The funny thing is that two of the most important things in every person’s life—Love and Happiness—are choices, but few people see them that way. You “fall in love”—you’re subject to the whims of your heart or cupid or God or whatever you think gives you those butterflies. Happiness is an elusive thing that only a handful of people get to experience.
Love. Love is thought of as a thing—something you fall into unexpectedly, like an open manhole or a large puddle or a…a…another thing you’d fall into unexpectedly. It’s true that you get butterflies when you’re around the person you like. That’s anxiety, not a symptom of love.
Love isn’t really a feeling. There are feelings that are associated with it, but it’s not the whole of love. Those feelings are just called caring. Love is the decision to act on those feelings. Love is a verb. It’s a series of actions to show a person that you care. Your heart may feel funny things, but your brain is saying, “Let’s show this person how much I care by doing things for them.”
If you look at the characteristics of Love—you know, love is patient, love is kind—you’ll find that those are all actions. They require effort and outward signs. Love never fails because you choose success or failure by how you show love. That’s when most people say they’ve “fallen out of love.” They’re tired of making the effort to show it—it’s become too difficult or too routine—or they didn’t really want to make such an effort in the first place. A lot of people get hurt by this reckless loving.
Happiness. Happiness is a choice just as much as deciding what color socks you’re going to wear on any given day is a choice. True, deciding to be happy may be a little more difficult to hash out, but they’re both choices, nonetheless.
There's supposedly not much of a difference between happiness and contentment. People often use the terms interchangeably. However, contentment seems to have a negative connotation. People say, "I'm content, but I'm not necessarily happy." Which is the greater state?
Happiness is something people seem to strive for. It's a goal. Just one more thing and they could be happy. But then once they get that one more thing—money, a car, a boyfriend, a baby—there's usually a new one more thing that separates them from happiness. Happiness appears to be chasing wants rather than needs, which is why it never ends. There's only so much one needs, but one can always find new things to want.
On the other hand, contentment is choosing needs over wants. Those people who look for contentment are satisfied by far smaller achievements and gains. They live day to day knowing that they're just where they ought to be. Should some small favor come their way, they're happy for it, but it doesn't define their happiness.
Contentment is often viewed as "settling." That if we settle for less than what makes us happy, we can still be classified as content. But why can't being content make us happy? Why isn't contentment the end goal?
Perhaps it's because contentment requires a certain amount of humility that not everyone is willing to submit to. Contentment isn't having everything you want and more (which is what we prescribe to happiness); it's wanting everything you have and no more. We'd enjoy our lives so much more if contentment were our goal.
Admittedly, everyone falls victim to the want cycle at one time, myself included. But you can be happy right now. You can be content right now. Happiness isn't a goal—you can be happy at any point. Happiness should be a constant feeling based on your willingness to enjoy the world around you as it is. It's not always easy, of course, but it's a choice. You can choose to be unhappy because you don't have what you want, or you can choose to be happy because you have what you need. Knowing that it's a choice, who would choose to be unhappy? Too many people, sadly.
If you know that love and happiness are choices, you can make better decisions related to both. They’re not easy choices all the time, but they are choices. It’s nice to know that you can save your heart some stress and anguish just by changing your mind.