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happiness doesn't just happen


Happiness doesnt just happen 

The other day, as I was enjoying one of my summer moments by the pool, I cracked open the latest issue of Psychologies magazine to read an interview with Robin Wright Penn (oddly enough I'd just watched The Princess Bride on TV which was her first starring role!). I was overjoyed when I turned to the page where the interview was and read the title "Happiness Doesn't Just Happen." Wow. That sounds like something that could be the story of my life in four words! Happiness doesn't just happen -- at least not for most people. Happiness is something you have to work at, work towards, and keep working on. For some people, happiness comes with ease. For others, like me and Wright, it's not as simple as that. In this post I'm going to highlight some of the comments Wright made in the interview (centered, in italics) and add my thoughts on them (feel free to add yours in the comments!).

Happiness Is a Choice

"The most important thing I've learned
is that happiness doesn't just happen. It's a choice...
We have to decide to make that choice every day."


Happiness, as I've written many times before, is a choice. Not only is it a choice that we have to make in general, but it's also a choice that we have to make every day. I think it's in Alcoholics Anonymous that they say, "one day at a time." I feel like this when it comes to happiness. When I think about being happy forever, or how my current happy state probably won't last, I feel overwhelmed and a bit panicky. The thought of being happy -- even in a general way -- for a long period of time feels overwhelming. I feel like I won't be able to do it, like I'm going to go back to my old, miserable, negative ways at any moment. But when I think about it as a choice that I can make today, right now, I feel better about it. I don't think about happiness long term. I think about it now. I think to myself, "Am I making the choice to be happy right now?" I'm not always making that choice (who is!?) but I try to do it more often than not. I try to live in the moment and embrace the happiness in whatever situation I am in. I take positivity one day at a time. I realize that I can choose to be happy, no matter what's happening. This doesn't mean I'm always happy, but it does mean that I always have the choice to be happy. For some, happiness and positivity come easily without much thought. For me, it must be a choice and it's so wonderful to know that every day I can choose to be happy.


Negativity Can Become a Habit

"I think negativity becomes kind of a habit.
It's easy to fall into it and, like all habits, there's something familiar about it.
I know it sounds ridiculous -- how can we be comfortable
with sadness or negativity? But we can."


I, for one, am all too familiar with the idea that negativity can become a habit. When I read Wright's statement above, I thought to myself, "Wow! That was me! I was in the habit of being negative!" As Wright says, it seems ridiculous that anyone would be comfortable with sadness or negativity, but I was. I bet there are many people that become comfortable with unhappiness. When we do something over and over again it becomes a habit, something we take comfort in (even if it's not good for us). Unhappiness and negativity can be like this. We get used to it and we keep doing it and, in some cases, it is reinforced. People know we're unhappy so they bring us their unhappiness, hoping to bond over the misery. We feed off of each others negativity, making it worse. It's sad that it has to be that way but for many people unhappiness becomes habitual. But we can break the habit. We can choose happiness and break away from the idea that we must focus on the negative. If I can do it, anyone can do it!

Being Happy is Being Generous

"Some kinds of unhappiness are very self-absorbed.
There's something narcissistic about it.
It's all about you, all about your pain.
It's so uplifting and generous when you
make the choice to give, to love, to be happy."


Never before have I thought about happiness as a way to be generous, but Wright is really on to something with this one. When you're negative or unhappy, you're sucking the life from other people. Your presence is draining, tiring. I know when I spend a lot of time with negative people, I feel unhappy afterward. I don't want them to be unhappy and I feel bad for them. I also don't want to spend all of my time talking about the negative things in their lives. Of course, everyone has bad days or bad situations and there's nothing wrong with sharing those with others. However, there's a difference between sharing a specific situation and always being unhappy. You know what I'm talking about. You know who those people are, the ones who are always complaining, always unhappy. It's hard to spend time with them because they are taking something from you when you are with them. To be happy is to give of yourself, your joy, to the world. Think about this when you're interacting with others. Are you giving or taking? Are you absorbed completely in your problems or is there a mutual dialog in your relationship? When you start thinking about happiness as a gift (and a free one at that!), you'll want to start giving it to those around you.


