Believing that we don’t have choices really puts the kibosh on our happiness. When we tell ourselves the story that we’re locked into our lives with no way out, it’s not surprising that we feel hopeless and depressed. We rationalize away our happiness by saying things like, “I have to keep working at this job until I put my kids through college” or “I have to hold out five more years until retirement” or “ I really want to do X but I could never do that. What would people think of me?”

When we have this posture toward life, it’s as if we’ve given ourselves a prison sentence, and now we’re counting down the days until we can do what we really want to do. Living this way is more of a “dieing” than a living. It’s no wonder that we use food to try to bring some sweetness and pleasure to our dreary existence!

Yet how we experience life, how it feels to us, is based on how we think about it. If we believe that we’re blessed by our circumstances, the sun is shining, even in a heavy downpour, and we feel light and happy. If we believe we have no options, we feel doomed and powerless and live lives of resignation and resentment.

And those negative feelings don’t just vaporize; they have to go somewhere. We either repress them, take them out on other people (either through passive or overt aggression), feel miserable, create health problems, eat, or any combination of the above.

The ego is always looking to feel happy and comfortable and who could blame it? When it isn’t able to achieve this, it reaches for its addictive substance of choice. If we’ve related to food as our primary source of comfort, solace, and pleasure, we naturally reach for it, hoping to stuff down the sadness we created when we bought into the belief of being trapped in an unsatisfying life.

How do we escape this painful cycle? The first step is awareness. If you’re not happy, ask yourself, “What story am I in? What am I telling myself to make me feel this way?” If you discover that you’re telling yourself the story of “no choice,” you can know, right off the bat that this is a lie. The circumstance called “no choice” is never the case because life always has options.

Most importantly, there are “thinking” options. Weaving a negative story makes you suffer, not just some of the time—but all of the time. When you really see this, victim-hood is erased from your vocabulary. You take responsibility for your state and become the ruler of your inner world.

Begin by challenging any limiting stories you’ve been telling yourself. If you’ve convinced yourself that you have to do something, is that really true? You can’t quit the job you hate. Is that true? You have other options. You can move somewhere with a lower cost of living or get a different job more suited to you or work for yourself doing something you love.

You choose to stay in the unhappy marriage. You choose to work for the abusive boss. You choose to live in the big, expensive house. You choose to work two jobs to pay for college, but you don’t have to. Make your own happiness a priority. Do you believe that your child wouldn’t be able to go to college without your efforts? Do you believe that you wouldn’t be able to survive if you changed careers or quit the job that doesn’t suit you?

We live a certain way because we’ve been choosing it. Unless we acknowledge this truth, we will feel powerless and unhappy. If you feel boxed in, ask yourself, “What are my options in this situation?” Open your mind. Don’t let the Critic come in with its vituperative commentary. Just live in this question: “If I could really do whatever I wanted to do, live the way I wanted to live, what would that look like?” For the moment, forget the consequences or what other people might think. When you open yourself to new possibilities in this way, you’re available and open when they come knocking.

You may not make the choices that would lead you to a particular option today or tomorrow or ever. Yet there is great freedom and relief in knowing that you have the power to choose it, if you want to. “I could do something different and I’m choosing to do what I’m doing, instead. At some point, I might choose differently, but for right now, I’m choosing this.”

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