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How to Choose Happiness When Life is S**t
When life gets hard, the last thing you want to hear is that “happiness is a choice.”
I get it. It’s as if you’ve been slapped in the face and then kicked while you’re still reeling.
I know that when you hear “happiness is a choice”, you think I am telling you that this is all your fault, that you shouldn’t be bothered by whatever is on your mind and that you just have to let it go.
I know that’s what you’re hearing but honestly, that’s not what I mean.
Hear me out.
Whatever you are managing, whatever obstacle you are facing, whatever pain you are enduring, that pain is real. It deserves your care and attention and it deserves my respect.
Life is hard and so many things happen to us that we just don’t deserve and that just aren’t fair. From cancer to lost jobs to petty disagreements to everything in between.
Life just isn’t easy but that’s the part we have absolutely no control over.
We can be our best selves, put forth our best efforts, and act with the best of intentions and still, shit will happen and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
The only thing we have any control over whatsoever is how we respond to it, what we do with it, and how we choose to let it shape us or change us.
That is what I mean when I remind you that happiness is a choice. That is where your choice lies—in how you respond to whatever life is handing you.
Respect the pain.
I mean this. Honestly. Nothing works if you don’t recognize your hurt, why you’re hurting, and the source of that pain. People who try to skip this part by exclaiming that they are “choosing happiness” are lying. They are cheating and they are in denial.
You can’t choose happiness without first acknowledging that you are in pain.
Take some time to feel the pain and acknowledge its presence in your life. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Call someone in your inner circle of trusted people. Get some rest. Take a mental health day or two. Give yourself a minute to catch your breath from the sting of whatever is going on.
Choose to hold both.
This is the thing that so many people misunderstand when I start teaching about choosing happiness. They think I am minimizing and dismissing the awful thing that’s happening and the pain that inevitably accompanies it.
Life is a real bitch sometimes. It throws stuff at us that we can’t possibly know how to manage the moment it hits us.
We can’t just stand up, brush ourselves off, and move on. Sometimes the things that hit us leave residual pain.
That being said, our challenge in these moments is to choose to hold both: hold the thing that has rocked our world with fear, sadness, and pain while also acknowledging the good.
People who stay down when life knocks them choose to only see and feel the bad; they refuse to acknowledge the good. They fear that by looking at or focusing on positive things that they are devaluing their pain. Some think that if they still see positives that they are somehow saying that the pain and obstacles they are facing are somehow ok.
Cut off the oxygen supply to your pain.
When life hits and you choose to stay down, you are giving that pain, sadness, and fear oxygen. You are giving it life and energy. You’re giving it permission to stay, take root, and take you over.
By holding the good, the positives, the moments of light, you are cutting off pain’s oxygen supply. You’re respecting the hurt but you’re not nurturing it or letting it breathe.
Accept that choosing happiness comes with risk.
People who are afraid of choosing happiness aren’t afraid of or resistant to being happy. They are afraid of the risk that comes with being happy. Happiness is vulnerable. Once we have it, we have something we can lose, something that can be taken away from us.
Choosing happiness means accepting that risk and choosing to collect the examples of things in our life that don’t suck, that are going well, and that make us happy. It can feel like we are jinxing things by saying out loud what’s important.
That’s true and it’s unavoidable. However, if we don’t turn towards the things that bring us joy, we are tuning into our pain. We are staying down.
What to do when the light isn’t easy to find:
When things get really hard and we are feeling discouraged and pessimistic, our perspective gets skewed.
It’s like we become wired to look for the things that suck. Here, our defense mechanisms are at play. We collect the hurts, the bad things, and the risks as proof that we can’t go on. We use these things as protection against further hurt.
Actively look for and seek out the good.
Tune into your capability. You don’t want this challenge right now. You didn’t wish for this hard time but you are capable of managing it.
Look at the relationships that are working. Identify the people you can lean on, that make it easier, and that make you feel better.
Name things that you are proud of. Last year, my husband was sick for 8 months. Five hospitalizations and 6 surgeries later, we were finally out of the woods. During that time, I rebranded my business, I conquered misgivings I had about performing physical caregiving, leaned more on my friends, and maintained my commitment to regular exercise despite sleep deprivation. Life was hard but I proved to myself just what I was capable of. We don’t learn of our strength when life is easy.
Look for the potential positive changes that will come from this situation, even the bittersweet ones. No one wants to lose a loved one to death but everyone wishes for an end to the suffering. No one asks to be laid off but sometimes new opportunities are on the other side of that struggle. Accept the bitter with the sweet.
Get a better understanding of your feelings. Feelings are just temporary and they do not define us. You might be mad as hell or sadder than you have ever been. That does not define you as an “angry” or “sad” person. You’re just feeling something. You’re having a reaction to a stressful event and the feeling won’t last. You won’t land here.
Choose how you want your feelings to fuel you forward. Anxiety, anger, despair are just feelings. They are just energy and we can choose how we use that energy. We can use that energy to take a step, pivot, or chart a new direction.
Turn to music, books, videos, or TV shows for a mood boost. When I can’t find my happy, one of my guilty pleasures is watching clips of reality talent competitions on YouTube. Watching the moment when someone sees their dreams coming true just lights me up and can turn my mood. (This is my favorite one. Don’t judge!) A YouTube video, Netflix binge, or reading marathon won’t solve my problem but taking that time may just shift my energy enough to find a solution I hadn’t yet considered.
Ask for help. You are not an island. You are not expected to have all the answers or know all the things. We all get stuck and blocked from time to time. A lot of the clients who come to me already believe that happiness is their choice. They just stuck in knowing where or how to move. Trusted family members, partners, friends, and professionals will gladly you support you through this. You just have to ask.
It all comes down to this one thing:
Admittedly, in my typical verbose manner, I have taken 1300+ words to get to this one point:
Choosing happiness is a choice. Beginning. Middle. End. If you want to get back up, you have to choose to move. Think about someone who’s just had a knee replacement. They are in pain. Their body has just been through surgery. They hurt everywhere.
The first thing the doctors have them do after surgery is bend the knee. They have to move. It hurts like f-ing hell and no one wants to do it but they have to. Otherwise the knee becomes frozen. The range of motion will become lost and the knee will become incapable of bending.
That’s the same thing that happens to people when they get knocked down but choose to stay down. They stay frozen. They collect all the reasons why moving is a bad idea and they refuse to move.
Life gets hard and it hurts but you have to choose to move. Your happiness is there, waiting for you, right on the other side.