In a blog post my friend Andrea posted today, she mentioned the frustration that lies in the phrase, "Choose to be happy." From the first time I considered these words, I’ve agreed that, yes, individuals are responsible for their own happiness and that, in theory, happiness is a choice.
This statement is misleading because it makes it sound like choosing to be happy is a discrete, singular, and/or recurring event. I'm not sure if that’s true. Rather, happiness is a result of choice, or an amalgamation of choices1.
I know that when I'm depressed I'm completely incapable of choosing to be happy in any given moment. Be happy, Myke, doesn’t work. And when I’m not depressed, when I’m simply sad or angry, deciding to be happy in that moment may not be the best idea. There’s a quote from Weakness Is Not Sin that explains this better than I can:
When we accept our own emotional states with calmness, curiosity, and compassion, we can learn from our feelings and let them go. When we get ashamed of our feelings and go overboard trying to suppress or get rid of them, we often make them worse. People who can feel, name, and reflect on their emotions tend to be much better at accepting them, learning from them, and then releasing them. (p. 81)
When I’m sad or angry, I find that when I acknowledge and experience that emotion—to do what’s necessary to really feel it—to cry, hit a punching bag, go for a run—I can then let it go and be happy. (Granted, letting myself experience an emotion and knowing when to let it go is so much easier said than done.) If I tell myself, Just be happy, Myke, I end up shoving those feelings into some recess where they fester, multiply, and return with vengeance.
Do I want to be happy? Absolutely. But perhaps more than that, I want to experience—and I mean really experience—the normal range of healthy human emotions, feelings, and senses: anger, sadness, joy, awe, grief, excitement, wonder, love, frustration. Feeling those emotions, being present to those senses, means that I am living my life. And living my life is how I choose to be happy.
1I am certainly not an expert on happiness and would not be surprised to see myself modifying this statement in the future.
P.S. I'm not saying that others can't choose to be happy in any given moment. I'm only sharing what works for me.