When I picked up the latest Psychologies magazine I knew I would find some great insights (I always do!), but I had no idea how much Wright's interview would speak to me. I was so impressed with the words she shared in her interview. She made me realize that happiness is a choice, negativity is a habit that can be broken, and unhappiness is very self-absorbed (in most cases). I really enjoyed reading her interview and learning from her and I hope you did too! Feel free to let me know what you think of these snippets from Wright's interview in the comments section below.


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Wonderful post Dani. I like especially what you wrote about appreciating happiness in the moment, rather than feeling the pressure to hold on to that state permanently - I completely relate to that. I think that was always my biggest problem in the past, expecting the happiness I was feeling to continue indefinitely, rather than seeing that it was something I had to cultivate and work on, like anything else. I would allow external things to control how I felt, rather than realising it was my choice to let these things decide how I felt. It was my choice to indulge the negativity instead of letting go. Since then, I just try to have the mindset of "I don't care what's going on around me, I'm just going to do everything I possibly can to be happy." Life of course has its ups and downs, but the more "downs" I can deal with and let go of, the happier I feel!

For me it's not about being perfect, but about being better - a little bit better, a day at a time.

Love your work, as usual! :D x

What a great post, I agree with all of it. I also agree that negativity can become a habit we fall into. I know I have in my past...and you don't realize how bad you are sucked into that pattern until someone points it out to you. That can be a wake up call.

Thanks again for the fantastic post!

I like the lat point the most...about how being happy is being generous. Like you, I've never quite thought about it that way. When your happy, you make the other people around you happy, and that's awesome! With the ripple effect, you can make the entire world a better place, just by deciding to be happy more often. How cool is that?!?! You can be totally selfish, and still make the world brighter and better for all of us.

Green Ink - Thank you! :) Yes, I think it's important to be in the moment with happiness. When I start thinking about how I have to be positive all the time, I feel overwhelmed but when I think about doing it right now, it's much easier. One positive moment at a time! Happiness is definitely something one has to work on and this isn't always easy to do, but it's SO worth it in the long run.

Dayne - Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. Negativity can definitely be a bad habit (as it was for me) but, like any habit, it can be stopped. Focusing on the positive and strive to be happier really does help.

Jay - Me too! I never thought about happiness in that way before until I read that but it's so true. There's definitely a ripple effect when it comes to emotions, so why not make those emotions happy ones? We can all spread happiness by choosing to be be positive and rid our lives of negativity!

A key to life is not to let events that happen interrupt your happiness. That means one can be happy through any change or event good or bad. One only needs to look at underdeveloped countries to see happiness and joy people with an inspite of attitude.


Great post. I think being happy is absolutely a choice. Many people chose to be miserable. I can certainly relate to that given that I've been going back and forth between the two lately because of my post grad school life and living back at my parents house.

The negativity habit is a really slippery slope. Amazingly enough it only takes about 21 days to develop a habit and if we keep complaining then we'll get into that habit. I know I did earlier in my life.

The generosity point was one of my favorites in your article. I remember eliminating toxic and negative friends because they were so draining to hang around. There were a few people in my business school class who were so negative that they literally could suck the energy out of a room when they walked into it. It made you cringe just to be around them. So I know that there is definitely something to be said for happiness as being generous.

Great post, Dani.

Appreciating happiness in the moment is it. In my experience, happiness already is, and we realize it when we stop chasing happiness.

Hi Dani, Great interview that you read! Thank you for sharing RWP's comments about happiness and your thoughts as well! I've been teaching my kids about happiness. One phrase we've learned to say to each other is "Happiness is a choice you make, every day and every moment!" I think happiness, like negativity, is a habit. We have to practice it until it's a natural part of our being! Have a great week!

