A photo of a woman holding a collection of balloons, two of white or smile emoji ones, that covers her face to represent the topic of the article - Happiness ISN'T A Choice. Heres Why It's Not

Happiness ISN’T A Choice. Heres Why It’s Not

This topic is one of mine and my partner’s pet peeves. Because there’s countless people out there telling us that the reason we’re not happy, successful, rich, etc., is because we’ve not made the choice to make that happen. Life just isn’t that black and white. Happiness isn’t a choice we can just make, like flicking on a light switch.



To me, it’s like when my mum tells me to get over my mental health. If it was that simple, we’d all be happy and none of us would have mental health problems. Instead of being that person, be an ally.




Is Happiness A choice?


While researching for this article, I came across Becoming Minimalist, who believes happiness is a choice. They talk about how happy people aren’t held hostage to circumstances like everyone is in a position to stop being a hostage. They also used a quote I’d like to share with you, which they claim was said by Abraham Lincoln.


Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.


The problem is, the quote they used clearly has a modifier that states that happiness isn’t a choice for everyone: most. If it’s a choice, then it wouldn’t be most, it would be everyone. Not everyone is in a position where they can just change their perspective on their situation to find happiness. A lot of us have mental health issues, for example.


The flip side to saying “happiness is a choice” is that having a mental health condition would also be a choice. If mental illness isn’t a choice, then happiness isn’t a choice either. And if you think mental illness is a choice, then you need to learn more about mental health.


A black and white image of a man standing at the beach looking out at the seas with words above his head that say "It's a disorder, not a decision"


I’m tired of seeing everywhere how happiness is a choice. How does that even make sense? I can’t choose to be happy when I’m plagued with existential thoughts of my nonexistence and images of my death. Do people really believe that people who are actively being abused can just choose to be happy? And even if they could, should they? If you choose to be happy in your abuse, you’ll never leave that situation.


Happiness isn’t a choice, because you can’t force yourself to be happy. The pressure to always be happy can be toxic. You can’t find happiness in every situation, and nor should you. We can learn from situations that we don’t try to reevaluate to find an angle to be happy about. You can also find out that some aspects of an event don’t live up to the hype, and that’s ok. But if happiness is a choice, it’s not the event that’s stopping you from being happy, it’s you for choosing not to be happy.


There are times when I can do stuff that makes me happy, although more often than not, that requires money I just don’t have. But there are also more times when nothing I do will make me any happier, I’ll be just as depressed on holiday, playing a game, socialising, etc. Often the latter can make me feel worse, because faking having fun is extremely draining psychologically.


Look at it this way. If you’re working a job that is making you feel depressed because you’re overworked, who does it benefit most to get you to find happiness in that situation? Your employer benefits most because they don’t have to do anything to create a healthy work environment. Instead, it’s your fault for not focusing on the stuff about that situation you should be happy about. You’ll see this a lot in weaponised mindfulness.


You’ll be told that you can fake it until you make it by slapping on a smile. There are studies that fake smiling can release the same chemicals as a genuine smile, causing a feedback loop (Happiness.com). But the fact that smiling depression exists tells me that’s not entirely true. Many people can be laughing, smiling, and always seeming like they’re happy in life, and then take their life.


Too often, people hide their pain behind a smile and behind fake happiness. This was the whole reason for the Ask Twice campaign. People will say they’re fine when they’re not and hide that behind a happy mask.




Happiness Isn’t A Choice


As you may know, I’m a big fan of positive psychology. I even wrote an article or two on the psychological approach. However, the philosophical shift that came with positive psychology, with its emphasis on improving the wellbeing of already well people, has its costs (Psychology Today). If happiness is a goal we can choose, then failure to achieve that means something is wrong with us.


That’s the problem with the view that happiness is a choice. It’s extremely simplistic. Because happiness isn’t a choice, especially if you have depression. So it’s important to remember that being unhappy doesn’t mean you’ve failed and you’re not a failure. You can do things that can make it easier to become happy, but that doesn’t guarantee that you will feel happier.


