“Happiness is a choice!”
“All you have to do is change your perspective!”
“Don’t like your job? Quit! It’s easy!”
I rolled my eyes throughout me typing all of that.
This is something I see all the time in the self help industry, specifically from coaches and strategists.
I constantly see happiness gurus, life coaches, success coaches, let’s put a random noun in front of the word coach coaches promoting this ideology and belief system that happiness is something you can just snap and achieve. They stress the fact that if you are unhappy, you’re choosing to be unhappy. That that is your choice.
That, dear reader, is bullshit.
You can not choose happiness.
The issue here is that coaches got their lives together and they want everyone else to feel that same way. That’s perfectly wonderful and if anything it’s our job as coaches to empower and help others. Although what they aren’t considering are the many different ways the system (yes, the system) comes into play.
They don’t acknowledge the systemic barriers that will literally stop someone from just quitting their job, eating healthier, or ‘choosing happiness’.
As much as I want to just point fingers and call some people classist and ableist, part of me thinks that the coaches and people saying that simply don’t understand those barriers and how they coincide with someone’s life.
So let me break this down using my own personal backstory:
Back in 2012, I was severely depressed and suicidal. Did I always believe that there was a bright side of life even if I didn’t see it right away? Yes. But so many people aren’t like that.
There were so many days where I couldn’t get out of bed and where I was breaking down CONSTANTLY. I don’t remember there being a time up until this past month where I said and believed that I was truly happy, regardless of the things happening in my life.
All my emotions were just...intensified. Sadness was despair and a minor annoyance would result in blinding rage and as much as I breathed in and out and sang songs to make me feel better, I couldn’t lift the proverbial weight that was on my shoulders.
Depression is a real fucking thing. It’s not just a fancy word for “I’m sad today.” It’s a palpable, tangible, horrible feeling that we can’t just shake off in an instant no matter how much we want to.
I wanted to. I wanted to have standard mood swings and laugh and giggle like I used to but for some reason I couldn’t and I wouldn’t be able to for once again, years.
I didn’t fucking choose to feel that way. I didn’t want to feel that way. I tried fighting it in every way I can. I tried every coping mechanism outside of drinking and drugs that you could think of, and yes that does include negative mechanisms such as self harm and positive ones like art.
To this day I have depression. I can manage and handle it better, but it took years.
No one chooses depression. No one chooses to be this way and to say that it’s a choice they’re making is very fucking invalidating. Why would I choose to feel like that? Why would anyone want to feel that way? Don’t you think if I could just choose happiness, I would have?
So with that being said, no. Happiness isn’t always just a choice. It isn’t always that simple, and while that is my personal example, there are so many other people who are and were worse than me and suffer at a more severe rate and imagine how it must feel to constantly be told that they are choosing to be that way.
Now I’m not saying that we should sit and stew in our shit.
What we can do is make a conscious choice to do little things everyday to make us feel a bit better about ourselves. We can make a conscious choice to start small and build up. That’s what actually helped me. It wasn’t just deciding to be happy. It was deciding that I wanted more and that even if I didn’t know how I would do it I would get better. It took a while to even make that conscious choice.
It was rocky after that. So rocky. Some days were better than others though, but it was still rocky.
As coaches, it’s up to us to help people and clients on those off days. It’s up to us to stop people who are neural atypical from beating themselves up over the emotions that they’re feeling. What I didn’t feel is validated. What I didn’t feel is in control.
That’s how we can help people take control of their lives. Validate what they’re feeling and what they’re going through, and help them on both the off and on days so they don’t feel alone versus saying that they should just choose happiness. It’s not that fucking simple.
In regards to quitting your job to go and travel the world. Some people can just quit and take a leap of faith, sell everything they have, and go for it.
Others can not.
Other people have families, bills, debt, and other very real realities that stop them from doing that.
Once again, insinuating they can quit invalidates what’s going on around them. It invalidates what they’re going through and the issues they face.
How can you help people there?
Help them with time management so they can make time for the side hustle. Help them find ways to execute their dream without disrupting their lives if they really can’t leave it.
Don’t invalidate their struggle, or make them feel like shit because they can’t up and leave their jobs like you did.
Long story short, you don’t know what someone’s backstory is. You can’t tell them what they can and can’t just do…what they can and can’t just choose.
We can all choose to make conscious decisions towards bettering ourselves, our mental health, and our lives in ways that won’t invalidate our emotions and our lives.
But what we can’t fucking do is choose happiness.