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Happiness is a choice. Or is it?

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Happiness is a choice, the old adage goes. But is it really? Happiness is both a precise and a vague thing. We know when we don’t have it; and we know when we do. Yet, sometimes having it or not having it sneaks up on us with startling clarity.

We sacrifice a lot in seeking happiness. Sometimes in the seeking, we find it, while sometimes, when we arrive at the destination where we think we’d find it, it eludes us.

Woman jumping on a bed because happiness is a choice

Made more difficult is that what brings people happiness is not the same for everyone. This is a delightful realization because it affirms that you are not in competition with anyone for it. Maybe you are in competition with someone for that great job, but what can happen in the end is that it can make one of you happy and the other miserable.

I’ve never been one to believe that happiness is a choice. I do believe that you have a choice to seek it out, chase it, and keep chasing it until you’re happy. Or not. The choice lies in whether you feel you deserve happiness or to convince yourself to try and live without it. The latter, which is beyond sad.

Interpreting Happiness is a Choice

I interpret the “Happiness is a choice,” mentality with the notion that people make the best of situations that are less than ideal, or that they find happiness in the small things within an unhappy situation, or that they choose to search for happiness.

Happiness is a demanding companion. You must check in to see if you still feel happiness in what you once did, or if it’s gone. It might leave you without warning, or with small hints that you were too busy or distracted to notice. You might not find it where you were sure you would. It might surprise you in the most unexpected way, in the most unexpected places, in the company of the most unexpected people.

woman sitting in a large red room

In Search of Happiness

What is the recipe for happiness?

I wish I knew exactly. Then I would choose to always be happy. I am happy now. Happiness doesn’t mean that everything in your life is going perfectly. People can be happy while there are things in their lives that need improving.

Being unhappy is difficult. Worse still, is being used to being unhappy.

We live in complicated times. But our world is beautiful, and the human spirit is beautiful too. We deserve to find happiness. Perhaps understanding it will help us find it, and live in this space.

Happiness Courses for Free

Since I am someone who loves taking courses (if my schedule allowed it, I would always be enrolled in something), I am considering taking one of the many happiness courses available through open learning. If we can learn about happiness, and I am assuming, how to be happy, then perhaps when looking at it this way, happiness is a choice.

There are a few well-loved happiness courses, online, for free from some very prestigious universities. If you can study and learn how to be happy, then perhaps it’s more true than not that happiness is a choice, and maybe you’ll discover that too.

Some of the courses below come with a certificate option, and that is not free. If you take the course and don’t need a certificate (and no work submitted either), then they are free.

red and gold striped ceiling

5 Free On-Line Courses to Teach You Happiness

  1. HarvardX: Managing Happiness

According to the edx website, this 6 weeks course is self-paced and should take about 2-3 hours per week to complete. It promises to provide information about happiness, but what’s enticing is the claim that it, “Write your ending — build happiness strategies for your work and life at any age or stage.” Not bad for a few hours a week for 6 weeks, plus it’s free. Free and Harvard don’t usually go together, so this is a good opportunity, no?

2. HarvardX: The Path to Happiness: What Chinese Philosophy Teaches us about the Good Life

Here is another course from Harvard about happiness and how to achieve it, with a different take. Confucius and 2000 years of Chinese philosophy will be taught in relation to what make us happy. It invites students to, “start on your path toward happiness.” Sounds tempting.

3. Yale: The Science of Well-Being

This popular course is taught by Dr. Laurie Santos, who also hosts “The Happiness Lab” podcast. One of the classes is titled, “Stuff that Really Makes us Happy.” According to the site, it takes about 19 hours to complete, which seems pretty fair. You can learn about happiness in less time than a typical work week? Sounds easy enough, right?

4. Indian School of Business: A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment

What’s intriguing is that most of the modules have the same title and a variation only on the punctuation (with the commas): “sin, habit and exercise,” and, “sin, habit, and exercise.” I doubt it’s a typo, so that in itself is somewhat intriguing. The course creator, Prof. Raj Raghunathan is referred to as “Dr. Happy-smarts” on the course info page.

5. University of Colorado Boulder: Thriving 101: Designing a Fulfilling Life & Career

From the syllabus, this course seems like it’s good for people either beginning their career or those needing a re-set. One of the modules is titled, “The Happiness Set-Point,” and that class seems geared towards exploring happiness.

blonde woman sitting with her feet in the water

If Happiness is a choice, I choose it.

Which of these free online courses look good to you? Let me know in the comments below which one looks good to you and if you decide to enrol in one. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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  1. Sara says:

    Great article

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