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Donna Steinhorn Headshot

Do You Choose to Live Unhappily Ever After?

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You have everything you could possibly want: a successful career, a status symbol car, a fabulous home, and the best of everything... food, clothing, travels. You're happy, right? Of course, you only have to read a celebrity magazine to know that the answer is "not necessarily."

Happiness is a choice. Yes, even for those who were born genetically grumpy, it's possible to choose to be happier. Even when things around you are falling apart, it's possible to choose to be happy. I learned that by the time I was 3 -- a lesson learned from my parents.

Now you may be thinking, "Wait a minute, happiness and unhappiness are not things I choose from the grocery shelf." (Putting aside for the moment the fact that some things off a shelf can make you happy... like chocolate.) But it's not that different. Think back to when you were a teenager. Do you recall any moments when your girlfriend or boyfriend broke up with you? I'd guess that many of you did what I did: reveled in it. Played the saddest music I could find. Sighed and replayed the relationship ending with anyone who would listen. Chose to be unhappy even when friends or my mom tried to entice me out to the mall or the ice cream parlor. Indulged in my sadness until I was ready to make a different choice.

Think about times when you or others you know chose happiness even when it doesn't appear to be warranted. Plucked it off the shelf and tried it on when there was no apparent reason to do so. Just decided to be happy. I had a client who was facing a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Happily, her cancer had been caught early, and her odds for a full recovery were high. She still had a choice on how to approach her circumstance. She could have chosen to live in fear and sadness and bemoan her fate. Instead, she chose to take control. She told me, "I can choose to focus on what might happen and lose precious moments of happiness right now. Or I can choose to find happiness and look for opportunities to practice that." Throughout her surgery and recovery, she made a concerted effort to find reasons to laugh, to find gratitude in what was in her life, and to look ahead with a positive attitude. She's doing great.

My lesson in happiness as a choice came early. I'm the only child of two Auschwitz survivors. Dad was an adult, 30, when he was taken to the camp, and he was not alone in the camp, having siblings there with him. Half of his siblings survived, along with other extended family. His property was there and waiting for him when he returned. Life was most certainly not the same, but there were friends and family and support systems available to him. While not a picture perfect life to be sure, he had many reasons to be grateful and happy.

Mom was not so "lucky." She was 16 when she was removed from her family home and placed on a train to the concentration camp in one of the first transports. She was all alone. I'll spare you the details of what occurred there, except to say that not one member of her family survived. When she returned to her hometown after liberation years later, her property had been co-oped by neighbors who threatened to kill her if she didn't leave and never return. She did. She moved to another city, started what became a successful store, and began to rebuild her life. She was 19. And then communism arrived, and she lost everything again. She had every reason to be unhappy.

In the ensuing years, my parents each made a choice, mom's a conscious one, dad's perhaps not so. My earliest memories of my mom are of her smiling. Oh, there were certainly many moments when I caught her staring off because she thought she saw someone familiar, or eyes closed remembering. But for the most part, she loved to laugh, and dance, and dote on me. She had friends who she enjoyed. She plunged into life with gusto, always encouraging me to be happy. She chose happiness when she could have reveled in all that was wrong.

Dad was a quiet man. He didn't smile much except at mom and me. He loved his brothers and family for sure, but he was an unhappy observer of life for the most part. He chose to be unhappy. Yes, he'd had a great deal of loss and adversity. But far less than my mom.

Happiness is a choice. Of course, we can't be happy all the time. There are times of grief, fear, and great loss. But it's how we deal with those times and what comes after, how we deal with the day-to-day that is the choice we can make. It may not be easy, but it is simple.

It's your option to take control... make the choice to be happy. My friend Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason, shares seven steps to choosing happiness:

  1. Take responsibility for your happiness now.
  2. Don't believe everything you think. When you have a negative thought, replace it with a positive one.
  3. Let love lead you. When sadness or anxiety shows up, ask yourself: "What is the most loving thing I can do for myself or someone else right now?"
  4. Make your cells happy. Do something active. Take a walk, go to the gym, turn on your favorite music and dance.
  5. Plug into spirit. Find a connection. Meditate. Sing.
  6. Live inspired by your soul's dreams. Find your passion and pursue it. Do it now.
  7. Surround yourself with love and support. Find people who share your values and passions.

So start now. Set the direction for your soul's GPS to happiness. Decide that you're going to be happy no matter what. Look for opportunities to practice happiness for no reason. Find reasons to laugh. Practice positive thinking. Connect to your spirit. And watch all the benefits come flowing in.

For more by Donna Steinhorn, click here.

For more GPS for the Soul, click here.

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