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How to Choose Happiness Even When Things Go Wrong (Compliments of an 18-Month Old)


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I want you to think back to the last time something unexpected happened that had negative consequences in your life. How did you feel?  What thoughts did those generate?  How did you act?  Did you stay in an unhappy, angry, and frustrated state or did you choose happiness instead?

Because  you can choose happiness – even when things go wrong.

What Choosing Happiness Means

There are plenty of opinions on what it means to be happy and how to choose happiness when things go badly.  Unfortunately, much of this information is bad.

Understanding How to Create Happiness

To understand what happiness is, you need to understand how your emotions and thoughts work to create your state of mind.  Your emotions create thoughts.  When you feel something, thoughts are generated about yourself, other people, and your circumstances.  This is important because your thoughts are what drive your behavior – they are what ultimately determine what you choose to do.

And let’s be honest: when crap happens, how often do you let your emotions spin out of control – even take control of you?  They bring bad negative thoughts that you have about yourself, your circumstances, and other people, and that creates a negative narrative within your brain.  Then you become reactive and say (or even do) something you later regret.

There’s no way to be (or choose) happiness in this state.  So, if you want to choose to be happier (regardless of your circumstances), then you must learn to (1) take control of your thoughts so that you don’t go straight into negativity mode, and (2) proactively pause and step back so that you don’t automatically react.

Want to gain more control of your thoughts, increase mental resilience, and thereby drastically reduce stress while increasing confidence and control?  Download 5-Minute Stress Solutions to do exactly that:


What It Means to Be Happy

Happiness has nothing to do with the amount of money you make or what you do for a living.  Nor does it have anything to do with how “successful” you’ve been within your career.  And it’s not about being “positive” when bad things happen (in fact, that’s a great way to make yourself extremely unhappy).

Happiness is about being content with who and where you are in the moment regardless of circumstances. That means that it’s internal (not something that comes from the outside).

[Recommended Reading: 5 Traits of Genuinely Happy People].

Traits of Genuinely Happy People


Because of these common misconceptions about what happiness even is (and how to choose it), many recommendations about how to choose happiness don’t work.  Things like: find a silver-lining, vent to someone (also known as complaining) and think positive thoughts.

But these typically don’t work well (or even at all).  So, what does?

My Quest to Figure Out How to Choose Happiness

I call myself a happiness warrior.  Yet I haven’t always been this way.  Once upon a time, I was what you’d call a “negative Nellie”.  I’ve talked about my transformation in two separate articles.  One that I wrote for Tiny Buddha and another one here on this blog:

[Recommended ReadingThere Once Was a Girl…].

A bear is strong and beautiful


After I realized that I had a choice and could choose happiness for myself, I worked hard to change my mindset.  Yet I still struggled.  Although the concept was simple enough, it’s not always easy to figure out how to choose happiness for yourself.

Until one day my oldest son Zachary taught me.  At the time, he was an 18-month old mini-mite.  I guess life’s biggest lessons can come from the most unexpected people.

What My 18-Month Old Taught Me About How to Choose Happiness When Things Go Wrong

When Zachary was 18 months old, we visited my Mom over Christmas (who lived in the foothills of Virginia).  The trip was LONG for an 18-month old (3 hours on an airplane and another few hours in the car).  The time from our house to my Mother’s was an entire day.  And I was worried about how Zachary would handle such a long day of travel.

The Test

Luckily, the trip to my Mom’s was fine.  The real test was on our flight back home.

There was a large and LONG storm moving through the DFW area as we were scheduled to arrive.  So, we circled North Texas for over an hour and then were diverted to a tarmac in Arkansas for many hours more.  We never made it to Dallas that nigh.  They made us get off the airplane around 1:00 in the morning and told us to come back 6 hours later finish our flight to Dallas.

The worst of it was when we were stuck in the airplane on the tarmac.  The air was off, we weren’t allowed to use the bathrooms, there was no food or drink service, and it was late.  People were angry – and many decided that if they were going to be miserable, they wanted everyone else to be right there with them.

And I had a very tired, cranky, and hungry child on my hands.

The Moment Zachary Taught Me What it Means to “Choose” Happiness

Initially, Zachary wasn’t happy.  He knew that when you land, you’re supposed to get off the airplane and didn’t understand why we were stuck there.  He also wanted to eat (but we only had a few crackers left for him).  And, although he likely didn’t realize it, he needed sleep and the conditions on the plane weren’t conducive to him sleeping.

