Is Happiness a Choice?

Article below is written by Duncan Anderson, a young Canadian journalist whom I met in Berlin almost a year ago now. We had some interesting conversations and because of his special interest in mental health and happiness, he asked me for an interview that he later adapted into article. Duncan now lives in Vancouver where he studies Journalism, writes, and works on his art and theory magazine project while enjoying life. If you would like to get in touch with him this is where you can find him and


Is happiness a choice? An analogy that Mira used during an interview I had with her follows:

It’s a metaphor, and it’s a diamond. You have a diamond, imagine one, and it is covered with a pile of shit and painted with nail polish on top of it. That diamond is actually you. It’s perfect, it’s unbreakable, and it’s just what it is supposed to be. The pile of crusty shit around it is the belief system. A belief system can sometimes be good, but we won’t talk about that right now. Leave that on its own. It’s all these things that you think are not good enough about yourself, doing A in order to get to B as a result of external influence. It’s your negative beliefs that cover up who you really are. We mistakenly believe that pile of shit is us.

Mira says that our overall happiness depends on our willingness and ability to understand, control and change our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behavior. There is nothing more powerful than the knowledge that you are in charge of the quality of your life, your relationships, your health and your success. Through Mira and other research of Happiness studies and thought leaders, I’m here to tell you what works and what doesn’t.

What makes me smile? This is the first question I thought about when seriously considering if happiness is a choice. If I choose to smile, is that going to make any difference in my happiness? I’m a long distance runner, and maybe it’s an unspoken rule of people who jog but we always smile at each other when we’re out passing one another. It seems to connect me with myself and reassures me that we’re all in this together. Little things like that tend to matter and resonate.

If somebody expresses anger, the normal reaction is to hide away from it. With the smile, it says everything is okay and that you are welcome. When you smile at someone, the response is more open. One of the first things people learn is to read emotions. Aware of it or not, we have been very perceptive of these things since we were born.

‘Setting goals,’ Mira clarified, ‘Is related to happiness in the sense that it’s important to be in a positive space and mindset with yourself when you are planning to achieve something because creativity comes from this state.

D) What if the goal itself is what is stressing me out?

M) You can’t be creative if you are stressed and in a negative head-space. How do you think your goal will look like? You probably won’t see it because in this state people think in a way in which sure, they would like to do it, but that such a thing is not possible and will result in some compromise. Lots of people stress about achieving their goals, mainly because they believe that their happiness depends on achieving that particular goal. The ‘magical trick’ is to understand that we can be happy whether we achieve it or not and in this way we create a positive mindset, feel good anyway and the goal will be easier to achieve. 

Happiness is a feeling that we feel and external things can’t give us a feeling, goals can't give us feelings but we can feel happy when we achieve them. We create good feelings by focusing on good things in our life however small they may seem. That is why happiness is a choice. 

D) What will our goals look like in a more positive head-space?

M) Instead of running away, you’ll move towards the goal. You are creating positivity and I don’t have it with me right now but let me tell you about an elastic band metaphor. 

The elastic band is a metaphor for the internal force that we create when we think about what we want and it helps us achieve our goal. What happens when you stretch the elastic band? You create a force whose sole purpose is to bring the ends of that band together. Our brain is goal oriented, we think about what we want, we create a vision of that goal and the vision is helping us to make decision that are bringing us closer to our goal. Goals can be small, like getting out of bed on time for work, making dinner plans. Or they can be big, like going somewhere specific for a vacation or getting a better job. 

There are also goals that I like to call authentic desires and they are related to what we call our purpose or what we want to achieve during our lifetime. As it often happens, authentic desires are not very specific… Instead, they are more like ideas or dreams that we would like to achieve. Nevertheless,, those ideas are acting as a stretched elastic band, getting you closer to your desired goal. So whether your goal is to have Thai for dinner or to fly to the moon, the principle of getting there is the same ‘elastic band’. It doesn’t matter what you will do to get there. Buy ingredients and cook or go to the restaurant, for example. Or earn enough money to buy a ticket to the moon and back or be a crew member on one of the flights. What matters is how much you really want it. A person who wants to experience what life on the moon is like can end up developing a video game about moon travel for instance. It’s the force of the elastic band that brings us to our goals. 

D) I want to be a great public speaker.

M) If you want to be a great public speaker, you can’t just be great right now. Or maybe you can, but I suspect that it would not be your desire for the future if you were already great in it. You have to go through different stages in order to achieve that. It’s these big, personal authentic desires that sometimes look scary and impossible and we tell ourselves we don’t really want to talk about them because somebody may think we are insane when we admit what we truly want. 

