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Is Happiness a Choice?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years talking about the content I consume. I’m fascinated by how the media which I listen to, watch, or read, can affect my mood for days or even weeks afterward. Sometimes, I even quit TV shows I love, (I’m looking at you Mr. Robot) because it hits too close to home and stirs up too many negative emotions.

Years ago, I conducted an experiment regarding my commute home from work. My hour-long drive was stressful and left me exhausted and frustrated by the time I arrived home. I decided instead of listening to 90’s music or podcasts, I’d substitute it with classical. I did this for over a month and monitored my emotions when I got home, and it was astonishing what an improvement I experienced. I was more content and less anxious when I walked through the door. Sadly, I didn’t stick with listening to classical all the time, but now I know if my drive or even life is getting stressful, maybe it’s time to change up the playlist.

I’ve also witnessed this sort of response in the television and movies I consume. If I watch comedies, I tend to have a better outlook on life. If I’m watching the news or true crime documentaries, my outlook is bleak. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve eliminated true crime documentaries, the news, and any modern warfare movies for years now.

My theory is I’m sensitive to storytelling and the empathy I feel for the characters ends up mirrored back in real life.

Despite all the fantastic television being created these days, I do sometimes wonder if the lack of hope and optimism is playing a part in our world’s struggles. We’re surrounded by negativity online and when we attempt to escape it with entertainment, we’re faced with options that are dark and dreary. The traditional sitcom is on life support (I do have a feeling it will come back around again sometime) and those mid-budget comedies of the 90’s and 2000’s are no longer being made. And I’m not even sure when the last family show aired. There is not much hope found in the choices that we have.

This brings me a question that occurred to me this morning, is happiness a choice? Obviously, under extreme distress happiness is not an option, but is there something inside of, that is controllable to generate positive emotions. These emotions are easily manipulated by algorithms and storytelling, so is it possible that we could tell ourselves our own story and create happiness? Could we harness some sort of thought control in order to stimulate positive thoughts?

I understand Stoicism, Buddhism, and a ton of other ‘isms’ look at devices such as mindfulness to help control our thoughts and be less susceptible to outside influences, but I’m thinking something a bit more in your face.

For example, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, just be happy. Every morning you have an option to either be happy or not. (I’m taking mental illness out of the equation in this discussion.) My first reaction to this is negative. How dare you tell me how to live. How dare you make such generalizations about my mental wellbeing and just assume that I choose to live miserable every day. But… when I take a step back, I realize there is something to this sort of comment. People DO choose to be miserable every day. It’s where they are comfortable, it’s where they live.


I was to wake up every morning and before I poison my mind with thoughts from the internet and work, and I took a moment to mentally tell myself, “Today is going to be good. Today I will be happy and grateful. Today when it storms, I’ll open an umbrella.” Would this type of messaging help or is this some sort of New Age affirmation mumbo jumbo? Could I will myself into happiness or maybe more realistically, contentment?

I’m not sure if it’s possible, but it’s something I want to explore in the near future. Recently, I eliminated as much of the online chatter and negativity that I could. I feel like this frees up my brain for take in new messages and I want those to be more positive. Unless I can find a source of positive messaging, I may have to create it for myself. I’ll post any updates once I commit to any sort of experiment down the road.

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