“Happiness is a choice.”
I’ve seen this quote frequently on social media and the internet in many different forms. Most of them are images which include a picture of a woman standing in lush forestry holding a bouquet of flowers in her hands while the breeze perfectly volumizes her hair. Others are intricate scripted letters on top of Instagram-filtered sea shores or sunset backdrops. It’s as if ‘happiness’ equals peace. ‘Happiness’ makes one beautiful. ‘Happiness’ is what’s right or the best choice.
Since moving up here to the ranch, I’ve had the privilege of being able to slow down. I don’t find myself sitting in hours-long traffic jams. At night, I hear crickets instead of highways. The sky is an explosion of stars and cosmos and for literally hours, we can stare intently into its greatness.
This slowdown has allowed me to take a deeper look at myself. I’ve more clearly started to understand my own anxiety, that I’m a people pleaser, and that I at least try to be an encourager. All along, I’ve repeated the phrase over and over in my head, “Just be happy. Just be happy.” I’ve been drawing strength from this. Confidence. I feel like if “I’m just happy” than I’m doing something right.
Now, I disagree with that idea.
‘Happiness’ is a wonderfully enjoyable emotion that as living creatures, we all experience and share. It is what happens when you hear a joke that strikes your sense of humor. It’s what your dog is feeling when they wag their tail as you pull into the driveway. ‘Happiness’ is what I feel while having an awesome casserole that King Ranch whipped up from the most hodge-podge pantry ingredients like pastas and cheeses and breadcrumbs and feeling full from its nourishment.
‘Happiness’ is Bunny and Tee braying uncontrollably when they hear us coming out into the pasture because they know we probably have treats or at least ear rubs coming their way. I am ‘happy’ when I finish giving them carrots and they proceed to nuzzle me and/or follow me around the yard. ‘Happiness’ is Little Foot realizing that he’s learned how to tell us that the cow says “moo”, and proceeding to repeat it over and over with an increasingly large grin on his face. ‘Happiness’ causes tears in our eyes as King Ranch and I realize just how much Little Foot is comprehending these days.
What happiness isn’t is a choice. I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ about our savings account quickly dwindling yet somehow still being too much to qualify our family for financial assistance with health insurance. I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ when I read articles about donkeys being illegally sold for meat in Nigeria by the thousands and knowing that right now, there is literally NOTHING I can do to help. I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ when mass shootings are reported on the news. What do you tell the families of those killed or injured? “Just CHOOSE to be HAPPY?” I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ when a stray dog bolts onto our property, grabs our largest egg-laying hen by the neck, and takes off down the street. I am, however, ‘happy’ that King Ranch ran after them, retrieved the chicken like a knight in shining armor, and then spent days nursing her back to health.
Happiness is nothing more than an emotion. It’s on the same level as sadness, anger, and fear. They’re equals. Happiness, I think, just feels better than the others.
Happiness won’t soothe your hands that are white-knuckled and cramping over the steering wheel when you’re driving in 25 degree weather, shivering in pain, because the heater’s busted, but you can’t risk spending the money to fix it. Happiness won’t make it easier to have to shovel up an already rotting, dead, floppy rooster from your backyard; nor will happiness take away the guilt you’re experiencing while wondering if there was more you could have done to save him.
Indeed, happiness is a blessing. Happiness should be treasured. Happiness should be celebrated. But happiness shouldn’t be degraded and simplified into being a ‘choice’ – no more than anger, sadness, or fear should be ignored, bottled up, or thought of as a personal sign of weakness.
Why don’t we illustrate these other emotions or put them on beautiful internet memes to encourage people to embrace as well? Why are there no pretty women in pictures captioned ‘Get angry’ or ‘I would be sad, too’ or ‘Dear God there’s a spider as big as my hand in the bathtub’?
I am angry that our country’s healthcare system is so broken that it is costing us tons of money that we don’t have just to get our child treated for his illness. I am worried about how we will continue to pay our bills if one of us doesn’t find a job soon. I am sad that I cannot afford a plane ticket to go visit my brother in Colorado whose wife is about to deliver my newest niece. I cannot simply ‘choose to be happy’ about these things. And why would I want to? Why should I? Would that make me stronger? Or better?
Instead, I will celebrate happiness when happiness is justified. I will embrace anger when the need arises. I will proceed cautiously with fear when things are uncertain. I will allow sadness when tragedy occurs.
I will accept all emotions that I am armed with equally because they are a part of me. We are equipped with them for a reason. For confidence. Empathy. Awareness. Protection. Connection to one another.
I will no longer ‘choose to be happy.’ I will ‘choose to be honest.’ And if I’m being honest, right now I am happy that King Ranch is playing firetrucks on the floor with Little Foot while I’m sipping some really good breakfast blend coffee. I am sad that Little Foot’s ears hurt and I can’t make the pain go away more quickly. I am angry about the across-the-world donkey slaughter because who could, in their right mind, harm such lovely creatures? I am worried about our finances and what the coming months will continue to look like.
I am confident in and grateful for all of my emotions and the roles they play in my life. I don’t feel guilty about my fears or angers. I am thankful that I’ve got the tools I need to properly and productively deal with difficult situations.
I am okay with all of that. I am not weak for being a buffet of feelings. Nor does that make me pitiful. Right now, it makes me, me.
At the end of the day, I guess I’m over this idea that we all should “just be happy” and that if we’re not, that it’s some sort of a personal weakness. It’s not. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to be beautifully complex. It’s you. It’s us. It’s alive.
Be happy. But also get angry. Respect fear. Allow sadness. Appreciate all of your layers. They’re all lovely. Happily, angrily, fearfully, sadly LOVELY.
Today, I “choose to be me.” Flustered, giddy, exhausted, unsure, grateful, curious ME. And I’m putting this image out there to encourage change. 🙂