How Do Some People Always Stay Upbeat?

A happy face near the tents where researchers live at Summit Station on the Glacial Ice Sheet, Greenland, in 2013.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Answer by Franklin Veaux, small-business owner, sexuality educator, writer:

I am a person who is upbeat almost all the time.

Nobody is always upbeat, of course. Everyone is capable of pain and sorrow, hurt and heartbreak. But I’m resilient. Sadness doesn’t stick to me. On the rare occasions when I feel unhappy, that unhappiness is transient. My normal emotional state is deeply, profoundly happy. If you could bottle how I feel most of the time and sell it, there might never be another war again.


Part of it, I think, is what one of my girlfriends calls “privileged brain chemistry.” I won the lottery in whatever combination of genetics and upbringing that gave me a baseline neurochemistry that promotes happiness. Just like depression can be biochemical, I think being generally upbeat can be biochemical too. Whatever the opposite of depression is, I have it.


That said, however, there are also things I choose to do that promote happiness. It might be partly biochemical, sure, but it’s partly choice too. I have, over the years, deliberately and consciously chosen to see the world in a certain way, and the way I see the world promotes happiness.

Some elements of that worldview include:

Gratitude. Gratitude is, in many ways, the opposite of entitlement. When you feel entitled to have the things you want and you gone get them, you feel pain. That can lead to trying to control other people to make them give you what you feel entitled to. And being controlling is kind of awful. It drives people away. It breeds resentment. Gratitude—genuine thankfulness for the people and things in your life that make it better—is the antidote.


Wonder. We live in a world that is filled with beauty. There’s awfulness and horror in it too, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are surrounded, every day, with breathtaking beauty. We just have to notice it. Once you start noticing it, you can’t stop seeing it. We do not have a choice about living in a world filled with both beauty and horror, but we do have a choice which we focus on. Being aware of the beauty gives us more resilience in the face of the horror. Every person I have ever met who makes the world a better place, who fights against the horror, is aware of the beauty.


Self-esteem. I, as a person, have value. In the billions of years the universe has been here, in the 7 billion people who exist, there has never been anyone exactly like me, and there never will be again. The same is true of everyone else. People come in an astonishing variety; we are not machines, mass produced in some factory in Hoboken. When you see yourself as unique and worthy, you see others as unique and worthy too. And when you do that, it helps promote …


Kindness. Seeking, insofar as is possible without compromising yourself or your values, to treat others with kindness is a big deal in being a happy person. Kindness is not what people often think of as “niceness.” Kindness does not mean always agreeing with others, or never asserting yourself, or always rolling over, or avoiding conflict, or allowing yourself to be manipulated. Kindness means first, being kind to yourself when you screw up (which you will), and second, being compassionate to others when they screw up (which they will). It means recognizing we are all born of frailty and error, and knowing that if we are to survive together on this little ball in space, we must pardon reciprocally one another’s follies.

Flexibility. A huge part of being happy is learning to tell the difference between the things you need and the avenues to get there, and then learning to let go of attachment to just one way to get your needs met. It also means not trying to control, coerce, or manipulate others into meeting your needs.

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