Q. I've heard you talk about a positive mind set, and that it's a choice to be happy, but many days I do not feel happy and don't understand how it's possible to change that.

A. Feelings follow thoughts. Happy, thankful, appreciative thoughts typically result in feelings of happiness and contentment. My brain's opinion is that there are degrees of happiness, however, and they likely follow the rhythm of life to some degree. I picture happiness as positions on a mood continuum. You move along that continuum depending on what it happening at any given moment. It's tough to even find appropriate descriptors for such a continuum because words can mean such vastly different things to different brains. (Note: This is different from the “Emotions Staircase” that includes other core emotions.)

The human brain is thought to be hardwired for joy. Joy is the only emotion that has no negative consequences when maintained over time. Think of the word happiness as just another synonym for joy. And there are degrees of happiness.

Happiness Continuum

The position on this continuum at which you choose to spend the most time has a great deal to do with personal choice. This doesn't mean living a Pollyanna existence where you ignore unfortunate things that inevitably happen in life. Based on a whole host of factors, some days are definitely happier than others. One day might feel like, "I'm glad I'm above ground and upright." Other days could be described as, "Absolutely fabulous to be alive."

Sometimes I am laughing, excited, or even exuberant. Once in a while my brain registers something absolutely blissful or even euphoric, but if I tried to remain at bliss or euphoria where would my brain go for variety? I want those icing-on-the-cake times when something exceptionally rewarding, exuberantly blissful, or euphoric happens.

My goal is to live at contentment most of the time. This means I choose to address what needs to be addressed, even if that requires some time spent at a different step on the “Emotions Staircase before climbing back up to contentment (joy). As needed, I choose to course correct into a positive mindset so I live in a state of calm, contented happiness as much as possible. You might be amazed at how energy efficient this is and how much less stressful it can be. How can you get onto the Happiness Continuum? For me, all it takes is being grateful about something.