Happiness is NOT a Choice. It’s a Practice.

In the late 90’s, Springwoods Elementary School would serve “Crispy Chicken on a Bun” to their students every Thursday. (Think: a poor man’s Chick-fil-a chicken sandwich). 

Crispy Chicken on a Bun was always the best day at lunch. For one, it was actually the “original chicken sandwich.” Sorry about ya, Chick-fil-a. Second, the school always seemed to pull out their best side dishes; little cups of diced pineapple or maybe a dish of apple sauce.

The students loved these lunches so much that they would begin to get excited about Thursday’s lunch… on Wednesday.

I know this because I was there. And it was awesome. On Wednesday mornings, I use to tell my mom, “The week was almost over, Mom. It’s almost the weekend!”

“How do you figure?” She wondered.

In my little head I calculated that Wednesday would be tough, until recess anyways. Then there’s Crispy Chicken on a Bun, so Thursday would be a breeze, and then Friday’s never count because everyone is in a good mood on Friday. So basically, I rationalized, there’s only one half of a “real day” of school left before the weekend.

Unbeknownst to me, my little head tapped into a powerful strategy in positive psychology: having something to look forward to. By looking forward to that little pleasure on Thursday, I would enjoy Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday so much more than I would have if it were “just another day.”

How Happiness Actually Works

A popular meme that floats around my fitness and self-development circles is that happiness is a choice. This is a nice mantra, but not totally true. It’s nice when we are in a good mood, but what about on our bad days? On days we are feeling angry or sad or jealous or frustrated? Are we simply choosing misery or are we just feeling temporarily stuck?

When we believe that happiness is a simple choice, it means that sometimes we are choosing to be miserable, which nobody would care to admit. So we become more sad about being sad or more angry about being angry. 

This mantra instills a belief that we can be happy all of the time if we simply choose to be so. But research shows that our happiness is more that a simple choice that we make. It’s the culmination of habits. It’s a lot more than a yes vs. no “You want fries with that?” decision. 

That’s my point of my chicken story above. Happiness is not a choice. It’s a result. It’s about creating small “happy habits” that you engage with on a daily or weekly basis. Happiness is not something we pursue, but rather, it’s something we become with the right practices.. 

“Again and again I therefore admonish my students in Europe and America: Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you’re going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see in the long-run – the long-run I say! – success will follow you precisely because your had forgotten to think about it.” – Viktor Frankl

Happy Habits

So you now understand that a key to happiness is Crispy Chicken on a Bun.

No, but seriously, there are other habits that you can practice too. Rather than trying to constantly “choose happiness,” we should build in weekly and daily happy habits and rituals, and we’ll find ourselves living full, happy lives. 

I consistently talk about habits that can make us happy like The Gratitude Practice, Mindfulness & Meditation, the Effects of Noise, and our Environment, but the often overlooked happiness tool has to do with those Thursday’s at Springwoods Elementary. 

Shawn Achor writes, “Even the smallest shots of positivity can give someone a serious competitive advantage.” Creating small, frequent moments of joy throughout our days and weeks has huge implications on our happiness, and therefore our lives. 

The thing with happiness is that it’s individual. Shooting hoops and Crispy Chicken on a Bun Thursday’s may not do it for you, but they certainly enhance my life. The point is to find activities to do daily, that improve the quality of your day.

Some people love meditation, others thrive with 30-minutes of free throws a day. Some people love to lift weights, others enjoy playing racquetball. Some write down things they’re grateful for, others say it out loud in the shower. 

There are habits that are shown to work: practicing skills/strengths, spending time with loved ones and friends, having something to look forward too, random acts of kindness, weekly/monthly vacations, exercise, making progress towards goals, and spending money on others. 

What you do and how you do it will take some independence and creativity. Pick 3 to start with and go from there. Who knows, you may begin to feel that weekend mood kick in on a Wednesday at recess 🙂 



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