Happiness is a Choice
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Mom and I speak by phone every day. Because we speak with such frequency, our conversations often take up a topic and carry it forward over a course of days or weeks. Lately we’ve been taking about the need to make gratitude a daily part of our lives, even when we face disappointment. Or when something we’d hoped for, doesn’t meet our expectations.
I am particularly susceptible to setting unreasonable standards and then wallowing in disappointment when my reach falls short of my goal. I blame this on two things: 1) my competitive nature, which served me well when I was a competitive swimmer, and 2) my overactive imagination, which is a wonderful trait for a writer, but also leads me to conjure unrealistic solutions to most problems.
The drawback of this mindset is that no matter what I attain, it will never be as wonderful as the fictional scenario I’ve imagined in my mind. Which leaves me in a constant state of yearning rather than contentment. A friend once described me in this state as a drunken sailor veering from what I have, to what I believe would be better.
This came up most recently as I moved into my new rental. It is perfect in size and location for me. With each passing day, I appreciate it more. Yet! When I first moved in, I made excuses to myself and friends about what I wish were different, while simultaneously extolling its advantages. I am a drunken sailor.
Which is probably why gratitude has been a recurring theme in conversations with Mom. I’ve made a pact that from now, I will focus on the glass half full, I will make gratitude a daily part of my life. If I choose to complain, I will also find the positive. I will keep doing this until the optimistic view becomes my default mindset.
I truly believe that happiness is a choice. Not in a Pollyannaish, blinders to the bad, way. But as a moment by moment, breath by breath, choice. Even in the worst circumstances, I believe that if we seek the best in ourselves and others, we gain happiness, and the courage to overcome difficult times.
This hypothesis led me to thinking about God and the purpose of free will. We rarely talk about free will and why God might have blessed us with this gift of independence. After all, not only does free will enable us to choose how we live our lives, it also means that we can and often do actively choose to reject our Creator.
Why would God give us free will if it meant we could actively reject him?
Imagine the parent that watches its beloved child begin the rudimentary progress of learning to walk. At first, the child stumbles arms outstretched and the loving parent obliges by taking the child’s hand. However, if the child is to mature and become independent, it must walk on its own. The loving parent must withhold the helping hand and watch as the child falls and cries and tries again and again until it masters the simple forward gait.
Similarly, in the beginning of our walk with God, we experience the easy joy of God’s loving presence. But then God withdraws just a step or two beyond our recognition. He is of course still there, always omnipresent, but like the child we reach for his hand and find it out of reach. And then we begin to stumble forward on our own, feeling alone and bereft.
But of course, we are not. Our watchful Heavenly Father is just there, a step away, waiting for us to come forward. Just as the child must overcome his fear, to mature and become an adult, we must overcome our sense of isolation to grow into spiritual adulthood.
Which leads me full circle to where I began. Happiness is a choice. So is a relationship with God. As we choose happiness moment by moment, so too we must choose to pursue our relationship with God each day, anew.
That is the gift of free will. God leaves it up to us to decide. Not once a week on Sunday, but every minute of each day God asks, “Will you choose me?”
Will a relationship with God be a choice we pursue each day? Because we have free will, the choice is entirely ours.