‘Happiness is a choice.’ I’ve heard this said A LOT. But it really bothers me because it’s not entirely accurate. I know, that many of you are going to disagree, but please hear me out.
Huffington Post has an article explaining why there is scientific proof to support that happiness is a choice. However, if you read the article carefully, you’ll notice that, as Stephen Maddon commented, it ‘isn’t scientific proof…it’s just ways that CAN HELP lead to being happy, but there’s no concrete statements that say you WILL be happy if you do these things’. And he’s right. This article lists ways we can change our attitude, our thoughts and our behaviours to perhaps boost our mood. There isn’t anything we can do though to directly change our emotions. Smiling or trying to be happy might make us feel happier, but no one has the ability to decide their emotions. That would require superhuman talents and I don’t know about you, but I’m no X-Man.
Dani’s blog ‘positively PRESENT’ also has a great article about this subject matter and she puts it so well:
Quotes like “choose happiness” or “think happy thoughts” aim to convey the idea that, no matter what happens, you have control over what you think, but what they actually convey is that you have control over what you feel. But there’s a big difference between what you think and how you feel, and the idea that thoughts and feelings are interchangeable is potentially very damaging because, much as you might want to, you can’t control how you feel.
This is exactly what I am trying to get at here. The statement ‘happiness is a choice’ is true in a sense, but it’s just worded really badly. It’s trying to tell us that we can control our thoughts and in turn our emotions, but what it’s really saying is we can control our emotions.
We need to stop saying ‘happiness is a choice’. While it might be well intended, saying such a statement can be really damaging. DepressionAlliance has a great article which states how detrimental it is for people with depression to try and choose happiness, as it pushes down and suppresses the bad emotions and this can really hinder recovery. When a depressed person hears those words ‘happiness is a choice’, it can be really hurtful and it can make them feel like no one really takes their illness seriously. In high school I remember a classmate once asking ‘why can’t a depressed person just snap out of it?’. Simply put, a depressed person can’t just snap out of it because they can’t control their emotions.
When I was in hospital I was taught about the ‘cognitive triangle’. In fact, I heard about the cognitive triangle a lot. It came up again and again and again. The idea is that our feelings, thoughts and behaviour are all connected and they all influence each other. My emotions influence my thoughts and actions, my actions influence my thoughts and emotions and my thoughts influence my actions and my emotions. Basically, the idea is if I want to change my emotions I either need to change my thoughts or my behaviour.
Changing my thoughts might mean remembering a time when I felt really good about myself instead of continuously focusing on one time I did something really embarrassing. Changing my behaviour might mean instead of lying in bed all day watching videos on Youtube I might go for a walk in the park. But to change my emotions I need to first change my thoughts or behaviour.
So sure, happiness is a choice… sort of… sometimes… in an indirect way. But it’s not really happiness you are choosing, what you are choosing is to change your thoughts and behaviours in a way to influence your emotions. And guess what? For some of us, that’s really hard, even impossible without the right treatment. So please, I beg of you, stop telling me that happiness is a choice. Because simply put, it’s not.