I knew that it was a matter of time before he went into meltdown territory, especially given the mood of most of the folks around us.  So, I explained to him that we couldn’t get off, that we had no food, and that he needed to find a way to play and be happy regardless (not exactly in those words – I spoke to him in 18-month old language).

Which, of course, soon led to a tantrum. He cried.  He screamed.  But then he paused and decided to change course.

That child threw off his shoes and socks (he never liked to keep those suckers on) and walked up and down the aisle “chatting” to anyone who would speak to him for hours.  And he had FUN.

Not only that, but he made everyone around him (okay, almost everyone) happier too.

What it Really Means to Choose Happiness

That’s when it hit me.  I knew that he had chosen his happiness.  And I realized how he’d done it (and that I could do that too).  Choosing to be happy means making the choice to do what’s necessary to move through your negative emotions and feelings so that you can move beyond them.

It’s not about being positive, but about acknowledging, accepting, and dealing with how you feel, leading you to the other side (where you can start to create happiness for yourself once again).

Which is precisely what Zachary did.  He felt his emotions (sad, angry, and even anxious) – he didn’t pretend or hide them nor did he cut them short.  And then he decided to find solutions with what he had to work with.

How to Choose To Be Happy

Choosing to Be Happy Is Work

Happiness requires you to maintain it.  No one feels happy all the time (because life happens and things get you down).

But you can fight your way back and choose happiness for yourself when these things happen.  Because only YOU have control over your happiness.  No one can create it for you – and no one can control whether you’re happy or not.

Notice how I said that sometimes you have to fight your way back to happiness?  It’s work – especially for those who who fight depression, anxiety, or other mental health diseases.  But that doesn’t change the fact that no one can choose for you.

You Must Ask For and Accept Help

I want you to understand something that’s important (so please listen up).  Choosing happiness means making the hard choices you need maintain and improve upon your mental well-being.  And that often includes getting and accepting help when needed.

When you choose to be happy, you’re choosing to do whatever is necessary to deal with and process through the negative feelings and emotions you have from time to time.  This is a choice that no one else can make for you!

One final note: you can’t set a time limit on this (because you need to actually feel your emotions and process through them).  However, you don’t want to be held hostage by your negative emotions either.  Which means that it’s important to adopt a process that will help you move through your emotions and start focusing on solutions.

[Recommended ReadingHow to Take Control of Your Emotions So They Don’t Control You (a/k/a I failed and I’m so sorry)].

Hot to Control Your Emotions Title Template

3 Steps to Choosing Happiness

Here are the 3 steps to how to choose happiness for yourself (especially when things go wrong):

  • Step 1: Pause and Reflect.  This is necessary so that you don’t react in a way that you don’t want.  Pay attention to how you feel when you’re angry, frustrated, and have other negative emotions that tend to lead to reactive behavior.  And get into the habit of pausing whenever you feel this way.  Pausing and reflecting is powerful and will help you get your emotions under control.
  • Step 2: Acknowledge How You Feel.  Identify the emotions that you feel and the thoughts behind them.  Get specific and be honest.  You’ll never be able to deal with them if you don’t.
  • Step 3: Take the Time to Process Through Your Thoughts and Feelings.  This is where you allow yourself to feel whatever you’re meant to.  Don’t attach judgment to them (which typically say that your feelings aren’t valid or that you should quickly fix them).  Just let them be.  You’ll be surprised how much more quickly you can process through them when you do this.  And interestingly, they’re less likely to control you when you’ve acknowledged them than when you ignore or pretend they don’t exist.

Your Next Steps

It’s time to choose.  The next time something bad happens (that traditionally puts you out of sorts), what will you do?  

If you’re ready to take control of your emotions and not allow them to control you, then I recommend you download the free resource 5-Minute Stress Solutions.  This isn’t just a stress management guide, but also will help you (1) become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, (2) change how you relate to your thoughts, and (3) become more mentally resilient.  You’ll be less stressed, happier, and more confident + in control as a result!

Download your free resource here:


Until next time…


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Hey there!

I’m Heather Moulder, an attorney and executive coach who helps driven professionals achieve success from the inside-out (not just on paper).

Personal and professional demands can turn the best career and life into a daily grind… but it doesn’t have to feel this way.

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8 Proven Stress Management + Mindset Strategies For a Healthy Mind, Happy Life