The Power of Choosing Happiness: A Life Lesson Learned from Divorce and Personal Struggles

In this video, Tia Graham shares her personal story of how her father’s choice to be happy despite difficult circumstances inspired her to prioritize her own happiness. She emphasizes that a happy life is not about feeling happy all the time, but rather having more positive experiences than negative ones. Graham suggests four key choices for happiness: spending quality time with loved ones, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and doing work that is meaningful. She argues that prioritizing personal happiness can lead to greater productivity, success, and overall well-being, and encourages individuals to find and pursue activities they genuinely enjoy.

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Key Insights:

  • The speaker’s parents announced their divorce when she was 10, and her father became withdrawn and unhappy.
  • Her father eventually made a conscious choice to be happy and started doing things he enjoyed, which had a positive impact on his life.
  • At 18, the speaker was unhappy and dropped out of university, but she made a decision to choose happiness and pursued a career in hospitality.
  • A happy life is not about constant happiness but rather having more positive experiences than negative ones and finding meaning and purpose in life.
  • Four key happiness choices: spending quality time with loved ones, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and doing work that is meaningful.
  • The speaker emphasizes that individuals have the power to prioritize their own happiness and create a positive impact on others and the world.


When I was 10 years old, things started shifting between my parents and not for the better. One day, they called a family meeting. We had never had a family meeting before. They sat my two younger sisters and I down, and they told us that we’d be moving from our little log cabin in northern British Columbia, Canada to the southern part of the province. And that they would be divorcing.

Of course, my sisters and I were devastated. The entire world that I knew was crumbling apart, and yet this was not the worst part. You see, my father, Peter, had always been this happy-go-lucky guy. The divorce was extremely hard on him, and he was becoming more and more withdrawn. He was less engaged with my sisters and I, he had less energy, and I barely recognized him anymore. I remember thinking to myself, “Is this my new dad?”

One day I woke up at his house, and my sisters were still sleeping, and I could hear music playing downstairs, which was very unusual. As I came downstairs, I could smell fresh orange juice and bacon, and there was my dad, Peter, dancing and making pancakes. I said, “Good morning, Dad.” “Good morning, Tia.” I said, “Wow Dad, you seem really happy today. Are you happy because it’s your birthday?” “You know, Tia, I have had three of the worst years of my entire life, and I woke up this morning, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to have another bad year.’” I saw my dad choose happiness.

So what did he do exactly? He started doing things that he enjoyed doing. So he played upbeat music all the time. He went back to school and changed careers. He exercised outside, spent time with his horses, and he spent a lot of time with his friends. I learned as a young teenager that happiness is a choice, and it’s something that you do. And this lesson impacted my entire life.

However, at age 18 and 19, I was really struggling, and I was not happy. I had dropped out of university after one semester, and I was partying way too much. I knew that there had to be more to life, and I knew that I had to choose happiness for myself. This decision took me from living in Calgary, Alberta, to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where I worked with children one summer. I am so grateful that I chose Hilton Head because it exposed me to the travel and hospitality industries. This experience led me to a 15-year career in the hospitality industry that I was passionate about and successful in. I led sales and marketing teams in Hawaii, New York City, Istanbul, and Los Angeles. Remember, I’m from a little log cabin in northern Canada.

A happy life is not about feeling happy all the time. This is a huge misconception. A happy life has more positive than pain. We all have pain. A happy life has meaning and purpose, and a happy life has different experiences that make you psychologically rich. You think happiness comes from meeting other people and society’s expectations, but really, it comes from creating your own.

Here is the simple secret of being happier: Spend time doing things you really enjoy doing. Society tells us what happiness is, what happiness looks like, but what really matters is how you feel. So many people struggle with happiness. I struggle. You struggle. Whether it’s kids, work, finances, politics, non-stop technology, social media, family, or the never-ending 24/7 negative news cycle.

