Wellbeing & Recovery

Action for Happiness: More Than Just “Choose Happiness”

I’m definitely not a fan of the whole toxic positivity business, and no, happiness is not a choice (or at least not always). But a while back I stumbled across the Action for Happiness website, and I like their style. I was looking through my journal and came across the 8 pillars of joy I’d made note of from The Book of Joy, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. That made me think of Action for Happiness, hence this post.

Action for Happiness is actually talking less about happiness as a transient emotion and more about the joy described in the Book of Joy. Joy isn’t about situational factors; it’s more an attitude and a state of being. I think this is far more meaningful to seek out than happiness, and there are ways to move in the direction of joy that are more tangible and concrete than trying to summon arbitrary happiness out of nowhere.

Action for Happiness, like the name suggests, focuses on actions that can move you in a more happy/joyful direction. They identify 10 keys to happiness as capture in the acronym GREAT DREAM:

  • Giving
  • Relating to Others
  • Exercising – take care of your body
  • Awareness/mindfulness
  • Trying out new things
  • Direction
  • Resilience
  • Emotions – look for the good
  • Acceptance
  • Meaning

There’s a fair bit of similarity to the 8 pillars of joy:

  • perspective
  • humility
  • acceptance
  • forgiveness
  • gratitude
  • humour
  • generosity
  • compassion

I like that both of these approaches are feasible even when dealing with mental illness, which really isn’t the case for “choose happiness.” Depression-related anhedonia has taken happiness off the menu for me, but these are still things that I can do. These elements are also things that are consistent with moving in a recovery direction.

For more joy-promoting actions, Action for Happiness releases monthly action calendars. Here’s the calendar for January 2021, and today’s action is looking for the good in others and noticing their strengths. I think that’s something we do here in the blogosphere each and every day.

Action for Happiness also has a free 10-day online coaching program called 10 Days of Happiness. I haven’t tried it, but the idea seems good.

What do you think of the idea of pursuing joy/happiness through actions? Do you see a distinction between joy and happiness?

COVID-19/mental health coping toolkit from Mental Health @ Home

The COVID-19/Mental Health Coping Toolkit page has a wide range of resources to support better mental health and wellbeing.

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48 thoughts on “Action for Happiness: More Than Just “Choose Happiness””

  1. Ooohhhh, great blog post!! I love those ten things from GREAT DREAM. A lot of them do indeed bring me a lot of happiness!

    Giving–I’m not sure I give a whole lot, but I try to give to the people I care about

    Relating to Others–Yeah, I like that!

    Exercising – take care of your body–I’ve been making efforts there lately!

    Awareness/mindfulness–Yeah, I like that!

    Trying out new things–Ehh, not necessarily, but what I work on tends to branch into different areas at times

    Direction–Yeah, I love working toward my goals!

    Resilience–Yeah, I have a lot of practice here due to my hormones and the inconsistency of my life… and my MOTHER! (How’d I almost forget her?!)

    Emotions – look for the good–I’m pretty much the reincarnation of Pollyanna, so…

    Acceptance–Yeah

    Meaning–something bigger? I’m not sure if I’m part of anything bigger, but it sounds nice!

    This all seems more helpful than “choose happiness”. As a happy person myself, even I think that sounds pejorative, judgey, and unhelpful. I think for me, I have severe mental illnesses, but depression isn’t one of them. Do I judge unhappy depressed people? Good grief, no. Depression makes it so hard to be happy, and telling people to choose happiness is offensive and unkind.

    (And what’s the answer going to be, anyway? “Oh, yeah, I never considered that! Thanks for the great idea! I”ll choose happiness!” As if. It reminds me of when I had a severe sleep schedule issue, and my dad kept saying, “Just go to bed earlier.” Riiiight. That’ll help, as I lay there sleeplessly for hours.)

    For me the difference between happiness and joy would be that happiness is a good mood, and joy is like, oh my gosh, I just won the lottery, or someone just proposed to me, or wow, this is amazing!

  2. To me joy is spontaneous, ephemeral, fleeting – Just say the word – does it not always have an exclamation point after it? It is THAT grand of a feeling. Happiness is a feeling, a state of being wherein you are content, satisfied, well pleased with yourself, your life, your situation. Neither Joy! nor happiness are sustained states of being. But that’s just my opinion. that’s my experience.