I love the Princess Bride! I agree with all of the quotes, particularly the last two. Negativity is a habit, and I believe it stems from social conditioning. Think about it: media and many other intelligent people have it in their heads that if you're happy, you're an idealist, living in a fantasy and don't have a clue about 'real life' or 'the real world' (this type of thinking is thrown at me daily). I really don't feel that's the case, I believe happy people understand that we create our reality, even if it can come off as idealistic, it's just choosing to see the positive. We know that bad things happen all the time, we just choose to see the good things - not necessarily ignoring the dangers of the world, just choosing not to be caged by them.

I truly believe that by simply being happy, you give something to the world. People sense it, and it has a domino effect - you're happy, therefore it's easier to be kind to someone, and when you're kind to someone, they've had a good experience in their day, and they feel happier. It's a gift.

Tess - So true. We cannot let events interrupt our happiness. Happiness comes from within and we have the ability to have it anytime, anywhere.

Srinivas - For a lot of people (the old me included) choosing to be miserable seemed like the easy choice. Of course, it's not all that easy to be miserable in reality. I was dragging myself (and those around me) down all the time. It's so important to focus on the positive within ourselves and to surround ourselves with positive people. Those who are not positive are only going to drain our energy from us and create unhappiness in our lives.

Kaushik - I agree. Happiness already is and we have to see it and embrace what is already there. It's hard for many people to understand that happiness is not something we can chase or go after. Happiness is a choice we have to make within ourselves.

Jodi - It was a great interview! I was happy that I came across it the other day. Happiness is definitely a habit we have to practice and it's so great that you're teaching your kids that. It's taken me a long time to figure it out and it's great that they're getting an early start!

Ia - Great movie, isn't it? I agree that negative thinking is reinforced by media. We have to be aware that there are negative forces in the world, but we don't have to make them the focus of our lives. Being happy is definitely a gift you give the world. When we are happy we are giving out positive vibes to others and really impacting them in ways we might not even be aware of!

Happiness is a choice...and what I've learned is to not wait for something to almost kill you before deciding to be happy.

My cup sloshes over these days and today (in particular) I'm happier than legally allowed for a Monday...but that's my choice =)

What can I say? I'm so happy to see you writing about happiness as a choice. As an economist, of course I agree with the idea that happiness is a choice!! Life is a collection of choices and decisions. Everything you do is a choice. Not everything that happens to you is, but how you respond is. You can respond positively or negatively. The choice is yours.

Peggy - It's so great to hear that you're so happy on a Monday! :) I agree that it's much better to realize that we have a choice to be happy long before something tragic (or nearly tragic) happens to us. Now is the time to be happy!

Vi - I'm glad that this post made you happy. As you know, happiness is a choice we all can make at any time. Some times are definitely more difficult than others, but we always, always have a choice. How you respond to what happens in life is what matters.

This is a wonderful way to start a Monday morning. I loved it. Thanks for the link too!!

So many people are afraid to be happy - it is nice to see different ways to work out of that groove... and giving happiness is a wonderful thing!

I have to second what Kaushik wrote. (Wow!)
Like you, it used to be that I'd be happy for short periods, and then cycle down again (like the tide flowing in and going back out). Most recently I've had the experience of extended periods of extreme bliss, which came about only after I surrendered to everything that was. Not what I wanted, and not what I didn't want - but what was. It was being mindful of the moment, and accepting it fully --- the so-called good, bad and everything in-between. When I did that, it's like something in me shifted and I was able to surrender expectations which caused happiness to flood in and fill me permanently. Or maybe it's that, as Kaushik said, the happiness was allowed to surface and become the "norm" after I stopped trying to beckon it. Either way, I loved this post. Well put!

The Exception - I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. You're right. So many people are afraid to be happy. (I was for so long.) It does no good for anyone if you're unhappy. Happiness is a gift to yourself and to others.

