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 that 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.
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’d 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 the 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 the 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. That 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.
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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Unwanted Life readers.