12 ways to choose happiness

Grand-dog Chloe and I are glamping in an elegant Airstream in a land of sunny skies, craggy mountain ranges, and saguaro cacti. Tucson.

Stenciled on the vintage trailer next to us is this thought:

Today, I will be happier than a bird with a French fry.

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Which begs the question: Can we choose to be happy?

Based on my experience, I think happiness is a choice.

Here are 12 intuitive things my husband, Gary, and I did to choose happiness over the blues and anxiety that cropped up during the cancer years:

1. Dance, hike, swim, kayak — in a word: move

If you caught Gary and me hiking to the top of tall mountains, or slushing through powder in snow-shoes, or stroking our oars in synch in a canoe, you would have noticed our giddy ear-to-ear grins.

2. Get outdoors, and then keep getting outdoors

The simple pleasure of being outdoors went a long way in creating joy for us. And when you throw in some movement with the outdoorness … well, then … double happiness.

3. Show random and not-so-random kindness

Last week’s blog was about the intent to look for opportunity to show random kindness on my twelve-hour travel day from Oregon to Arizona. Glee overflowed on what would have otherwise been a long and tiresome day.

4. Look for things to be grateful for, even in the hard

Inspired by Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, I’m on my second journal of counting one thousand things I’m grateful for.

It’s easy to list gratitude when life is going swimmingly. But consider looking for things to be grateful for in the hard. And see if it doesn’t make a difference on the happiness meter.

5. Be aware of our mindset

This relates to #4 because I think intentional gratitude is a mindset choice. But setting our thoughts in an optimistic direction takes in so much more.

It prefers courage over fear. And hope over despair.

It embraces peace, as we intentionally boot out anxiety and worry. It chooses good humor instead of taking ourselves too seriously.

I suspect that all these things feed each other. Gratitude brings contentment that fuels a positive way of seeing things, that helps us battle anxiety, that ushers in joy and happiness.

6. Practice good self-care

There’s the debate that self-care is selfish. But self-care isn’t seeing to our needs and comfort first. It’s seeing to our responsibilities, and then taking time to care for ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in order to have a full vessel from which to serve.

I’m happiest when I’m rested, when I’m eating healthfully and walking some distance daily, when I take time each morning to sit still and listen for God’s voice.

7. Consider how to give back

Brainstorm about ways to be in service based on your life experiences, including the hard ones. I know an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) widow who is passionate about awareness and research for this degenerative disease; a friend who struggled with painful infertility issues who now mentors young women; a brain cancer survivor who stages cycling events to support local cancer services.

Beautiful redemption stories — how God brings good from our pain and fills our hearts with joy through the giving back.

8. Listen to your favorite tunes

Music has the power to affect our frame of mind. Which is why calming music is played in elevators, and upbeat music is played in stores, and inspiring/fighting music is played at sporting events.

Put on soaring music and see if your spirit doesn’t soar.

9. Keep a journal for a brief period of time

There’s science to back up the benefit of capturing our concerns and fears and hopes and joys on paper. Even if you don’t enjoy writing, try journaling for a set period of time.

(I’m pretty sure I saved Gary thousands of dollars in psychotherapy costs through the years by keeping a journal.)

10. Try your hand at something creative

I can’t describe how happy it makes me to knit soft fuzzy things for all the beautiful women in my life.

Water color painting, macrame, photography, cooking, pottery, designing landscapes, wood-working, puzzling, repurposing old junk into cool new stuff. It doesn’t matter what we do; it matters that we get out our creative side and make some happiness.

11. Buy books (smile)

Not too long ago, I posted a blog about the best way to buy happiness. From the blog, this snippet of wisdom:

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books, and that’s kind of the same thing.

12. Hang out with incredible people

While in Tucson this week, I connected with a couple friends: Randy, who is in a wheelchair as multiple sclerosis (MS) continues its relentless march.

And astrophysics grad student, Charity, who lost her husband, Jayson, and son, Woody, when a sneaker wave swept them out to sea.

Charity and I had scrumptious tacos in a courtyard with stone walkways and trees lit up, surrounded by old stucco buildings and cast iron gates.

With live music playing, we talked about a number of things, including what she needs to do to become an astronaut. She said the odds are against her — not simply because 12 in 18,000 applicants are chosen every four years when a new class begins, but also because she doesn’t have a background in the military, and particularly flying planes.

But she’s made a list of goals that would enhance her chances of being one of the chosen few: learning fluent Russian, getting her pilot’s license, deep-sea diving, and wilderness survival. And she’ll eventually meet with her advisor to get her input.

If anyone can accomplish these large and improbable goals, it’s Charity.


Charity, astrophysics grad student and future astronaut (photo: local Tusconite)

Randy and Charity inspire me with their grit and audacity in the face of incomprehensible loss. Which leaves us with a couple questions to ponder:

1) How do we feel after hanging out with people who whine, who can’t see the positive in anything, who gossip viciously, or make fun of others?

2) How do we feel after being around people who awe and inspire and make us realize we’re not dreaming big enough (Charity does this for me); people who challenge us, hold us accountable, who speak hope into our lives, and believe in the beauty of our dreams? (Come to think of it, I have a lot of friends and family like this in my life.)

Does the crowd we hang out with affect our happiness?

I’m thinking, Yes.

And there you have it …

Twelve ways Gary and I practiced choosing happiness during the bleak cancer years.

In that hard and holy season—when we shouldn’t have experienced peace or happiness or contentment—peace and happiness and contentment mostly surrounded us.

Here’s hoping that today you’ll be happier than a bird with a French fry.


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  1. Karen Henderson

    Speechless. BEST blog ever Marlys. Each point spoke into my heart and mind. Have fun Glamping!

  2. Juanita Vianelle

    Thank you for sharing your positive thoughts and attitude since meeting you in 2012.

  3. Nora Weed

    Hi Marlys, you really get around. Time to come back to Bend because the weather is getting fabulous. I have always chosen happiness and especially the past 10 days when my body fell ill. I had been in bed sick to my stomach with flu like symptoms. There was nothing I could do to make myself better except wait it out. The oncologist said this would last only 3 days but by the 8th day he said I needed a boost. So he gave me fluids, steroids and nausea medication. Still no improvement but I kept my mind hopeful and kept saying tomorrow I will be better. I tried to have happy dreams and reminded myself how good my bed felt, how warm and cozy I was and how lucky to have family around to bring me water and good cheer. This morning I woke up almost pain free and I had my life back. I was hungry and I was happy to be moving with a bit of bounce in my step. Even when you are ill you can choose happiness. Love, Nora

    • Oh, Nora … I’m so glad to hear you’re feeling better. What a perfect example of looking for things to be grateful for even when you were so sick for so long. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Grace Lawson

    Outstanding as always !! Very inspirational !! God bless you and give you a continued wonderful trip Dear Marlys !!

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