In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Notre Dame Swim Team bus accident (referred to as simply, “the accident”), I am hoping to share 25 Things I Have Learned In 25 Years. The goal is to post once a week; but since I have a year to post, I will consider once every two weeks a win.

I have been thinking a lot about “happiness” lately; what it means, who is happy, how do we measure happiness and how do we define it. Recently, I’ve had some tough conversations with friends who are unhappy, friends who pretend to be happy, but aren’t; and friends who have lost a love one and are sad. Each of these conversations has led me to discern what it means to be genuinely happy.

We probably all know someone who is genuinely happy by nature; always pleasant, always sees the good and the bright side, and rarely lets life get them down. While this is the goal (at least one of mine), I do not think this is the norm; I think most of us live in contentment. Taking it one step further to happiness has to be a conscious decision.

I believe happiness is a choice. We can choose to be happy or we can choose to exist, functioning in our daily lives. Life can be hard, it can be sad and it is often disrupted in ways we did not plan. Most of us are not living the life we thought we would, nor are we going down the path we planned. All of these factors push against (and away) our happiness. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still choose to be happy.

There are two things that help dictate our life’s happiness: values and gratitude. We tend to focus the energy in our lives on what we value; whether it’s the accumulation of money and material possessions, or the nurturing of meaningful relationships and inspiring work. I have found that when our values are rooting in “getting,” happiness rarely follows, or is temporary at best. But when we value the art of giving, we tend to be happier.

Our values are not always easy to change. They are often the foundation of our upbringing, which can take years to undo or alter. I have found the simplest – and quickest – way to be happy is to be grateful. Gratitude will change our perspective – and eventually our values – if it’s a daily choice.  I truly believe each of us could wake up each morning and find something to be upset about; just like we all have the ability to wake up and find something our lives about which to be grateful. Same day, different focus; same life, different perspective.

For life-long happiness, our values need to align with giving and meaning. For happiness today, be grateful.