The Process of Choosing Happy

Shift energy by creating internal spaciousness, treating yourself gently, and knowing that it is not always easy to "just" choose to be happy.

“A simple smile. That’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate with others.”
~The Dalai Lama

It’s not always easy to just choose happiness. While social media is awash with memes and cheeky phrases encouraging us to just be happy, there’s no denying that it’s one thing to say it and a completely different thing to do it. “Just” choosing to be happy, when your whole nervous system is awash with stress hormones set in motion by your amygdala’s response signals to a past (possibly forgotten) external threat isn’t necessarily easy. 

What makes it especially challenging is when old emotions birthed from past events create habits in how your body automatically responds at the subconscious level. Now your nervous system may be more comfortable with the arc of stress it experiences, as well as the defense mechanisms your mind and body put in place to create a sense of safety. Since it becomes more comfortable with its habituation to that arc of stress, there’s little ability to switch to happiness on a dime, because your body won’t be used to the arc of happiness, as it is to the arc of stress it’s been running. This is why I believe there’s a process to choosing happiness, but I’d even challenge that phrasing ‘choosing happiness’ further.

Remember that you are an unlimited, experiential spiritual being of love, intelligence and power.

If you’ve ever had anyone tell you to “just” choose happiness, when you’re stuck in a moment of over-attachment to a negative emotion that’s been held in your nervous system, circulating itself repeatedly, you know how oversimplified, “just” can sound. You’re likely to be resistant to ‘just choosing happiness’. Moreover, the word “just” can sound like an implication that you’re not doing enough for yourself. It can also feel shaming and blaming at the same time.

You’re not a robot that can just turn your feelings off and on. Rather you’re an unlimited and experiential spiritual being of love, intelligence and power. This means you’re capable of working with your nervous system, your energy and your belief systems to train & almost trick your body into experiencing happiness. Did I really mean “trick”? Sort of.

I’m using the word ‘trick’ because the mind responds to humor, especially when we’re in a funk. Below are little mind hacks (tricks) your nervous system will respond positively to, allowing for happiness to gently replace discomfort and stress. 

You can start by creating internal spaciousness, opening up and preparing for positive emotions to arise.

The first thing we’ll do is ditch the idea of forcing yourself to ‘choose happiness’. Forcing creates internal resistance. If you are forcing yourself to choose happiness, your inner discomfort will persist that much more. Your mind noise grows louder, your body gets more tense, your mind will move deeper into negative patterns due to being forced. Isn’t that what happens internally if after hearing about your turmoil, a friend says, “You know, you can just choose to be happy.”? I mean, are you feeling like choosing happiness after hearing that? So what happens when you ditch forcing yourself to choose happiness, without needing to make your discomfort the focal point of your consciousness?

You start creating space.

Remember we haven’t limited your ability to feel your discomfort, because that’s your soul’s privilege. When you recognize something as a privilege you realize it as special. Your capacity to feel & experience discomfort is just as important (and special) as the capacity to experience its opposite of bliss & happiness. So creating space to feel discomfort, while practicing to know yourself as loved, by not forcing yourself to choose happiness is, in a way, a sacred act.

This tricks your nervous system to slow down. When your psyche is allowed to understand that its natural to feel it’s pain, grief, anger, fear, etc., the part of your brain that wants to ruminate on the details of a triggering incident begins to release its attachment to past traumas and the feelings begin to move out from your nervous system as energy leaving your solar plexus chakra, while losing its hold on your mind at the same time. When you know it’s ok and natural to feel your grief, sadness, anger, pain or whatever suffering, without needing to make those feelings mean anything negative about you or others, you’ll experience more space & a sense of relief begins to arise within you.

Shift your energy, make space, let yourself breathe...

Notice, next what your body wants to do: likely it’ll breathe and take a deeper breath than normal. This is the next little hack: taking slow deep rhythmic breaths not only slows your nervous system down, but causes the stress energy stored in the solar plexus to be expelled from within your body. Breathing to a count of  6 or 8 inhaling, holding for 3 or 4, then exhaling for 6 or 8 and holding for  3 or 4 is one breathing cycle. Practicing 7-9 cycles gives you more space and opens you up to more options.

What’s it like to try to move or shift when you have no space to budge an inch? Well, that’s what a cluttered mind that can’t access happiness is like. Stuck in a host of conflicting emotions and mind-noise, there’s no space to choose happiness. What’s it feel like to finally have internal space to work with? After breathing you’ll feel more internally spacious & have more options to shift into a more positive emotion somewhere on its way to happiness. If by now you’re feeling spacious but not sure what to move into, that’s normal as well, so it’s ok to observe and watch what arises, but if you want the last hack that triggers your body to release the happiness hormones of dopamine & serotonin, here they are. 

According to an April 13, 2020 Forbes article advising how to improve your workday mood, research from the University of Rochester indicates that “changing your body posture…can change your internal state.” They found that those in the experiment that sat up straight and crossed their arms persevered for longer when faced with solving a difficult task. In other words standing straight with your shoulders back will not only make you look more confident but will lead to you feeling more confident. Can I get a Tadasana (mountain pose) from anyone?

As well, smiling, even if you have to bite on a pencil to do it, will release dopamine into your bloodstream and shift you into a more positive mood, but a research team at the University of Cardiff in Wales was able to prove the opposite as well. When researchers administered an anxiety & depression survey to a group of 25 women, half of whom had botox injections inhibiting frown lines, it was discovered that the Botox recipients reported feeling happier & less anxious in general and it wasn’t because of cosmetic reasons since none reported feeling any more attractive. 

When you know you have options, you become more able to choose, but the best sort of happiness is that which you don’t force, contrive and manipulate your way into, it comes from the space you create within yourself and your commitment to maintain that space on a regular basis. If you need help clearing your subconscious mindspace feel free to book a session with me in the Paradise Found Reader’s Portal. I’m always happy to help!

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