Happiness isn’t a choice, and that’s ok. Even Becoming Minimalist added their own modifier when they talked about happiness being a choice. They admit that choosing to be happy isn’t enough. And they’re right. You can choose to try to be happy, doing things that could lead to you being happy, but you can’t just become happy because you’ve chosen to.


Psychology Today proposed that we ask ourselves why it matters so much to be happy when we next feel frustrated that we’re not happy.


The picture is split in two with the top image being of a woman with a prosthetic arm smiling and pulling up the hood on her hoody. The bottom image being of a manhole pained to look link a multi-coloured smiley face. The two images are separated by the article title - Happiness ISN'T A Choice. Heres Why It's Not


Happiness Isn’t A Choice, But How Can We Tip The Scale In Our Favour?


Although there is a downside to positive psychology, if you take it to a toxic level, it can help improve our chances of feeling happier. There are many positive psychology interventions that can be used that might lead to an improved sense of happiness. One that’s often recommended in therapy is to keep a gratitude journal. It’s a simple task. You just record things on a regular basis that you’re grateful for.


You can also create an achievements collage to celebrate yourself or even a positivity board. Engaging in more self-care, such as using a self-care jar to avoid repetitiveness, can help reduce stress. Then there’s being around green spaces, exercising, and taking up a hobby. You can also stop doomscrolling and take up cheerscrolling, to help improve your day. All these kinds of things might help you become happy, but that doesn’t mean they will or that the happiness will last.


Sometimes, what you might need to become happier is to remove yourself from a situation, to set boundaries, to change jobs, to end a relationship, to burn a few bridges, or to take antidepressants. These are all valid options to consider.






Stop telling people that their happiness and their mental health issues are a choice. Happiness isn’t a choice and nor are mental health conditions. Instead, be a good friend and an ally, and help people to find their own ways to be happier. It’s hard work to feel happy, and most of us don’t have the time or the money to work on our happiness. But we all deserve to be happy. Just remember, it’s not possible to be happy all the time. Nor should you try to be happy all the time.


As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences with happiness being a choice in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.


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40 thoughts on “Happiness ISN’T A Choice. Heres Why It’s Not

  1. I completely agree happiness is not a choice because people do not choose to have a mental health condition like I did not choose to go through postpartum depression after I had my daughter. As you mentioned, there are things you can do to try and improve your happiness, but there’s no guarantee they’ll actually make you happy.

  2. Once again, you’ve given me a lot to think about with this post. It’s true that you can’t will yourself to be happy. Sometimes life doesn’t give you much to be happy about. I love your list of suggestions to tip the scales in your favour.

      • Great post. And I totally agree. We should experience a mixed balance or emotions and not just happiness all the time. This isn’t real life and it’s damaging to make anyone believe this is achievable.

        • Thank you. And I agree with you too, it is very damaging to push the idea that constant happiness or that you can choose to be happy is possible. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  3. An interesting misnomer that happiness should (and can) be felt all the time is starting to finally get some attention (like right here…nicely done). There are so many more facets to humans than just “Choose Happiness”. And each of us is fantastically unique so we all struggle differently. For me, it’s about putting up definitive boundaries and finding the balance between my own inner light and darkness. And then coping when it’s terrible, but also celebrating when it’s wonderful. Great article! Be well. ✌️

    • Well said. Boundaries are one of the best ways to protect our wellbeing and improving our chances of being happier in life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  4. Interesting read and I like how you presented this as always. I think the issue with many people who say happiness is a choice simplify what that means and to whom. Also, toxic positivity is not helpful, especially when people simply invalidate our struggles and challenges or circumstances. We all struggle and while it’s not responsible to pretend we can flick on happiness like a light switch, totally agree. I think regardless of anything, we can try to find small things that bring us happiness or joy without making the blanket assumption that it’s all or nothing and if you’re not 100% happy you’re somehow being stubborn or not wanting it (especially with a mental health condition). I would say, it’s more about finding small things, which is always possible even if only for a few moments. I hadn’t considered this until I had someone very close to me who got cancer 3 times in 15 years (age 20-35) and lived with the constant fear of death and not being able to live and redo his days. He worried about days he would never ever get back because he was angry about how unfair it felt. What I really learned from his words were that even if it’s only that you add a bit of avocado to your toast at breakfast, or you take the extra moment to look at the sunset, or enjoy a hug, choosing to find tiny moments of peace and gratitude is what makes all the difference. And I thought that seemed healthier and much more manageable. 🙂

    • Indeed, it’s often all about the small things. Either it’s the small things that can annoy us or it’s the small things that make life easier.

