It’s a saying that gets thrown around endlessly. Popular in memes and inspirational quotes on social media, common mantra of self-help advocates. The notion that you can simply “choose” to be happy is lovely. That you can somehow magically decide to remain unaffected by any hurt people or situations sling your way. But how accurate is this?
Firstly, it depends on what you classify as “happiness.” If to you, happiness means waking up every day with a smile and an eager zest for life, certain that your day will be wonderful, then you are very different from those who view happiness as successfully getting through a day without breaking down into tears.
Point is happiness is relative. It is not the same thing to all people. Some will not settle for less than unrestrained joy in their every day, while others will have a far lower threshold.
Secondly, it depends on whether you consider happiness to be a more or less permanent state, or a particular mood that is subject to change. A person can consider themselves to be generally happy, yet still be floored by receiving devastating news. Informing someone who has just suffered a tragic bereavement that they are responsible for their own happiness is cruel, not kind.
The point here is that happiness is not a static state. It is subject to change depending on factors that can be out of our control. Even the happiest people cannot be happy all of the time because life just does not work that way.
The bad news is that you cannot control how you feel. Emotions are what they are. Happiness, sadness, anger, fear, hurt, jealousy, they will all crop up from time to time for the average person. No matter how happy or secure you think you may be, nobody is immune from that sting of feeling something bad. Something that triggers you to feel a certain way.
The good news is that you can always control your behaviour. I’ll say that again. You can ALWAYS control your behaviour. No matter how angry you get, you can always control whether you become violent. And no matter how sad you get; you can always control whether you allow it to take over your life.
I need to state here that I am talking about standard emotions arising in mentally healthy people. Some people with mental illness do have less measure of control over their actions at times. Note here, I said “some” and only “at times.” One day I’ll drop a post on my opinion of the DSM-5 and you’ll see my views on its use as a diagnostic tool that labels people and offers excuses for terrible behaviour. But that’s a separate issue…
If you find yourself feeling unhappy, you need to ask yourself “why.” Are you generally unhappy? Or has something just happened which is prompting you to feel this way? If you are generally unhappy, then chances are you need to make changes in your life. If something has happened triggering a response of unhappiness, then simply move away from it. No, I am not saying run from everything that makes you unhappy. I am simply saying that if social media is dragging down your mood, log off. If a particular song is upsetting you, skip it. If a person in your life is making you unhappy, speak to them about it. Or distance yourself if needed.
The short answer is you are not responsible for what you feel. But you are responsible for controlling your environment to the best of your ability to increase your happiness. Do not knowingly expose yourself to hurtful stimuli. Do not put up with toxic people in your life. And do not let anyone dictate what your happiness should mean to you.
So, let’s all make our lives happier by controlling what we can. We got this, guys.