Is Happiness a Choice?

A New York Times column Monday pulled out some brief passages from a new book called 30 Lessons for Living, which is based on practical advice for life from more than 1,000 elderly Americans who were interviewed as part of the ongoing Cornell Legacy Project. Their advice is based on what they did right and wrong in their long lives, and covers a range of topics. One of them is happiness, with almost every single one of the seniors expressing the view that happiness is a choice, not the result of how life treats you. The passage from the Times column read: “A 75-year-old man said, ‘You are not responsible for all the things that happen to you, but you are completely in control of your attitude and your reactions to them.’ An 84-year-old said, ‘Adopt a policy of being joyful.’ The 90-year-old daughter of divorced parents who had lived a hardscrabble life said, ‘I learned to be grateful for what I have, and no longer bemoan what I don’t have or can’t do.” Even if their lives were nine decades long, the elders saw life as too short to waste on pessimism, boredom and disillusionment.”


  • Do you agree with this view that happiness is essentially a choice, not a result of what happens to you?
  • Are you surprised that nearly every one of the seniors interviewed in this project had come to that conclusion?
  • If you already do view happiness this way, what strategies do you use to maintain a happy attitude in the face of adversity in your life?
  • Do you think we as a society don’t value the wisdom and contributions of seniors enough?
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