I am not sure I have ever felt comfortable with the notion that happiness is a choice. I can see the simplistic meaning behind this, but my problem with it is that for me it is too simplistic. Do we truly believe anyone would choose to be unhappy? Unhappiness is one of the worst possible ways we could ever feel, so why would we choose it? To me this common saying just belittles what many people are going through.
Some may say that certain people enjoy being unhappy, but I think that maybe we are assuming because a person is living a certain way (that differs from how we would), they must be unhappy, but perhaps they are not? For me, however, my dislike of these simple words comes from making it sound like anyone can just wake up and decide they are going to feel happy and magically they do! Sadly with grief, loss, mental illness and in many other circumstances also, it is just not that simple!
Would you really expect someone who just lost a parent, or a child to just say “hey I choose to be happy” and then they are? Of course not. You know that you cannot help but feel unhappiness, pain and sorrow if you lose a loved one, suffer a breakup, or have a lifelong loved pet pass away.
Everyone wishes to be happy, their life choices may not be aligned with yours, but trust me happiness is still what we all want. When it comes to Mental Illness there is a notion that ‘if you just stop feeling sorry for yourself, or stop focusing on the shit stuff, then you can choose to be happy”. I can not tell you how frustrating and naive this is! You can not tell someone suffering from the Flu who is sweating and aching to just stop it and plant a smile on their face and suddenly they’ll be like “wow why didn’t I think of that, now my Flu is cured”. It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it, because it is! Just the same as it would be ridiculous to tell an unconscious patient to snap out of it. A person with a mental illness wants to feel happy, there is nothing they want more! If they could choose happy they would!
I believe there is a hidden meaning here though. I believe that this saying is designed to have a positive effect on our mind, to make us think about what things we can do to help us head closer to happiness and healing. I think it is a saying that needs deconstructing.
There are things each of us can do to move closer to happiness, this is true for those of us who do not suffer mental illness, and for those of us that do. Having a good support network, time with friends, exercise, fresh air, connecting with people in person rather than on devices, smiling, getting the right amount of sleep, and for some people, the help of professionally prescribed medication. We can work towards the goal of being healthy mentally, we can work towards the pursuit of happiness, but to say we can simply choose to be happy, is quite frankly bullshit. Trust me that choice is already made, we want to be happy, but choosing it does not automatically make it so. It can be hard work, really incredibly hard work, for some it can be the biggest challenge they will ever face! They want it, we want it, I want it, and so we will continue to fight for it.
Happiness means a lot of different things to people, I think it goes deeper than the word, it is about seeking a life that is true to us, a life filled with honesty, authenticity, surrounded by friends who support one another, and it is about love. It is about giving, and not expecting in return, it is about having personal connections, it is about having a grateful heart, it is about forgiving and accepting ourselves, and it is a constant journey and personal evolution.