Every day, I make choices: to get up on time or sleep late. Brush my teeth or skip the cleaning. Take my prescription pills or skip the medicine. Drink a cup of coffee or fix a pot of tea. Clean the kitchen sink or let the chore wait. Sweep the floor or step over the crumbs. I’ve made six decisions in the first few minutes of being awake.
In response to the question of how many decisions we make a day, one reader gave this calculation on Amazon’s Askville website: If the average waking day is 1,000 minutes and five decisions are made a minute, then we make 5,000 decisions a day. No wonder we go to bed tired.
Big decisions get our full attention, as do decisions on how we spend our two most precious resources: time and money. But choices we make about our emotional outlook are not as transparent, yet they are just as important, if not more so, in determining the quality of our life—even our health.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “Poor emotional health can weaken your body's immune system, making you more likely to get colds and other infections during emotionally difficult times. Also, when you are feeling stressed, anxious or upset, you may not take care of your health as well as you should. You may not feel like exercising, eating nutritious foods or taking medicine that your doctor prescribes. Abuse of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs may also be a sign of poor emotional health.”
We humans are creatures of habit, so unless we stay conscious, we’ll drift into repeating the same emotional response independent of the circumstances. Over time, our attitude can become so ingrained in our personality that family members and coworkers describe us as cheerful or grumpy, as if our point of view was programmed into our DNA.
As a reminder of the cafeteria of choices I have when choosing perspectives, I came up with a word game. On one side, I list the negative perspective; on the other side, I list the positive viewpoint. To make the challenge more difficult, the opposing adjectives must begin with the same letter of the alphabet.
Here’s my list:
Can you add to the list? Remember—the adjectives must begin with the same letter yet have an opposite or contrasting meaning.
You can decide to play this word game knowing that your time is well spent. Just as you engage in physical exercise to strengthen your muscles and bones, you need to engage in mental exercises to strengthen your emotional health. This word game also reinforces an essential truth—that a happy life isn’t the result of what happens to us, but rather what happens in us.
The path to a happy life is paved with the small decisions we make every day. We can choose to be happy when we wake up in the morning, whether by reaching out to connect with a friend or deciding to enjoy a beautiful blue sky with fluffy white clouds on our walk. Engaging in this exercise reminds us that we must take control of our emotional health if we are to live well and happily every day of our lives.
Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, is credited with saying that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” To paraphrase her quote in this context, how we feel on a moment-to-moment basis is, of course, what determines whether we lead a happy life.