You might be thinking, how can I choose to be happy, when bad things happen to me? Or You don’t understand, Judith, I’m dealing with some really tough stuff!!
My relationship’s not making me happy. My job’s not going well. My life’s not how I want it to be.
None of us are helpless. No matter how tough times get, no matter how difficult, we always have the power to re-engage. We have the power to transform. We have the power to discover how to be happier.
There’s a concept known as hedonistic adaptation. It sounds like a big scientific term, but what it really means is we all have a built-in tendency to stay at steady happiness levels.
If you win the lottery, if you are involved in a terrible accident, if you get divorced, if you get a promotion—your happiness will generally return to previous levels after a certain amount of time. This time period is much shorter than you may think, too. In studies of lottery winners and amputees, one year after the event, they reported happiness levels returned to the same levels as they were prior to either the winning or the accident. A wonderful windfall and a terrible tragedy had almost no effect on their long-term happiness.
We all have a built-in tendency to return to our set happiness point.
The goal is to move the set point. Turn up your capacity. Turn it up to 11. We need to engage and grow our capacity for happiness and joy. We need to stretch our emotions to encompass and experience with whatever is headed our way. How do we do that? How can we be happier? We need to realize WE have the control over our own happiness.
Locus of Control
So why do certain people know how to be happier and others struggle? Well, it has to do with the perception of control. If you believe you’re a victim of circumstance (or of your relationships) and situations happen to you, you believe in an external locus of control.
Those who are happier realize they aren’t victims. Even when bad things happen, they’re seen as opportunities to learn and grow. These happier people choose to live boldly because they know they can’t avoid life and prevent “bad things” from happening. Life happens. They’re ready to learn and grow and roll with the punches. They realize they have an internal locus of control.
We can change our situation, we can switch jobs, break up our relationships, move across the country—but if we aren’t changing internally and addressing our internal belief system, we’re simply arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We need to make permanent change in our capacity. We need to adjust the limiting beliefs that might hold us back and strive to meet our yearnings. We need to engage in the change; dedicate ourselves to the concept of being our best.
All our life experiences offer value—our successes and our defeats.
We can choose to avoid life and limit our lives to stay within our safe bubble, but we will stagnate in the space. We won’t live full and vibrant lives.
We can feel angry or bitter and stay in a negative space. We can believe things have happened to us—people have betrayed us and life is unfair.
How many of us have said those words before? “It’s so unfair.”
It’s true. Life isn’t always fair. We can either choose to be victims, waiting for someone to rescue and save us, or we can choose to let go of helplessness and save ourselves. We can teach ourselves how to be happier, more fulfilled and more joyful!
Victims and Rescuers
Transactional analysts call the pattern of victim, persecutor and rescuer, The Drama Triangle.
The Drama Triangle is the interaction pattern where people attempt to meet interpersonal needs indirectly. Meaning, they’re trying to meet their yearnings: they’re trying to get what they need. Rather than engaging, taking responsibility and asking for what they need, they choose to play in the drama triangle, protesting, “It’s not my fault!” This isn’t real engagement; it’s pseudo-engagement.
If this victim-persecutor-rescuer pattern sounds familiar, it’s because it’s literally the plotline of every soap opera and every movie. We relate to it, because it’s giving dramatic representation of our internal process. It’s fascinating because it’s simply a dramatized version of the pattern many of us fall into.
We blame our partner for not making us happy. Or we swoop in to rescue our partner by taking any of their dissatisfaction and unrest on ourselves. We say we’re the ones to blame, then when they agree, we blame them and feel like the victim. Round and round we go.
These dramas perpetuate themselves in endless loops of dissatisfaction with no real change due to the indirect attempts to fulfill legitimate human yearnings. And, too often, they result in deteriorating relationships. The way out? Taking responsibility for…experiences. This means recognizing deeper yearnings and engaging in responsible, heartfelt communication. [Getting] at what is really going on underneath the blame and feelings of victimhood, we discover new levels of creative problem solving and positive results. –The Heart of the Fight
The deal is: no one gets more than 50% of the blame in any relationship. Romantic, work, friendship or otherwise. We each play a dynamic. One person may start an argument, while the other responds counterproductively. One person fails to communicate what they want, baits the other, nags, or argues. Then the other person retaliates and we go back and forth. It takes two to tango.
On the flip side, each person also takes 100% responsibility for happiness and satisfaction!
There it is again. You are responsible for your own happiness. Not your partner, not your parents. Not the lottery. If you want to know how to be happier, it is within you. We all have the capacity to live fuller more joyful, more engaged lives. We must reach out and grab it!
Life is only what we make of it. If we’re unhappy, then it’s on us to change it. Not in a mean way—we can’t bully or beat ourselves up for not being happier.
We can’t think, “I’m just not happy. There must be something wrong with me.” We need to empower ourselves to find our happiness. We need to discover and uncover our yearnings and then work to meet them.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl chronicles his experience as a psychologist imprisoned a Nazi concentration camp. As he pondered the meaning of existence and found the will to go on, he wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
We have a choice to step out of victimhood, no matter how dire our circumstances. We have a choice to empower ourselves to give up the thoughts and beliefs holding us back. We have a choice to let go of our defensive reactions of blaming and shifting responsibility.
If you’ve moved to the destructive side or slipped into victimhood and responsibility, right the balance. Fight the urge to blame and criticize without taking full responsibility for your experience.
In this quarter of our Year of Transformation, we’re exploring nourishment and self care. We’ll talk about overcoming limiting beliefs and taking responsibility for our happiness. Please join us for an upcoming More Life Training to learn how you can unlock your potential, and find more happiness and more joy than you ever thought possible. Learn more at The Wright Foundation.
She is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.