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June, 2010:

Do People Really Choose to be Unhappy?

The following is an excerpt from a blog post by Steven Polakoff, who owns a small independent Internet software company and resides in New York City.

Do People Really Choose to be Unhappy?   The answer is yes they definitely do

BUT MOST OF US, while we may not be immediately accepting of a horrific event or change of circumstance, why we at first may live in denial, a sort of shock state that is a natural defensive act of survival, eventually most of us move forward even if we do not know what the answer is or how to get to a new place to find that answer.  And in order to be able to take those first bold steps and to keep moving, we must acknowledge we always have a choice, a chance to move to something new AND in doing so we leave behind some or all of our old selves and seek to be reborn or remake ourselves into something that works in a future world.  And I might add it is usually at this turning point, when you first decide to get up from the mud, and see if you can move forward that your truest friends can be called upon for help, where your prayers are heard, where events will move to support your intentions and sometimes from nowhere, I have heard from others, some sort of guardian angel shows up, even if it is only briefly.  (On this last point, please don’t think I am talking winged cherubs, but rather a chanced meeting with an old acquaintance or a brief encounter with a stranger who says something that set a bell off inside or even some person who for some reason comes into your life for a few months and then is gone just as suddenly.)

We set up the challenge, we make new rules, then we learn and practice new skills and then we play the new game.  In this way we are very successful because we are free, we in fact get to be the creator of our existence, of where our time here will take us and what we choose to achieve.  And if we set it up wrong, or there is an unlucky break or we ourselves made a wrong assumption about what would work for us or some other player plays unfairly and knocks us over and the umpire failed to call a foul, we can still either choose to say:

 1.      Forget about it, life is unfair, others have done me wrong and since everyone can now see how miserable I am, I am not going to take responsibility for what has happened, I am going to just play the blame game so everyone can see that “the world has done me wrong”; or

2.      We can dust ourselves off and if we are really lucky even laugh at ourselves a bit (because then you know you are ready to really give it up) and move on.  And there is no limit to the number of times you can choose this choice. You are allowed as many “do-overs” as you are willing to undertake.

Life is a great adventure or nothing at all.  Let the good times roll!!

To read the post in its entirety, go to

Emotion, Meet Responsibility

Every day in the media we read or hear that the pesticides and preservatives in our food can cause a myriad of issues such as obesity, ADHD, Autism, depression and more.  Yesterday I read a WSJ article about anti-depressants targeting serotonin to treat the problem.  Now we’re learning that serotonin is just one of many reasons for chemical imbalance that causes depression in some people.  Other studies show that the benefits of depression medication have been exaggerated, with some researchers concluding that, when it comes to mild to moderate depression, antidepressants are only slightly more effective than placebos.  And even more, some research shows that antidepressants can actually cause the symptoms that are being treated!

“Experts agree that depression involves much more than just “bad” brain chemistry.  Serotonin is just one of many factors that may play a role in the disorder.  New research points to other biological contributors to depression, including inflammation, elevated stress hormones, immune system suppression, abnormal activity in certain parts of the brain, nutritional deficiencies, and shrinking brain cells.  And these are just the biological causes of depression.  Social and psychological factors—such as loneliness, lack of exercise, poor diet, and low self-esteem—also play an enormous role in depression.”

What does all of this have to do with happiness?  I believe that we all must take responsibility for our own happiness but not by going to our favorite doctor for a “quick fix.”  We all know that some healthcare providers have a long list of drugs, many of them the latest “drug of the month” that they will prescribe – and they may even give you a free sample!  Hey, what’s not to like about that?  Plenty.

Taking responsibility for your own happiness and well being starts with awareness and leads to positive action.

How do we become consciously aware?  Slow down, watch what you are doing, saying, eating, and think.  Reality is calling.  I recently read an article on depression that referred to people who think that depression releases them from a sense of responsibility.  In other words, it gives them an excuse to hide and therefore, not take action.  One day at home feeling sorry for yourself makes it an easier place to hide.  Some used to call it a “mental health” day.  Why would anyone choose to feel down when they could feel up?

Most of the time we have a choice; the choice to be happy or not.  Some people believe they are at the mercy of their emotions.  I disagree.  Sure, we all have emotions – we’re only human.  But what we do with those emotions is totally within our control.  I can be moved to tears by a sad movie or even commercial – and also moved to tears by something happy or particularly moving.  But this doesn’t make me feel bad.  I don’t dwell in the emotion.  Remember the movie, “Broadcast News” where Holly Hunter’s character periodically has a good cry – sometimes forces herself to cry – and then she feels better?  It was an exercise for her.  It wasn’t meant to bring her down, but lift her up.

I choose to live happy by looking on the bright side of just about everything. You can do it too.  Turn every negative thought or action into a positive one.  Every time you hear a voice in your head with a negative, not nice, angry, spiteful, unkind, sad or otherwise negative vibe – recognize it for what it is, stop it, turn it around and into a positive.  Smile more; laugh as much as you can.  Laugh at yourself.  I do that sometimes.  I used to get angry with myself if I bumped into a wall which I seemed to do frequently (don’t ask) and hurt my shoulder or hip.  Now I laugh at myself.  If you’re going to spend an emotion, make it a happy one.  They cost the same and happy feels better.

Here are some ways to live happy.  Exercise, make healthy food choices (do your research on organic vs. non-organic), make friends who will be supportive of you, do some mental activity that is challenging and fun (personally I enjoy crossword puzzles), pet your dog or cat, listen to music.  Living happy does not have to be expensive.  These may seem intuitive or simplistic and perhaps not a way to take control.  It is quite the opposite actually.  The road to living happier lives starts with steps, sometime small steps.  If you do not reprogram your mind to do things that are simple and that can make a difference, your behavior will give in to stress, depressive thoughts and it will become increasingly difficult to make the changes that lead you to a happier life.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “People are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  Mr. Lincoln struggled with depression throughout his life, but he understood that he could take responsibility for his outlook.  He was a great man by almost anyone’s standards, and he made a difference.  Would he, if he stayed in his log cabin and stared at the flame?  Without help, the flame will go out.  Don’t let that be where you choose to live – choose to live happy!