Can You Live a Happy Life Just by Choosing Happiness?

by Alli Polin on May 30, 2017

People like to say that happiness is a choice, but that’s only partly true. It’s not as simple as telling yourself, “I’m going to be happy!” and suddenly waves of happiness wash over you and your entire life is transformed. Would be nice, yes? 

Here’s the scoop: Attitude matters but happiness is an emotion, and we don’t always choose our emotions. We choose our actions and experiences, and the outcomes are emotions (like happiness, misery and a whole range in-between.)

Before you jump on me to suggest that shit happens, and it’s not something we choose, I agree. You have things happen to you that make you happy, and things happen to you that drive you to levels of frustration never before known to humankind. Still, that’s not choosing your experience, and that’s what we’re talking about. It’s a layer beyond the uncontrollable where you are driving and not only along for the ride. 

I’ve spoken to groups and worked with coaching clients for years about the concept of choosing happiness. I’ll let you in on a little secret; I don’t help them flick some hidden switch, I empower them to stop waiting and take action. That’s it. That’s choosing happiness. When we choose to do things and be with people who bring us closer to the life we most want to live, we’re choosing happiness.  

You don’t live a happy life simply by thinking happy thoughts (although positivity is a cornerstone). You create a happy life by taking action. 

Once people buy into the idea of choosing action instead of choosing an emotion, the next question I’m often asked is, “Ok, so what do I need to do?” That’s definitely a question that does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. However, over the course of my work, I’ve discovered 13 essentials to choosing a happy life. By taking action that is authentic to you, you’re honoring the life you want to lead… and choosing happiness.  

Ask yourself:

Are you taking actions that are moving you closer to the life you want, further away, or keeping you stuck, treading water, and waiting?

Yes, good things that make you feel happy can, do, and will happen to you, but why wait?

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ May 30, 2017 at 8:15 am

Hi Alli,
I smiled as I read your post. Great indication of happiness right … yes! Then I realized why I was smiling. You recount journey I took over 25 years ago when I decided to take responsibility for my own happiness (vs. blaming others.)

It was a Saturday morning after a particularly rough week at my full time job. I passed the mirror on the way to the kitchen. I stopped. I looked at my reflection and said, “Who are you kidding? It’s not everybody else. It’s you. Get busy. Figure out what you want in your life.”

Sometimes the answer is a small tweak. Other times it’s a much bigger life change to reach happiness. As you so clearly point out, you must find it yourself and others can help you once you make that decision to journey into self-awareness.

I LOVE your infographic and can see why others seek you out as a coach on their journey to self-awareness.

Kudos and bravo,


Alli Polin May 31, 2017 at 12:19 am


I love your story and appreciate that you shared it here. You took responsibility to make a change instead of hanging out on your hamster wheel 🙂 It can feel so scary and impossible. We’re on a path and change? Yes! We need to be both responsible and accountable for living the life we want and that starts with getting real about current circumstances and taking action towards the future we want to create.




Brian Smith June 1, 2017 at 9:22 am

Your happiness is a matter of choice. Great post Alli – Attitude – your attitude is 100% in your control. Only you get to decide how you want to react in any situation. Learn to react in a way that will get you what you want.


Alli Polin June 2, 2017 at 9:24 am

I’m with you 100%, Brian! We need to be mindful of the way we react and respond… it changes everything.

Many thanks!



John Bennett May 30, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Interestingly, I’ve purchased and only recently begun reading “The Future of Happiness” by Amy Blankson. For me, I am thinking there might be two sequences involving our definition of success and happiness. It might be that we make the right choices associated / aligned with our notion of success – with that success being a major source of happiness. OR it might be that we choose to align with the notion of happiness, adopting a happiness mindset – with that mindset influencing our choices made that result in success. I’m hoping that the book will shed some light on this “cause and effect” question for me.

