A while ago one of the members of the congregation I attend got up to speak. This might sound a little funny, but in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, members of our congregation are assigned to speak or give “talks” on Sundays rather than having a Minister or Pastor who gives weekly remarks to the congregation. It was a really good talk, but I have thought about one portion of it for quite a while now. The speaker shared with us her belief that happiness is a choice. This is something I am pretty sure we have all heard many times before. In fact, I think there are about a million inspirational memes I could pull up on Google right now about happiness being a choice. And although I do agree with that sentiment, I feel it is seriously flawed and can be hurtful, because this simplistic viewpoint misses quite a few key real-life markers.
Here is why I kind of wish people would stop saying that. At least out loud. To other people.
I agree that we do have to choose whether to be happy in a long term sense, no matter our circumstances. We have all heard the stories of people living in some of the harshest of environments who are truly and genuinely happy, regardless of the hand life has dealt them. But we also need to understand that not everyone’s happy is the same. Sometimes it’s OK to choose to not be happy, and to feel the sad. Thank you to the movie Inside Out for starting this discussion, because it needed to happen….
I’m not saying you should make the sad your comfort blanket for the rest of your life. Doing that will cripple you, but when sad things happen you really do not have to put on a good face and “grin and bear it.”
Suck that mentality actually….
Two summers ago my world fell apart as I faced the sudden illness of one of my children. We feared that because of this illness she would be robbed of her sight permanently. Luckily that wasn’t the outcome we faced, although sadly some vision was lost, but not all of it. The aftermath of this illness is that our family and most especially my daughter, live under the very scary reality that she could wake up tomorrow with another “flare” that ultimately takes much, much more of her vision.
During this last flare-up, someone who I am sure thought they were trying to be kind, came to her and told her that this illness was “God’s will and she should accept it and find happiness.”
Um, thanks for that, because that statement completely undermined her very natural need to grieve and to not have to put on a happy face while her life was upended. It wasn’t that she felt hopeless or didn’t believe in God, but she was scared, unhappy at the moment, and sad for some lost possibilities that are a result of this illness.
And that was alright.
Sometimes we need to realize it isn’t our job to be the happy police and make sure people are happy. In the book of Matthew in the Bible we read, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Times of mourning are going to come to all of us, and my time length for how long it takes to bring the happy back might not be the same as yours.
In fact, ask someone with depression how they feel about the “choose happy” mentality. Because there are some who daily struggle with a harsh reality full of crippling mental illness and depression. I am sure that if they really and truly felt free to choose for themselves they probably would not choose to live with the suffocating, darkening effects of those very real maladies.
For them saying, “Just choose happiness” is so hurtful.
I heard a story once of a young women who had what her family called, “floor days.” Days when the all crippling darkness took over and she could do nothing but lay on the floor feeling lost in the waves of depression and sadness that hit her. In the midst of one of the darkest waves what brought her strength was a remembrance of the atonement of Jesus Christ and that He knew of her suffering and that she was not alone. That realization didn’t change the knowledge that dark days would come again, but just that she wasn’t alone in her suffering.
For her that worked.
Ultimately, there is a difference between the appearance of happiness and real happiness. And we shouldn’t have to apologize when we just aren’t feeling it. It doesn’t make us less of a person.
Remember, a smiling face can mask a world of pain.
And sometimes even a normally happy person won’t have an immediate answer for their pain.
So are you someone who deals with sad things, still seeks for the happy, and sometimes struggles getting there?
Great! You are human and we have all been there.
So perhaps, let’s not put boundaries on what happiness should look like for others or try to keep a “fake it until we make it” mentality that undermines our own and other people’s pain and suffering. Perhaps instead let’s take the good, the bad, the happy and the sad and allow others to go through it on their own timeline without judgment calls on the state of their happiness.
Sometimes joining someone in their tears instead of wiping them away is exactly what someone needs at that moment. The challenge for us is to be a good enough friend to recognize their need, and to do whatever it takes to bring them back home.