Choosing Happiness

Olga T. Jacobs

“You’re always so happy, Olga.” I get a chuckle when someone tells me that. I believe I am a generally happy person and am glad I come across that way to others. Some who make that observation about me or about others like me think that happy people are just “born” that way. They think we’ve had no misery, no hardships in life, and that we are always “winning” or “lucky.” That experience is certainly not mine—yet I am happy.

I am happy because I choose to be. Every day I wake up and count my blessings. I thank God that my family and I are healthy. Even though I read the morning paper every day and practically every article is negative, I make sure to close out the paper with reading the comics. I also define myself as broadly as possible—meaning I don’t think of myself solely as what I do for a living. I don’t let my work accomplishments or my work disappointments define me. I don’t allow my daily happiness to be defined by whether good stuff or not-so-good stuff happened at work that day.

I think of all the other roles I have every day: wife, mother, family member, friend, mentor, Society of Actuaries (SOA) volunteer. I let the “complete me” be my gauge for my frame of mind, and the gratitude of playing all of those roles further increases my level of happiness.

Why does happiness matter? Well, do you want to walk into a business meeting surrounded by happy people or angry people? Better yet, happiness has an impact on your health! A recent Harvard study found “most optimistic women had a 16 percent lower risk of dying from cancer; 38 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease; 39 percent lower risk of dying from stroke; 38 percent lower risk of dying from respiratory disease; and 52 percent lower risk of dying from infection.”1

So, tomorrow, read the comics, spend time with your friends and be happy!

Olga T. Jacobs, FSA, MAAA, is a vice president at UnitedHealthcare and a contributing editor for The Actuary.

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