Maybe it’s neither… Maybe neither happiness nor success can exist alone. Could it be that adopting a happiness mindset concurrently with our concept of success have to happen to both impact our choices of response to happenings as well as impact our choices in seeking that success.

Regardless, another thought-provoking blog post… With much babble from me as I am only beginning my Considerations of the certainly interconnected success and happiness!


Alli Polin May 31, 2017 at 12:22 am

I’d love to hear more about the book and your thoughts, John. I do think that we need to choose a happiness mindset. That’s not the same as choosing to feel happy but deciding that that’s the lens through which you want to see the world, your choices, and actions.

Fascinating question you pose too – can happiness or success exist alone. If you’re not happy when you get there… is it really success or a notch on some imaginary bar? You have me thinking.

Many thanks!



Sonia Harris May 30, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Love this list, Alli! Yes, I agree about taking action; being PROACTIVE, not reactive. Sometimes we make comfortable, yet unconscious choices so paying attention is necessary. Paying specific attention to what we do saves time and helps us reach our goals.


Alli Polin May 31, 2017 at 12:23 am


Absolutley! That’s it. Proactive. Whether we’re mindful or not, we ARE making choices. Why not take control of where we’re heading instead of floating along?

Appreciate your insight. Thank you!



Terri Klass May 30, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Love your list Alli and your most important point that one needs to take action to be happy.
I find that being grateful for the people in my life personally and professionally empowers me to be happy. I am very grateful for you bring in my life.
Definitely sharing! Well done info graphic!!
Thanks Alli!


Alli Polin May 31, 2017 at 12:29 am

Gratitude is a powerful positive emotion and one that helps to create a positive mindset. Been learning a lot about Positive Psychology over the past few years and it’s amazing how much control we actually have over our experience on this planet. Too bad there are so many people who will remain unhappy instead of choosing change.

PS. I too am VERY grateful for you!



LaRae Quy May 30, 2017 at 7:48 pm

Great article Alli…I’m a big believer that our attitude sets the course for how we experience life. We have the ability to choose that attitude but we are also heavily influenced by other people in our life. If they are downers, then it’s doubly hard to choose happiness. That’s why I’ve shut down quite a few negative people on Facebook…I can’t and won’t deal with their negativity. That is not to say that we turn a blind eye to the crap happening around us, but it is saying to find constructive ways to bring to everyone’s attention. As you mentioned, happiness is a fleeting emotion, and a rather shallow one at that. Instead of happiness, it’s much more sustainable to pursue contentment and joy instead…happiness will be a by-product!


Alli Polin May 31, 2017 at 12:36 am

Well said, LaRae! When we look at the 10 positive emotions outlined by Barbara Fredrickson, not one of them is happiness. We all think that’s an ideal state that we should shoot for… we’re happy or we’re not. The better question is if we have more positive experiences and positive emotions in our life than not.




Jon Mertz May 30, 2017 at 9:59 pm


Great action points. Your graphic sums up what we need to do next and every day!



Alli Polin May 31, 2017 at 12:40 am

Thanks, Jon. Investing in a life well lived is always time well spent.



Gary Gruber June 2, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Oh my yes, yes yes! It is so very much about the choices we make and the concomitant results that emanate from those choices. If you choose not to brush your teeth, I told my kids, you’ll have a yucky mouth. They finally got that, along with good dental health practices.
The point is that we often have more choices than we might at first believe and if we think we have considered all possibilities, we haven’t. We just need to dig a little deeper, look a little farther, take a little longer, be a little stronger and follow your recipe of 13 essential ingredients. Thanks!


Alli Polin June 5, 2017 at 3:58 am

Thanks so much, Gary! I was just having a conversation that echoes your comment late last week. The person I was speaking to said that they could follow path A or path B and they needed to figure out which made the most sense. In truth, the destination matters more than the path because paths C-Z will take them somewhere too. The first step isn’t to pick the path it’s to look out and decide what happiness means, what it feels like, what’s present and then create more of THAT in your life.

Grateful for your insights!



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