Ahhh the pursuit of happiness; ironically the root of misery, or a legitimate and easy choice?
You might have seen phrases or inspirational quotes flying around the internet centring around the idea that happiness is a choice; ‘Be Happy’ or ‘Choose Happy’, or ‘Today I Choose Joy’. I actually think I might be guilty of pedalling these ideas; scroll through my Instagram and you can probably see me encouraging my followers to choose happiness.
Of course, what I really mean, is to choose positivity; because it’s not possible to choose happiness. Or is it?
Happiness Is Like The Weather
You can’t control what you feel; if you could, then no-one would ever be sad, or depressed, or angry and the world would be a wonderful, if slightly weird, place. Happiness is an emotion, or as I like to think of them; energy in motion. Just like the weather, emotions come and go and can change from one moment to the next. Just as you can’t control whether the sun shines from one moment to the next, you cannot control your happiness. In fact, attempting to control, or suppress certain emotions can lead to storage of tension & pain in the body, which builds and builds if not released, into an illness, injury or breakdown.
We don’t judge the clouds for raining, so we shouldn’t try to control, or limit, our own sadness, or anger, our any other feeling, when it comes.
However, while we cannot, and should not control our feelings, we do have some level of influence over how we spend our time.
Curate A Life of Things You Love
Buddhist teachings state that comparison is the root of suffering. If this is the case, we can choose not to compare our lives with those around us, we can choose to spend less time on social media, or curate our feeds with people who inspire us, rather than make us feel bad about ourselves.
Similarly, we can choose to spend time with people who make us feel good, rather than those who bring down our energy. We can choose to say no to activities which we know will make us feel tired, drained or irritated. We can choose to reject fear and look for a new job, if ours is causing us suffering. We can choose to sing if that makes us feel good, or draw, paint, dance, write, read, run, swim, do yoga…. whatever it is that we enjoy. We can choose to do more of that.
‘Yes’, you may reply, ‘but that’s a rather idealistic view of the world; we can’t do stuff that makes us happy all the time; sometimes we must do things we don’t want to do, or things happen to us which are out of our control.’
Which is correct, but also comes with the incorrect assumption that happiness is some form of permanent, life-long state of bliss which, when achieved, stays with us forever. No-one is ever going to be happy 100% of the time. And anyone who says they are is LYING. As previously discussed, happiness is an emotion; one which comes and goes and has many different shapes and forms. Sometimes it’s the soft ebb of the water on the shore; sometimes it’s a giant tidal wave which overwhelms us with joy.
Understand What Happiness Is
Anyone trying to choose a permanent state of ecstatic happiness is always going to fail; because it cannot be done. I’m not trying to be a downer; but I do believe humans have a tendency to reject feelings which don’t contribute to the Hollywood-movie, fairytale-ending ideal idea of what life should be like. Sometimes life is boring, sometimes it’s hard, sometimes you lose someone you love, or suffer a great illness, or financial hardship. All these things and more are part of living; if you’re not feeling them, then you’re not alive; which is potentially a lot worse!
So, no, we cannot control what happens to us, and we cannot and should not control our feelings when they arrive. However, just as we always know that eventually the sun will shine after a thunderstorm, we can also choose to believe that our unhappiness, or the situation causing us unhappiness, will change, or fade away.
Fighting against the reality of your situation will only cause suffering; it’s like banging your head against a brick wall. The wall is there, honey; that isn’t going to change, and banging your head against it is only hurting yourself. Instead, we can choose to accept the wall for what it is and open our eyes to it’s potential. Maybe we can climb over it, or find a door within it, or maybe we can choose to grow flowers up it and use it for shade.
With anything that happens to us we have choices. We can choose to let go, to forgive, or we can choose not to fight, and to focus on the good, the potential, the opportunities, or we can choose to sit with our sadness and choose the belief that this too, will pass.
So, no, I don’t believe we can choose happiness. But we can choose acceptance, positivity & to relinquish control. We can choose to do everything we can to create a happy life and be realistic about what that means. And that’s enough.