advice

If I constantly tell myself I'm happy, will I become happy?

My friend tells me that happiness is a state of mind. When she wakes up every morning, she tells herself "I am happy," and she swears she actually feels a lot happier. I'm not sure how this works or if it really works at all. I want to know: is happiness a choice?

I've heard this too. If you smile even when there's nothing to smile about, or think positive thoughts when even when things aren't super, you can actually improve your mood. It's interesting, and there's some science to suggest it's real. So the short answer is: yeah, if you want to feel happier, force yourself to smile and tell yourself you're happy.


But this isn't exactly the advice I would give.


Something about willing yourself into happiness rubs me the wrong way. If there's one thing that doesn't help it's gaslighting yourself into believing that everything's peachy when it's really not. Sometimes things are genuinely crappy and unfair, and a lot of those times you could actually make changes for the better. So why not just do that?


I had a boss once who, whenever there was a problem in his company, would immediately say, "Everything's great! Everything's going to be ok!" So he rarely fixed any problems. Many employees showed they were unhappy by leaving. His company could have earned more revenue if he just got real.


I know of a woman who was once in a sexless marriage but who told herself she was happy. She had a great house, loved her garden, all those things. Turned out her marriage was loveless because her husband was into kids. One of those kids was her kid.


When you talk yourself into feeling happy, you don't tend to notice when things are genuinely not right, and you don't fix them. You run the risk of making bad decisions due to optimism bias. Your happiness can be a lie.

I prefer a realistic approach. A scientific approach.


A scientific approach starts my asking what happiness looks like, in an objective sense. For example, for me, happiness means having the time to write about decision-making. It means having friends that listen to me and really get to know me, rather than make assumptions about who I am. It means having a partner who sees the world the way I do, who has my back, and who makes me smile.


From there, you can look for evidence of whether you actually have the things you know will truly make your life great. For example... do I have time to write? Yes I do. I'm writing right now. Do my friends ask me questions about myself, and do they really hear me when I answer? Is my romantic partner there when I need him? And so on.


Then, if any of those things aren't quite right, you can make them right.


In other words, rather than choosing to feel happy, make choices that will actually make you happier.


It's not necessary to tell yourself you're happy when you're really not, and it's not useful to convince yourself everything is crappy when it's really not that bad. The best way to go is to see things the way they actually are - with all the good and the bad.


And then, embrace a positive mindset as you improve your situation. Believe that you actually can make choices that make things better.


Because most of the time, you can. You really, really can.