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Why happiness is a choice
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I cant control a lot about my life right now, which is a lesson I seem to learn over and over again. But I can control my attitude. I can choose to be happy. - photo by Erin Stewart
I complained to my husband recently about all the things that have been going wrong in our lives. Weve essentially been homeless for three months due to home delays. Our quest for adoption has hit obstacle after obstacle. Nothing I thought would be happening is happening.

I concluded with this thought: Im just not happy right now.

As I thought about it later, I realized that I was acting as if happiness is something that happens to you a gift bestowed from on high. I have been waiting for happiness to find me or for certain things to make me happy.

So Ive been thinking a lot about my own happiness lately, and I have decided to take control of my happiness in this moment and in every moment. I also took stock of when I feel the most happy and what qualities I admire in friends who seem perpetually joyful.

Heres what I found:

1. An attitude of optimism

The people I love to be around the most are the ones who never have a bad word to say about anyone or anything. These are the people who lift me and brighten my day with their mere presence because their optimism is contagious. And then there are the people who are always complaining and always have a derogatory comment about someone else. Life is out to get them and make them miserable, so they in turn make everyone else miserable. Those people are exhausting and toxic.

Recently, Im afraid Ive become a bit of a Debbie Downer myself, always finding something to complain about. When I get caught up in these cycles of negativity, I justify myself by saying that I need to vent to my husband or to my friends because otherwise I will just hold on to my anger until I explode.

Research, however, actually shows just the opposite to be true. A study I read several years ago showed that people who vent their frustrations to a third party or to the person they are angry with actually hold on to their anger much longer. People who simply take deep breaths and move on feel angry for a shorter period.

Anyone with a 5-year-old girl who loves Elsa can tell you the secret: "Let it go!"

Of course, I'm not talking about people with clinical depression who can't just flip a switch. But for me and most of us, a dose of optimism can work wonders to help us focus on the positive and see the happiness that already exists all around us.

2. An attitude of faith

Years ago, I made a small wooden sign with the word Believe on it. This piece of wood has adorned both of my childrens nurseries and has come to represent to me the faith I have that we will one day adopt a child. I believe there is a child meant to be raised in our family, even when the path gets dark and its hard to remember why we even started down this road in the first place.

I cling to that faith. I believe.

And even though there are those moments of grief where happiness seems like too much to hope for, I can still find joy in my belief.

I believe that one day I will place that little wooden sign in my adopted childs nursery. But if not, I still believe there is a plan for my life. I can rejoice in that truth and in the knowledge that everything will be OK in the end, even if the end is drastically different than what I imagined.

3. An attitude of gratitude

Most people (including me) have a tendency to look to the future for happiness. We think if we could just have that one thing, we would be happy. I will be happy when we have another child, or a bigger house or a better job.

Gratitude is the key to being happy now with what we have now instead of always wishing for something better. No thing can make me happy in the future if I am not happy now.

Even in my worst moments, I have so much to be grateful for in my life and amazing examples in my own family of choosing to be happy every day. My husband is an elementary school principal, and he is out there every day, high-fiving a million little hands that you just know are covered in germs and who knows what else. But there he is, smiling as he does it because he wakes up every day and chooses to be happy and to make other people happy. Oh, and he uses a lot of hand sanitizer.

I also have two daughters who flood our home with happiness. Of course, my 5-year-old spends most of her waking hours thinking about rainbows and unicorns, so she really has no excuse not to be happy. She and her sister show me daily that happiness is infectious and free to give away.

They teach me that happiness is a choice that we can make every day no matter our circumstances. I cant control a lot about my life right now, which is a lesson I seem to learn over and over again. But I can control my attitude. I can choose my disposition.

Today, I choose to be happy.

What helps you choose happiness even in the dark moments of life?