Megan - Thanks for your great insights. I agree that happiness, because it is within us, is about settling into what is right now, in the present. Acceptance of ourselves, our lives, our now is what really brings about true and lasting happiness.

Hi, it is my first time here in your blog and I just want to say "Wow! You got a cool blog in here. I enjoyed reading your post." :)

I agree with you and Robin about Happiness is a choice and it take hard work to find it. I have worked on me for 20 yrs now, so I know about what you are talking about all too well.
What you are saying is true, and we can decide to be happy. Then decide to work being happy. It can be done.
I think there are more people who are happy because they work on their happiness, than people who are just born happy.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

You can't say it any better. Indeed, happiness is a choice. It is to be exercised every day especially if one has the habit of being negative.

She's never seemed really happy to me and her relationship with Sean Penn is a hot mess. I'm glad she's choosing 'happy' but sometimes you have to be all "You know what? You are just not good for me."

Grace - Thank you so much! I'm so glad you found Positively Present and that you enjoy it. :) It makes me feel great to be doing what I love (writing) and to know that other people really appreciate it. Keep coming back for more!

Giovanna - Happiness is definitely a choice (though not always the easiest one!). I agree that more often than not happy people are that way because they work on it, they choose it, rather than simply being born with a happy nature. Good point!

Evelyn - Absolutely! Especially for those who are in the habit of being negative (like I was) happiness has to be practiced every day. Like muscles, it can be built and can grow the more your exercise it!

Hayden - I agree that her relationship does seem like a hot mess (though you never really know unless you are in a relationship). I agree that if someone is in a bad situation, choosing to be happy isn't enough. You have to remove yourself from negative people. She might be happy, she might not, but she did make some great points in her interview.

I used to see my cup as half empty. I was so worried about what I didn't have instead of seeing all the beauty in my life. I can relate to Robin Wright Penn. Habits can be addicting if we keep feeding into them.

Great post and it is so true! It seeems like we all grew up with the notion that we're either happy or we're not. Most people seem to have the idea that happiness is something that just happens. As if it is beyond our control. This way of thinking is completely false. I agree with what you have written here, happiness is a choice. One that we make daily and even moment by moment.

Great Post! It is so true when you are around negative people, they suck the life of happiness out of you. It has happened to me too many times and I am working on changing that.


Karl - I was the same way -- looking at the glass as half-empty -- and that habit of negativity was definitely addicting. It's great to know we have a choice not to accept negative thinking in our lives.

Jeff - Thank you! It's definitely hard to overcome the idea that we have to be happy or unhappy people. We have a choice to be whatever kind of person we want to be. I'm just beginning to realize this now but I'm so glad that I am. Now I know that I have the choice to be happy any day, any time I want to!

Teia - Negative people definitely suck the life out of you. They bring you down and when you're the negative person you bring yourself AND others down. I'm working hard to be positive every day and to surround myself with positive people and it's making my life such a better place!

Hi Dani. "Happiness is being generous." I've found that when I am extremely happy I want to be with people and share what I have. If I happen to be alone that day and everyone I call is unavailable, those are the most disappointing days. Happiness needs to be shared.

I believe we try too hard to be happy. It is our nature to be happy but we try to attach to things in our lives as the reasons why we are happy. When those things are gone we fear loss. I also believe that we are born happy and due to life circumstances and judgments, etc. it becomes filtered, covered up and that's why some people have to "try" so hard to be happy; they don't see it right in front of them.

Her quotes were genuine nuggets of wisdom and your thoughts expounded upon them beautifully. I have no idea where that sentence came from but I thought it so I typed it. ;-)

Funny enough, though, as I was reading along I kept thinking "This doesn't keep with the title"...because the points more accurately illustrated why happiness does happen UNLESS we choose to stop allowing it (by diminishing the moment by judging it against others or the rest of our life, allowing habits to form or be retained, etc.)

