There's no advice I find more condescending and shortsighted than the pervasive Pinterest-y adage that says you must “choose happiness.” It's silly at best, and damaging at worst.
I used to believe that happiness was as simple as a choice—that anything but being perfectly content with life was my own personal failing. If being happy were as easy as waking up with the willingness to be happy, then why was I sad and angry and resentful and tired and decidedly not very happy at all? I mean, what was wrong with me that I couldn’t simply choose happiness?
As it turns out, absolutely nothing—because the idea that happiness is a choice is utter BS. If happiness were as easy as making up your mind, then why are so many people miserable? Don't they know they can just make a magical choice that would render all of their unhappy thoughts void?
If happiness were as easy as making up your mind, then why are so many people miserable?
Now, I understand that the message beyond “choose happiness” is choosing to see the positive in life. This is solid advice, but it doesn't start and end there. I've discovered that a person must take certain steps before they're in a good position to choose anything for themselves: First, there's a process of self-examination, preceded by self-awareness, preceded by a willingness to change your personal beliefs. In order to truly see happiness in life (rather than sinking into a pit of delusion while making some far-fetched bid for positivity), you have to heal from all the demons that lurk in your brain. It’s much easier to be positive when your mind isn't against you, when you can clearly see how your past affects your present.
An unexamined mind is a loose cannon, spewing its untamed beliefs all over a perfectly good life. You can find yourself in self-destructive patterns, killing all hope for success and happiness, just because of hidden, unhealed pain from the past. You can distract it away, and drink it away, and screw it away, and smoke it away, but it’s still there, biding its time until you’re ready to face it.
You can’t "choose happiness" until you choose to see what's preventing you from being happy. You can meet each day with a smile and a positive attitude, but true emotional freedom comes from radical self-awareness, from seeing who you really are underneath who you think you are. It’s about meeting yourself at your worst and choosing to go on, choosing to accept that version of yourself. It’s about feeling around in the darkness that exists within you, and choosing to expose it to the open air, to the light of day, so you can take its power away. You can choose to love yourself, even when you don’t like yourself very much. You can choose to confront your emotions. You can choose to heal a wound, confront a trauma, brave a part of yourself that's hidden away.
Yet, you can't choose happiness. You can't ride that maniacal rollercoaster up into clouds of joy—because happiness is not a passive choice. It doesn't come with inaction; instead, action begets happiness.
You have to put in the time. People want happiness immediately; they want quick success and instant gratification. But anyone who has done the inner work of self-discovery knows that happiness is earned through battle. It’s freedom from the drudgery of living on autopilot, of living based on what people think you should be doing. Happiness is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, yet there’s a journey to get there, a process, a whole middle part that doesn’t fit in a Pinterest quote.
You can try to choose happiness every day, but it won't ever appear as if by magic. There's work to be done. You have to earn your own respect, acceptance, and love. You have to stop distracting away all that lives inside you. You have to make room for the joy.