How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People—Their Secrets, Their Stories 
by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks

I keep my most-valued reference books on the top shelf of my bookcase, and my copy of How We Choose to be Happy has a well-earned spot there. This book is a pearl beyond price for all of us but especially for HSPs. Here’s why.

In it, authors Rick Foster and Greg Hicks detail their discovery that extremely happy people feel happy because of certain choices they make. To put it another way, our happiness is under our control. With one significant exception—dire poverty—our happiness has nothing to do with external conditions.

This is a key insight for us as HSPs. If I don’t realize it’s my choice to be happy, I can so easily feel like a victim: of other people. of the world, and of my own sensitivity.This book kicks me right out of victim mode. It reminds me I can choose happiness by choosing what I focus on in my life and choosing how I respond to my experiences. And it tells me how to do that.

A fascinating research process

In their work as corporate coaches, Foster and Hicks noticed that certain people were able to stay calm, happy, and centered even in highly stressful situations. Intrigued, they ended up traveling the US and Europe for three years searching for more of these “extremely happy people.” They’d walk into tiny towns and big cities alike and ask everyone they ran into, “Who is the happiest person you know?” When a name popped up several times, they’d track the person down and interview him or her.

Though the three hundred interviewees were wildly different in age, background, and experience, they shared certain attitudes and habits to which they attributed their happiness. Again and again, Foster and Hicks heard them describe nine key choices, from knowing what made them happy, to taking responsibility for setting up their lives around that knowledge, to meeting adversity with creativity and openness.

This is the “real stuff” on happiness

An explosion of research followed the publishing of How We Choose Happiness in 1999. The authors partnered with top institutions like the Mayo Clinic and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, confirming the close relationship between happiness and health. This was, and is, the “real stuff:” a comprehensive, observation-based blueprint for happiness.

The conclusion: there is no one “happiness pill,” but if you adopt a specific set of habits, choices and attitudes based on self knowledge, you can significantly increase your happiness. This takes effort, and it takes courage, too. Moving towards happiness may require you to make significant changes in your life, your work, or your relationships.

As HSPs we are wired to seek meaning and to think deeply and feel intensely about the meanings we find. So we owe it to ourselves to understand the close relationship between our thought habits and our happiness, all the more so if we’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, or self doubt. Unguided and undisciplined, our thoughts can easily stray into bleak mental neighborhoods.

On the other hand, with the right mental and behavioral road map, we can access our capacity for profound happiness. So if you haven’t read this book, now’s the time. And if you have it on your shelf, pull it out again and re-take the quizzes to evaluate how well you are living each of the nine choices. Isn’t exciting to know that extreme happiness is a choice?

*The photo above is a detail of a mosaic we brought back from Ravenna, Italy, a copy of one we saw in a beautiful church there. Beauty is a source of deep happiness to my partner and to me, and we have deliberately surrounded ourselves with it: our house is full of art objects, sacred statues, photos, paintings, and textiles from around the world.