D) How does simplicity relate to happiness?

M) It's about noticing the simple things. When you are in a state of clouded thinking, thinking too much about the future or what has happened in the past, in terms of negative projections of the future, we begin to think about all the what ifs that could happen or we dwell on traumatic events, getting stuck in repetitive mind patterns. I have learned a lot about belief systems through teaching people. You know how you have learned to meditate?

D) Yup.

M) You allow your mind to be still and not really judge anything that is happening around you. It’s the same way to learn and notice positive things around you. Practice! And, in order to acquire a positive mindset and reduce anxiety and depression we can practice gratefulness. Being grateful is quite vague isn’t it?

A good technique for becoming more grateful is writing down three little things that have happened in a day that have made you smile. In the beginning when people start doing it, it doesn’t have to be much. It can be a smile, a joke, something that encouraged you to feel good in that moment. After a few days of doing this, you start noticing more of these things when you start writing them down and it’s not three things, it’s six or seven and you start looking forward to doing it. And when something happens during the day, you begin to want to write it down in the notebook and this is, in a way, programming yourself to that state. Soon it will become a normal state of mind.

D) The act of practicing gratitude is backed by science these days. In particular, scientists are finding that practicing gratitude, by writing in a daily journal for example, makes one become: 

More connected with people and self

More generous and compassionate

Happier with more joy and optimism

More aware of their thinking patterns

Regarding NLP, can we program ourselves to become a bit better with our finances, for example?

M) It’s a belief system that has been created by this economic society that we live in. If you want to sell something that people don’t need, you need to create a need. This is where advertising comes in. Why would I buy a new TV if the old one is working? It’s as simple as that and you need to finish this school in order to have a good job, have family and be happy. That is a belief system. Until you realize that the feelings of satisfaction, security, don’t come from what you materially possess, instead, the necessary appreciation comes from within you and it is a belief system that has created the contrary, unhappiness.

We can program ourselves to do anything. If we repeat something for a while, you will program your mind to repeat the same thing again. The mind doesn’t like to waste too much energy. It learns something so well and leaves its program to run on its own. We have either programmed ourselves or we were programmed by society to focus on x. It’s media that is telling us that in order to be happy, we need a new TV or a bigger house. You have probably learned how to be bad with finances and there is a certain belief running in the background. Maybe it would be better in this case to undo the program and to do what we need to become consciously aware of what we are doing wrong and figure out what needs to be changed. For example, if you had to teach me how to be bad with finances, how would I do it? 

  1. Buy stuff that I don’t need in order to feel good
  2. Worry about money most of the time
  3. Visualize myself every day being penniless

D) CBT and NLP seem to be able to help with just about any addiction, so what do you think is the most effective technique you have worked with people with addictions?

M) See, there is a big thing about addiction and it is guilt. Guilt makes addiction even stronger. If we didn’t feel bad about what we do, we wouldn’t have that many bad feelings to get rid of. Addiction and destructive habits are here to temporarily allow us to feel good about ourselves and the world around us. It could be stress, or a belief that we are not good enough. It could be traumatic events from our past that are a cause of emotional pain and we have developed a coping mechanism in the form of addiction. Addiction starts as an addiction to a good feeling that people get from drinking, using drugs or shopping. Dangerous sports give us adrenaline. Nail biting and smoking often relieve and focus us. People can easily overcome addiction when they begin to understand they can feel good regardless of the circumstance. I was recently working with a person who had an issue with nail biting until her fingertips would start bleeding. In her reality, it was as bad as somebody who is using alcohol every day. She was so ashamed and also felt guilty, so she would hide and bit them even more when there was nobody around. For me, I understand her point of view but for somebody else listening or talking to her, maybe it would seem quite strange. I don’t like to put people into categories. We all feel anxious, ad and depressed sometimes and it’s actually a belief system that makes us feel this way. Belief systems are acquired from society. When we are feeling sad, angry or scared, this is seen as being not a good thing and we try to change those feelings by abusing alcohol, drugs or engaging in destructive behavior that temporarily allows us to feel good. If it’s labelled, we made it. I remember a period in my life when I was told I was depressed and needed medication. My father died. It’s obvious that I am going to be sad for some period of time and go through different emotions. 

