How many time a day do you come across a meme on social media telling you that "happiness is a choice?" I now have a visceral reaction to these memes when I see them pop up in my social media feed. What's even worse - I used to share those memes, and believe the message.
Now I know that this is simply another thing out in the world that results in self-shaming, encourages the ever-present feeling of "not being good enough," and makes those of us who cannot, in fact, just magically conjure up a big ole dose of "happy" at any given moment further feel like a failure. The other term for this is "toxic positivity."
It was only in the last few years that I learned from my therapist that this ability to choose happiness is a myth. Once, while in her office, I remember lamenting over the fact that I can't seem to shake these mood swings, the feelings of hopelessness and sadness that sometimes come with no reason, and that I must be flawed since I can't just choose to feel another way. She looked at me and said, "That whole messaging around choosing happiness is complete bullshit." I looked at her, puzzled, and said, "Well I read a lot about Buddhist philosophy and it makes it sound so easy to just focus on yourself, look inward for happiness, and choose your path." She replied that while that's great and all, it doesn't mean that those who suffer from mental health challenges can just "snap themselves out of it" and gut it out until they are happy. If only......
Sure, there are circumstances in which you can decide how you react to a situation, a person, etc., and you can consider different perspectives, how you might perceive a situation differently, etc. Yet, when you suffer from anxiety and depression, perimenopausal mood swings, etc. you are literally out of control of your emotions much of the time. The effort is put into getting out of bed every day. Not worrying yourself into a panic attack. Being functional for your kids, family and job, and not taking some undeserving (or deserving) soul's head off in an unexpected wave of rage.
I wish it was as easy as the memes say it is, but it's simply not realistic to think we are in complete control of our brain chemistry, and hence, reactions, feelings, and emotions at all times. So, if you currently look at those memes and think you're doing something wrong, and subsequently add it to your list of "shoulds" (I should be better, I should be happier, I should be skinnier....you get the picture), then just stop. You're doing the best you can, and that's enough. If we could all choose to be happy all the time, don't you think we would? Give yourself the grace and compassion you give others. You deserve it. "