Happiness is a Choice

Happiness is a Choice

Two weeks ago I hiked alone in the Sequoia National Forest. It was supposed to be a simple, four mile trail around Pinecrest Lake in Northern California. My husband and I walk daily, so four miles is routine. I didn’t even bother to grab water.

The view was serene. The sun shined gently, casting cool shadows on the trail and a warm glow on the lake. Few people were out. Later in the day this serenity would be replaced by children shrieking with fun on inflatable toys and moms calling out to them for lunch or to get closer to shore. That made the morning silence more valuable, only interrupted by birds chirping, a woodpecker tapping a Redwood, a distant laugh and the faint sound of a motorboat heading out for fishing.

It was so relaxing and invigorating that somewhere I took a wrong turn. The lake disappeared and I found myself on an increasingly steep and narrow trail, all uphill.

You’d think I would’ve noticed the error sooner, but honestly, I was happy. The day was beautiful, I’m blessed with good health and I was on vacation in an area where my family used to visit every summer.

To make a long hike shorter, when I reached a high enough altitude for cell service to resume my phone rang and snapped me out of meditative state. My husband called from San Diego to ask about my trip. (He couldn’t join me due to his work.)

“I think I’m lost,” I admitted to him and laughed. Annoyance, frustration or fear never entered my mind, even when Google maps confirmed how off course I really was. With a 180 degree turn, I backtracked. 7.6 miles later, I was back at my cabin drinking a big glass of water, feeling tired, but again, happy.

“Happiness is a choice,” my late mother used to say. It’s one of two phrases that sum up the most important life lessons she taught me. (Her other lesson, by the way, was, “a good marriage is hard work.”)

Each day I find time just for feeling happiness. While on vacation, I consciously reminded myself to breathe deeply, exercise, enjoy the pine and campfire scented fresh air, relish the sunshine and appreciate the quality time with my aunt and cousins who joined me.

Happiness can seem indulgent or unreasonable in a pandemic, but I argue it’s a valuable coping mechanism that helps us move forward with energy and hope. It’s clear that hope is needed, as revealed in this months’ CDC survey that 40% of Americans polled reported the pandemic is negatively affecting their mental health.

Do you need a small source of happiness or amusement? When I have nothing, I remember The Simpson’s Movie, admittedly an unlikely source of a life lesson. Here is the relevant scene. A very disappointed young Bart tells his father, Homer, “This is the worst day of my life.”

Homer, with his accidental wisdom, responds back, “The worst day of your life, so far.”

Did that make you smile? It’s a very good point. Bad things always happen. If you are fortunate to live long enough, life will take wrong turns.

My mother reminding me to take responsibility for my own happiness helps me navigate those detours with a positive attitude, even a sense of adventure. I wish I could thank her. I’ve chosen happiness so often that for me; it’s more habit now, a habit I hope you’ll share.

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