Point is, there is no specific technique that is equally effective to everyone. I, however, find that dealing with underlying issues and teaching how to control the impulse to do something when the urge to execute a learned pattern stars. NLP ‘STOP’ techniques are effective in changing behavioral patterns. 

D) You also consider yourself a Hypnotherapist. Talk about that a bit.

M) I have started learning hypnosis as a part of my wish to help my patients even more when I was working full time as a physiotherapist. I became skilled in using hypnosis as a part of pain management. However, during my education I started to learn more about psychology and different counseling techniques, becoming interested in NLP, CBT and emotional intelligence. My life started to change rapidly as I started to understand myself and others better so I decided to use my skills not only to work with people who have physical problems, suffering from physical pain but also emotional pain. You know what? Those two are inseparable. Emotional pain activates the same area of the brain as physical pain. Today I use hypnotherapy together with techniques to help people enrich their experience of life, to overcome internal struggles and negative beliefs, achieve their goals and be happier. 

Everyone has a unique picture of themselves and the world around them. What picture you see depends on the filters you are looking through and those filters are your beliefs. You acquire your beliefs through learning from your environment and the people around you – observing behavior of others and their interactions with the world and people around them. This is why that picture can be amazing and also bad. For this reason, some people believe that world is a great place to live and people around them are good, supportive, loving etc. and others want to leave this world earlier, thinking that everyone is here to hurt them and that they always need to defend themselves. I can’t tell you what is right and wrong or what you need to do because you would not believe me and you would resist. You need to see it through your eyes and understand it. This is why when I work with people, I use hypnosis and other techniques that help my clients come to their own understanding, insights and in this way change those negative filters. 

But if I leave it open for you and just help you get to that understanding, it gets interesting. When I first started working with people I started to worry that they were going to get scared of their own insights or something, but when I realized the diamond is there, nothing bad can happen. It’s my aim and I just know that whatever you think you are, you’re just an amazing person and it’s where you want to go. It’s what I want to show you.

Hypnosis is a method of accessing non-judgmental, subconscious parts of our mind and the use of it varies from relaxation, changing habits like smoking, stopping addictive behavior to enhancing performance. We are still getting new testimonials of people whose life have become easier because they had hypnotherapy as part of their treatment. Another use of hypnosis is in Life Coaching and Counseling through changing negative beliefs that we have learned growing up. Our brains have developed in different stages during childhood development and it’s easier to change negative patterns and beliefs created after the age of 7, while it is much more difficult to change beliefs and patterns of behavior created before that age which is where hypnotherapy has a lot of success. Because a therapist is communicating directly with the subconscious mind of the client, I must add here that a client is at any moment aware of what is going on around themselves. The client is not unconscious. Skilled therapists who have a background in psychology and have experience in different counseling therapy and techniques can utilize them and help their clients to achieve greater results in a very short time. I am for example combining Hypnotherapy with CBT, NLP, coaching techniques, parts therapy, regression and active visualization techniques.

D) Some words on empathy?

M) Empathy is our ability to connect with another person. In other words, stepping into their shoes and feeling what they feel. We do it regardless of consciously wanting it. Our ability to mirror emotions of a person standing in front of us is part of our empathy. We do that all the time and we are not aware of it. When somebody smiles we smile and as a consequence of this, we feel good. When we see somebody who is sad, we may start feeling sad. We get nervous if we are close to a nervous person. When somebody yawns, you do too. It is our biggest asset as human beings because it allows us to instinctively know the mood or feeling of the other person so we know how to react, run away or hug them! It is part of our emotional intelligence but if we are not aware of how it works, it can be scary and sometimes painful. I guess this is one of the reasons why people want to shield themselves from the negative influence of others. 

D) Do you think happiness is a choice?

M) I think for some people, it’s easy because they grew up in an environment where they acquired a positive belief system but even these people go low. It’s just about being okay and also having intentions and goals to be happy. It is a choice. You don’t say that now I decide to be happy and you are happy tomorrow but it’s your intention to have more of a fulfilling life and to be more satisfied and to have a better connection with the people around you. It’s an authentic desire and it doesn’t have to be a physical goal like wanting to own a company and be a public speaker. Rather, it can be my attempt, my goal, to be an amazingly happy person and feel more joy. There is a feeling attached to every goal. An authentic desire. So that is your intention and once you have that, you create a force between yourself and the desire and that is the intention. That is the authentic desire.  

Is happiness a choice? Am I in control of my thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviors? Since speaking with Mira, I have certainly noticed improvements in these areas of my life and have connected many dots as a result of her teachings.