Choosing Happiness

Happiness is largely determined by life events, often far outside locus of control, and when faced with adversities happiness can suffer. But happiness itself needs to prevail and, as much as can be controlled by you, must be a choice.

Happiness depends upon ourselves.
- Aristotle

No man is happy who does not think himself so.
- Publilius Syrus

This past March, while teaching at the St Louis (MO) County and Municipal Police Academy, I got to experience a bit of nostalgia. I wandered out to the lobby to ask a question about the set-up of our classroom and was greeted with about fifty consecutive “Good morning, sir’s!” as a line of young, eager looking, and very fit police cadets filed into the building. Althea and I had seen them in the parking lot when we arrived, listened to their excited chatter as they gathered in small groups before getting down to their day.

As the line of neophyte cops passed, I remembered the excitement I felt at beginning my police career and how happy I was to finally realize a childhood dream… at the relatively ripe old age (for rookie cops, anyway) of thirty. I thought back to my own academy days of early mornings, long runs, inspections, class after class after class… and then more classes, thousands of rounds fired on the range followed by reloading, shooting, reload again with fingers blistered and bleeding, and hours of studying for the weekly exams.

I loved every minute of it. I even learned to enjoy the running... sort of. I was happy. And when I watched the faces of the passing recruits, I could see they were happy, too.

As the last one passed and disappeared into the classroom, nostalgia gave way to a sad irony. Althea and I were there to teach a class titled Police Morale for Supervisors: It IS Your Problem; we were there to help front line bosses and police management overcome the plague of low morale – the professional, and often personal, unhappiness – so endemic in law enforcement.  

I wondered how these young officers would fare. Would their happiness and excitement at achieving a dream endure, or would it falter in the face of disappointment, disillusion, politics, or the inevitable personal failures everyone experiences but no one foresees in the early stages of a life journey? How many of them would slide from eager rookie to burned-out, cynical veteran counting the days to retirement, and how fast would the slide happen? How many of them would someday need nursing for their own morale?

I wonder, for those of you reading this article, “How is your happiness?”

Happiness is vitally important to our emotional and even physical health, and very generally is defined as someone’s emotional experience of a state of mental well-being. Exactly what it is and how it’s achieved and experienced is up to the individual; what excites one man bores another, and the specifics behind happiness are highly individualized. But people generally know when they are happy and when they are not, or at least can describe and identify that which troubles, frustrates, angers, or saddens them. They can equally identify what gives them the needed sense of well-being. What they have more trouble doing, however, is discarding (or managing/overcoming) those things that cause distress or achieving (or utilizing/maximizing the experience of) those most likely to enhance happiness.

We understand happiness is largely determined by life events, often far outside locus of control, and when faced with adversities happiness can suffer. Trust us, both Althea and I know this very well. We also understand that sadness and happiness are not mutually exclusive; sad events or circumstances can certainly be experienced – and they will be experienced - without necessarily sacrificing overall happiness. Sadness, depression, and disappointments are inevitable but should be fleeting and circumstantial. Happiness itself needs to prevail and, as much as can be controlled by you, must be a choice.

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