I personally struggle to feed my family three times a day, seven days a week, every single week. I am not a good cook, and I don’t like cooking. Obviously, I would never make it on Top Chef. Bottom Chef called and said, “Don’t even bother.”

Here’s just a few stats: Gallup’s research showed that 79% of people, globally, are disengaged while they’re working. That’s almost 80% of people. Many people are doing work that they don’t like or that’s not meaningful to them. Also, according to Gallup’s global research, 41% of people have a lot of stress and worry on a regular basis. The World Health Organization said one in four are not getting enough exercise, and the term “work-life balance” has over 2.8 billion search results on Google. And your brain, my brain, all of our brains have a negativity bias, which is really unfortunate. We have to work extra hard to be positive and optimistic.

I’m going to share with you four things that many people really enjoy doing. I’m going to connect them to the science of happiness. And I want you to think about these for yourself.

Happiness choice number one – Spend a lot of quality time with your friends and your family. For me, this looks like weekly date nights with my husband, playing with my daughters every single day with my phone away, and FaceTiming and calling my sisters multiple times a week. For you, it might be spending a lot of time with your friends. For you, it might be spending a lot of time with your parents. The Harvard Grant Study of Adult Development, an over-80-year study, proved that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships directly affect our health and our happiness. Human connection is the number one predictor of happiness. When I became a parent, I knew that I needed more family time. And then last Thursday, I was like, “How much can I get for my kids on eBay?” All the parents, yes, you relate.

Happiness choice number two is getting a good night’s sleep. This means sleeping seven to nine hours a night, every single night. Research shows that sleep increases our happiness, improves our brain functioning, and improves our overall quality of life. So even though those streaming shows are so good or even though you could stay up just one more hour, just answer a few more emails, go to bed and leave your phone in the kitchen. How do you treat your spouse or your partner when you’re really sleep-deprived, maybe stressed? Right? We take it out on the people that love us the most. That’s who gets it.

Happiness choice number three – Moving at least four times a week. Exercise increases our happiness, increases our brain functioning, and decreases stress and anxiety. Do not exercise to look good; exercise to be happier. And I know you’re busy. You don’t need to do an hour workout class. Even if you move 15, 20 minutes, you will get the benefit.

Happiness choice number four is do work that you like, that is meaningful to you. Research shows that meaningful work makes us happier and way more motivated while we’re working and makes us happier in our personal life. And if you don’t have the opportunity right now to change jobs or change careers, just spend more time helping people, and your work will be more meaningful.

There are many other happiness choices, such as spending time in nature, meditating, volunteering, journaling when you’re going through pain. It’s about you. When you spend your time doing things you really enjoy doing, you operate at a higher level. Happy people are more productive while they’re working. A recent Oxford-MIT study of over 6000 people proved that people who felt happy while they’re working are 13% more productive. That means you work faster and you work smarter. And happy people are more successful. Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, and many others studied close to a million people over five years. And the research showed that people who are happy while they’re working were four times more likely to receive an accolade, four times more likely to receive a promotion. So it directly connects to your career success. Healthy people are healthier and live longer.

So on one extreme, there’s being really selfish, only caring about yourself. On the other extreme, there’s doing what everyone else and what society expects of you. The simple secret is to spend your time doing what you really enjoy doing, so that you’re happier, more successful, and you will take care of everyone you care about at a higher level. What you enjoy doing may change over time, like when my dad found himself single or when you become a parent, for example. Reflect and take new action. We all have different set points of happiness based on our genetics and our life circumstances. But everyone can make it better for themselves.

In the recent article titled “Can Happiness Be Successfully Pursued?,” the researchers write, it takes both a will and a proper way to become happier. I invite you to prioritize your happiness and spend your time doing things that you really enjoy doing. Imagine what that would do for your life. Imagine if all parents prioritized their happiness and set this example for their children. Imagine if all leaders prioritized their happiness and set this example for their teams. Think about you, all the parents and their children, all the leaders and their teams, now taking this renewed energy and using it to serve others and our planet. What kind of world would that look like? Thank you.