Change your mind, change your world — isn’t that how the mantra goes? I know myself, and I can vouch that, sometimes, all it takes is one happy thought to turn my frown upside down. Granted, I’ve generally been a happy-go-lucky person from the get-go, but if you have the ability to take a bad day and make it better with a simple switch of perspective, it definitely makes you wonder whether happiness is a choice, or if some people are just born smiling. Well, according to experts, it’s a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.
Of course, happiness can, and should, be considered in the context of nature versus nurture. For instance, I personally grew up in a very loving environment where I was showered with affection, and I came across multiple smiling faces every single day. This means, according to Danielle Forshee, LLC, doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, that my positive outlook on life could likely be connected to the life experiences I’ve had thus far. The other side of this, Forshee tells Elite Daily, is that negative experiences can also determine how someone “views themselves and their circumstances.”
Take it from Ella Fitzgerald, who once said, “It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts.” Instead of harping on the negative energy you’ve piled up over the years, you always have the ability to focus your attention on the good things, the little blessings that make you smile from time to time. It can be anything from a good cup of coffee, to winning concert tickets on the radio. Knowledge is power, and knowing you can spin any negative into a positive is a really powerful thing.
Research shows that your genetics determine half of your happiness; the other half is determined by circumstances, and how you consciously react to them.
By the time you reach your late teens/early 20s, you probably have a good idea of how certain situations, atmospheres, and people make you feel. The trick is to hone in on your gut instincts and how you’d normally react, and make adjustments from there.
In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, behavioral scientist and relationship coach Clarissa Silva explains that becoming familiar with what she refers to as “your emotional default mode,” aka the feelings you fall back to in similar situations, can benefit you because you’ll be able to gauge your responses before they even have time to develop.
“If you make catastrophic predictions about things you can't control, understand that that is how you will cope with most of your circumstances,” Silva tells Elite Daily. “If you have more self-compassion, you will approach things with a higher positive regard.”
From my understanding, happiness is less of an emotional reaction, and more of a chemical one. According to Silva, happiness itself depends on your endorphin and serotonin levels — still with me? Try picturing it like a domino effect: Examining how you react emotionally to other people and situations gives you leverage to counteract negative feelings and, in a way, “rewrite your chemistry” and your “ability to create happiness as your emotional default mode.”
It might be hard to get the hang of at first, but there are ways to actively choose happiness over any negative feelings you might be experiencing.
It shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that humans have to literally work to feel happiness, considering the brain appears to almost be hardwired to cling to everything negative that may come your way. Psychology Today reports that, according to studies performed by John Cacioppo, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, the human brain "reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative." In other words, negative information tends to stay with you longer, and piques your interest more than positive information does.
So, in order to choose happiness, you have to really choose it, and focus on nothing else but the thoughts and emotions that bring you joy in the moment. The first step is being able to identify how you feel around certain people and in specific situations. From there, Forshee suggests you pay close attention to that little voice in your head.
"If you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk, it's more likely that you will experience feelings of unhappiness," she tells Elite Daily. "You need to make the conscious decision to reframe that negative self-talk into positive self-talk, which will, in turn, be more likely to help you feel happy."
Personally, I think what most people get wrong about happiness is it's something tangible that you either have, or need to work toward in order to achieve. Even though your happiness somewhat depends on your individual genetic makeup, you always have the power to choose negativity, or shut the darkness down in order to focus on the positives in life. If that's the case, why wouldn't you choose happiness?