When Happiness Isn't a 'Choice'
Happiness is a choice.
I read the words over and over — on social media and in books, and I hear the statement from well-meaning co-workers and friends and people I’ve never met in the checkout line.
Happiness is a choice.
But is it really?
When I first started struggling with depression, I believed it was a choice. I believed it was completely under my control. I was convinced I just had to think more positively or get more sleep or try harder. However, I soon became frustrated because nothing I was doing was working. My inner mantra changed from “Try harder” to “There’s something wrong with me.”
No matter what I did, happiness always seemed out of reach. In depression, there is no “on/off” switch for happiness.
Outside the realm of depression and mental illness, perhaps happiness is in part a choice. Perhaps “looking on the bright side” and “shaking things off” produce happiness for some people.
However, depression involves symptoms such as persistent sadness and feelings of hopelessness. If I could choose to be happy, I wouldn’t be depressed anymore. I would break free of the very definition of depression!
Though I may not be able simply to “choose happiness,” I believe there is something we can choose, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. I believe we can choose gratitude.
During my darkest days of depression, I could not choose happiness, but I could choose to be thankful. I could start lists of things for which I was grateful, from getting out of bed in the morning (or afternoon… as long as I got out of bed I counted it a victory!) to receiving an encouraging text from a friend.
When I experienced great trauma and grieved major losses, I could not choose happiness, but I could choose gratitude for what I still had and for the good times in the past.
When I faced suicidal thoughts, I could not choose happiness. Yet I could choose to whisper prayers and be thankful for the air in my lungs and the beating of my heart had lasted another day.
Today, even if I cannot choose to be happy, I will choose to be grateful. I will choose to be grateful for the ability to express my feelings. I will choose to be grateful for the gift of writing. I will be grateful for today, and I will celebrate the way thankfulness stirs up something inside me deeper than happiness and stronger than sadness: hope. I can and will choose to be grateful for hope.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure