i promised this post on twitter and i was shocked by how many people responded saying they’d like to hear my thoughts. i know several in my circle are fans of this idea, and i don’t begrudge anyone that. but try, for a second, to see it from another point of view.
three years ago, i was deeply sad. i was coming off the loss of two important friendships, and my romantic relationship was rocky and troubled. my visions of love and trust were shattered, and i thought the next step was accepting the cold wasteland that lay ahead, learning to live without any real connection ever. i practiced. i tried every day to disconnect further and further from anything that resembled warmth. i believed in my deepest heart that i’d come to the correct answer, finally, that this was how life was intended to be lived. i frequently fell into intense bouts of crying, lamenting, and just hurting. the bouncer would tell me over and over to try to be happy, to try to reach out to new friends, to have perspective. i fought him tooth and nail, insisting that these were my FEELINGS and i could not change them and how dare he invalidate them.
i learned after a while that i was wrong, and this is not a thing i say unless it’s really very true. i was, yes, so sad during that time, and with good reason. but i recognize, looking back, that i wallowed, on purpose, and i didn’t make any real effort to improve my situation. once i started trying a little, things got much better.
so, i understand the value of “choosing” happiness. i understand the value of logical perspective. i understand the futility of believing any circumstance or hurt is forever – the only constant is change. i understand that while you may not have direct control over all of your emotions, it’s good to try to steer them sometimes, and do-able. i do understand that you can play an active role in improving your mood, your circumstance, your life. that you are very often the one standing in your own way.
a phrase like “choose happiness” is glib. it makes it sound easy, and it’s not. often, it’s one of the hardest things to do. darkness can be so comfortable because when light shines brightly on you, you will be seen and for real, that’s scary as shit. it makes it sound as though when faced with something difficult, you can just “choose” happiness and the difficulty of the situation will just vanish. and just, no. this isn’t the way anything works.
and let’s talk for a second about feeling things that aren’t happiness…
i believe all emotions are valid. i believe we’re being taught to be chipper animatronic little robots all of the time, and i believe it’s bullshit. i believe when your best friend unceremoniously dumps you, when your boyfriend ignores you, when someone is out and out cruel to you, you should be sad about it. slapping on a grin and going for a drink under the guise of choosing happiness is a destructive and ultimately ineffective answer, because i promise you, your unresolved shit is coming back to bite you. i believe the choice of happiness as a panacea for the “problem” of feeling anything negative is troublesome and problematic. we have a spectrum of emotions for a reason – we’re supposed to use them.
and then, maybe most importantly, we’re brought to the times when there is no choice…
i believe there is a significant portion of the population that suffers from valid and varied levels of psychiatric illness, and it’s probably more than you think it is. even if you swear it isn’t the case, i promise you that every day, you encounter someone who had a legitimately difficult time leaving bed, or will be choked and crumbled from panic at some point in the day, or fought a self destructive urge. it is hard to be a human, guys. for all of the beauty we are given in this world we are also given terror. remember what I said last week? we are beings working in shadow and light, always. sometimes, the shadow is stronger.
i have a history of depression and anxiety and probably other things that i’ve never figured out. i have had traumatic shit happen, and because i know that i am not a special snowflake, i bet you have too. i promise you that when i am reeling, it isn’t because i just haven’t chosen happiness hard enough that day. the very best I can do on some of these days is leave bed. believe me, i feel guilty enough about my occasional inability to participate in the world – telling me to choose happiness is a slap in the face. it won’t do anything anf furthermore, it shows a complete lack of sympathy, or even an effort towards sympathy
sometimes, no, it’s not a choice.
i get it, the idea behind it, i do. finding joy is about a search and a conscious effort. sadness can be so easy, and escaping it requires bravery, requires a concrete decision. you’re in charge of your life, you’re in the driver’s seat and you’ve got to act it. perspective is valuable. all of that acknowledged, a phrase like “choose happiness” is overly simplistic, and to me, offensive on several levels.