Circumstances don’t dictate personal happiness, you do. While the concept isn’t my idea, it has served us well over the years. A past painful experience illustrates this well. About 17 years ago when we first moved to the St. Louis metro area, we were apartment hunting in the city.

There was a place at the top end of our price range in a leafy, pretty section of Delmar Boulevard. A few days prior a nice lady on the phone assured me that there was one unit available with two bedrooms and one and a half baths. From the outside we liked the look of it.

Problems immediately arose. She was flustered upon our arrival and wasn’t sure that she had a unit available. Who had we spoken to? We were asked to “please wait outside” while she called to find out if there was an apartment for rent. Giving her time to get her story straight, we chatted outside in the chilled afternoon air of early spring. This woman was giving us the runaround.

She emerged from the office and apologized. There was a unit for rent as advertised, but she didn’t have the key. She pointed the building out to us, just across a parking lot sparsely populated by late-model Japanese cars. There it was the second floor apartment, curtains drawn, but we couldn’t tour it because she could not or would not produce a key.

Incensed, after tersely thanking her we left. It was obvious that she would never locate the key to that unit for us. She promised to call once the elusive key was found, she never did. My immediate reaction back at home was to look up housing discrimination and see if we had any recourse. We did of course, but it wouldn’t get us our time or energy back, and the very next apartment we viewed a few weeks later was the place we ultimately moved into.

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Occasionally we look back on that experience and thankfully recount how that chance encounter with a person who would not rent to us impacted our lives so greatly. We wound up renting instead from a major property owner in the city who became a dear friend to us, a man who took a vested interest in our future and was available for advice and a friendly ear many times in the ensuing years. It was a text from him last week that prompted this memory.

Our decision to move on after encountering that bigoted property owner was the right choice to make. Not because she deserved to get away with it but because it opened doors for us that we couldn’t have accessed had we become embroiled in a complaint against her. We lived a few miles down the road from those apartments for a few years and drove by them many times.

We chose not to obsess and, instead, to be happy.

This event happened before I ever laid eyes on the book “Happiness is a Serious Problem, A Human Nature Repair Manual,” by Dennis Prager. In it, he posits that “there is little correlation between the circumstances of people lives and how happy they are.” How right he is.

How many people do we all see living in what appear to be pristine circumstances who enjoy relative comfort, wealth, health and familial situations and yet are miserable bastards at every turn? How many relatively poor people radiate confidence and a sense of purpose all while spreading laughter and lifting others at every brief encounter?

Reading Prager produced a permanent mental shift for me. “Not only do we have a right to be happy, we have an obligation to be happy,” he writes. “Our happiness has an effect on the lives of everyone around us – it provides them with a positive environment in which to thrive and to be happy themselves.” How true. The actions of that bigoted woman years ago didn’t prevent us from becoming homeowners or achieving so many of our dreams.

Choosing to be happy doesn’t always mean walking away from a fight. There are times where we should stand our ground. In each case, we make the choice to do so. But the goal should be to yield the happiest result, for us.