    1. I wonder what word the Dalai Lama would use for that kind of joy, because he was describing something else. I don’t know if there even is an English word that refers specifically to that kind of sustained state of being.

  3. What do you think of the idea of pursuing joy/happiness through actions? I think, personally, that it’s a mandatory step for anyone suffering from chronic depression. From personal experience, I’ve found that if I don’t consciously choose to find some joy (happiness is out of the question), I’ll become more and more depressed, and eventually that leads to suicidal ideations. So I consciously LOOK for the bright spots. Don’t always find them, but I look anyway.

    Do you see a distinction between joy and happiness? Yeah. In my opinion, happiness is a construct, something we’re told (in society) to pursue. It’s not possible for some of us to attain it, and that leads to feelings of failure and more depression. I’ve stopped trying to feel/be ‘happy’. For me it doesn’t exist.

    But JOY? That’s attainable, to me that’s a tangible I can see, taste, touch, smell and hear. And to some maybe they call that state of being happiness. I prefer joy.

  4. I particularly like that last one: happiness as meaning, and tying it in with action, to build a meaningful life.
    Excellent article, as always. Thank you for writing and all of the research that goes into your writing, Ashley.
    -Shira

  5. What a wonderful and enlightening post. I’m looking forward to participating in the January calendar action items and the 10 day happiness program. A wonderful initiative.

  6. Probably we can retrain ourselves with diligent emphasis and practice. It’s just so hard because there are so many steps to being more joyful and there are so many steps to doing everything. And most of the steps to being alive are such a pain in the ass. We think this could be worth trying at some point. Our attitude right now is sour perhaps

  7. The Eight Pillars of Joy have a way of really fortifying how this is not an ephemeral or transitory feeling we are after.

    1. I think the fact that leaders from two different faith traditions are agreeing on the same pillars of joy also underscores that this is something solid and universal.

  8. I woke up on New Year’s Day thinking about the difference between happiness and joy. I think we can find joy in our sadness, and it’s only toxic if we never acknowledge our true feelings. I also believe in action steps. Great post!

    1. Thanks! I think what you mentioned about acknowledging our true feelings is key, and denying those feelings is a barrier to joy, not a pathway to get there.

  9. I’d not seen the GREAT DREAM acronym before but I really like it! Totally agree with you about the happiness is a choice stuff – it sure isn’t when you’re suffering with depression! but the middle ground is we do have some choice how we see things and what we do about them – reality is perception in the most part after all, but sometimes reality sucks and there’s no way of seeing it differently. there’s a wonderful book called The Choice – by Edith Edgar a Holocaust survivor that illuminates this point beautifully. Happy new year Ashley and thanks for all you do on here 💞💞xx

  10. Nice pictures 😍 Yes, I agree with you. Giving in actions is pure joy.

    Sometimes, I try to put down my ego and give willingly. I also realize that when I give with some expectations in mind, even with good intentions, I will be more likely to end up with less joy.

    For me, I feel that it is better to focus on what I am doing every moment, do it whole-heartedly, then let the rest take its course. I am still learning to do this… to love every minor routine in life.

    It is hard to differentiate happiness and joy. Maybe what matters is how we feel at heart.❤️

  11. Great post. One of the issues I used to have with the construct of happiness was that I was under the impression that it just came to an individual, rather than consistently having to work for it. Additionally positive energy is important for mental health. However, I’ve found it hindering when I needed to feel pain, discomfort, or emotions that needed to cycle out of me. Happy New Year.

    1. Happy New Year! And that’s so true, the negative stuff needs a release, and I don’t think anyone can actually be happy when that stuff is bottled up inside.

  12. Ooh, I like that calendar! I will use it! I like things like that.

    I think I try to seek out and enjoy/fully experience enjoyable things pretty often. It’s the Accumulating Positives DBT skill in the ABC of emotion regulation. It works pretty well for me! I agree with you, taking action is different to choosing to magically “be” happy. I can’t just “be” something. It annoys me when people sign off their emails with “Be well.” I know they have good intentions, but I can’t just “be” well; how does telling me to be well when I’m not help me at all?!

  13. This has been an amazing resource, for those that are struggling give it a go…if you don’t like it you can always stop, but it is so easy and effortless…

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