I also was pleasantly surprised by the tie-in to generosity. So very true but not something I ever caught on to until now. Most times, we humans choose to focus on editing negativity rather than tipping the scales instead by sharing positivity. For example, the saying is "If you don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything at all." Why doesn't it go "If you don't have something nice to say, you aren't trying...look around you, there is beauty everywhere...comment on it!" Not short enough? Not catchy enough? Probably. But, more likely, it's because we habitually edit negativity by closing ourselves up instead of diminishing it by sharing positivity. :-)

Davina - I agree that happiness needs to be shared and isn't it such a great feeling when you share it or someone shares it with you? I also agree that we try too hard to be happy. Think about what happens when you try to force anything -- it doesn't work. You have to be happy, not force happiness.

Suzanne - I love your persistance! I really appreciate that you came back and made an effort to leave your comment because it's a great one and I'm so glad that the other readers will get a chance to see it now. I'm posting what I emailed you yesterday: love this -- For example, the saying is "If you don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything at all." Why doesn't it go "If you don't have something nice to say, you aren't trying...look around you, there is beauty everywhere...comment on it!" -- that is SUCH a good point. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we thought that way?!

Thanks Dani for another great post. I am not a negative person; however, time spent around negative people can be draining. I like being around "can do" people and those with spirit and optimism. Have a great day.

I agree. Happiness is a choice and it's a skill. It's really about motivation, skills, and feedback ... and making the most of your lessons. I'm a fan of carrying the lessons forward. Nothing beats skilled living (well, except dumb luck, but who wants to luck into their success?)

Syd - I agree that being around negative people can be really, really draining at times which is why it's best to surround yourself with positive influences (when you can). I hope your day is a great one!

J.D. - You're right about happiness being both a choice AND a skill. Happiness is something we need to work at and it's something that we can work on over time. I totally agree that nothing beats skilled living!

I'm wondering how intelligent, socially aware people can really ever be happy. There is so much suffering in the world - innocent people and animals are being killed and tortured, the earth is being misused and destroyed, and even if we all do a little bit these things continue to occur.

Sure, my little life is very easy and I'm grateful for that. I have great things in my life. But I never want to forget what is happening in other parts of the world. Even though events don't affect me personally and directly I can never be totally happy when there is so much wrongdoing and suffering amongst my fellow human beings.

I also would like to add a caveat to the Happiness is a Choice mantra - for some people who suffer from mental illness happiness is not a choice. I think it's easy to make people feel guilty for not being happy. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses can make it really impossible for a person to enjoy any aspect of life and this is really out of their control. What is in their control, though, is seeking help to treat their illness. A lot of times these diseases can be treated successfully, but we shouldn't make anyone feel badly about not being happy. We don't know what they are really experiencing.

Linda - What a great comment. Thank you! I used to feel the same way you mention in your comment -- that there's no way an intelligent person can really be happy. However, I'm finding more and more that is not the case. While I do agree that for some with mental disorders happiness is a tricky thing and perhaps, in some cases, not attainable, for those who are not suffering from serious mental conditions, being happy (or, at least, working on it, as I am trying to do) makes everything better. When I'm not drowning myself in my sorrows, I am able to do more, to contribute more to the world, and to, in fact, make myself smarter. I don't believe that being less happy makes anything better in other, less fortunate parts of the world. I personally believe that happiness has a ripple effect and you can spread it everywhere just by embracing it in your own life. In addition, I do think happiness is a state of mind and one doesn't have to have things easy, to be in great physical health, or to have wealth in order to be happy. Thanks for bringing up some great points in your comment!

Far, far too many words.

First off, that's a great pic!

My take on happiness is to accept that problems and uncertainty are part of life.

Don't resist, flow with it...

Axel - Thanks! Not sure where I found that one, but it's perfect for this post. Great point about not resisting. Going with the flow is the way to go!

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