      It can be really unfair when life hits us with one major life event after another, so I feel for your friend, and I hope things worked out for them. But at least they were able to find little moments of happiness when they could. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience

  5. I absolutely love this post! It’s so thought provoking. I too have people tell me to ‘snap out of it’ as if mental health issues are a choice. Just like happiness, we don’t choose our emotions and mental health, they just are xxx

  6. telling someone to be positive all the time is just as toxic and i think more people need to understand that. we can’t force ourselves to be happy all the time. we need to learn to accept all feelings. great read!

  7. An interesting post. I also get annoyed with this. It’s hard to be happy all the time in the world we live in and all the responsibilities that come with it. They say to be happier you need to ‘subtract’ things from life – but it’s not that easy. It’s just life I guess, and life can be hard at times. Thanks for sharing, Jade MumlifeandMe

  8. Well, put. It’s impossible to be happy all the time.
    People who tell others to choose to be happy are minimizing their distress and worse still, trivializing their experiences.

  9. I agree. We can’t force happiness on ourselves or on others. But we can try to avoid situations or people that we know cause us unhappiness. I consider that a step towards a more peaceful mindset.

  10. What a great post! I love that you explore why happiness is, in fact, not a choice, and instead rephrase the stance into one of how can we upscale happiness in our favor? I connect with your position on happiness so much more, as it takes away from the constant pressure of being happy while still keeping a positive mindset. 🙂

  11. Like you it is a pet peeve of mine that people just say get over it or just be happy. If it was that simple no one would be unhappy etc. I think people just need to be taught about mental health. I think discussing it to children in schools will help produce more allies. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Lauren x

  12. Happiness is not a choice as illness is not a choice. I believe happiness is a direct, and sometimes indirect consequence of one’s actions. Great read Unwantedlife.

  13. Interesting article. Very true. It’s extremely difficult to be “happy” if you have a mental health problem. People who may appear to have reason to be unhappy can become depressed and sometimes those who experience hardship find joy in small things

    • It can also be hard to be happy without a mental health problem, if you don’t have any personal time, have money problems, housing problems, etc. Life’s hard

  14. We all deserve to be happy, I very much agree. Happiness is something that we can give ourselves, but you are so right in that we are fed false information on how we obtain it. Happiness is not bought, or sold, or stolen or faked. Happiness comes from something so much deeper than anything we seem to understand in our materialistic world. Happiness is in our hearts, our minds and our spirit, and when that spirit is challenged or broken, it takes an enormous amount of strength to find again. I’m with you, we are force fed happiness and when we don’t feel it, and express that, it is seen as something wrong. No emotions are wrong, all are valid. If you are sad, angry, pissed off, frustrated, then there is a reason; if you are happy, elated, joyful, grateful, there is also a reason. It is our responsibility to accept how we feel, and to find the real reason behind it, whatever it is. We are a kaleidoscope of beautiful emotions, half of which are termed negative, for most of us who live with that on a wider scale, it is unacceptable. But it is true and truth is what we should always side on. Thank you for this really insightful post.

    • There is no such thing as a bad emotion, it’s only how you respond to that emotion that dictates if it’s bad or not. Sometimes you have to be angry, and being angry can lead to action being taken. Just look at the civil rights movements the world over. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  15. The discomfort and struggle of society at large to accept pain, trauma and illness gets projected onto those who present those very experiences: “You are not doing enough to be happy” – similar to ‘Pain is optional, suffering is a choice’. The ‘everything must always be happy, good, healthy, successful – illusion that becomes a merciless condition, a demand. And when there is pain, illness, suffering, depression, let’s medicate it, cut it out, radiate it, seek entertainment and oblivion. And by avoiding agony and doubt and despair, we avoid the deep truths of life. All great creations, insights, teachings, art and discoveries happened in the wake of deprivation, doubt, loss and alienation.

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