Happiness is a choice? So does that mean I chose to be sad?

LisaBefore I was formerly diagnosed with severe depression, OCD and anxiety I remember the daily struggle I had trying to understand how and why I always felt so down.

I walked around with a weight on my chest that never went away. It was difficult for me to come to terms with the changes that had taken place in me over a matter of months. I was losing friends because of my behaviour, and all I wanted, more than anything else, was to go back to being my happy, cheerful self. I wanted to genuinely smile and laugh until my stomach hurt.

A little while later, I had finally sought help for what I was going through and had started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I began understanding why I thought certain things and what made me react in a certain manner. I was beginning to accept myself and my condition.

Happiness is a choice? So does that mean I chose to be sad?

One day on my way to university, I spotted a woman with a bright, colourful tote bag walking in front of me. However, my eyes landed the clear bold print sprawled across the bag: “Happiness is a choice”. I felt the familiar tightness in my chest as I went over the phrase in my head. Happiness is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Happiness is a choice. So does that mean I chose to be sad? Are millions of people who suffer from mental health illness just going through painful and traumatic experiences because they chose to? Obviously not. I was filled with sudden rage. I even considered going after the woman and asking for explanations, but alas my anxiety had other plans.

I was filled with rage at the thought that this woman, and anyone who would buy or make such a bag, genuinely thought happiness was a choice. Until then, I had always kept my mental health illness a secret because I assumed people would react negatively because of the stigma attached. I never realised that I had to talk about my illness. I had to talk about it because it was not a choice. I had to talk about it because I couldn’t let people think it was a choice. I was just coming to terms with the fact that I would have to live with this, possibly for the rest of my life. I didn't want to have to deal with people thinking I chose this for myself. Mental health stigma had never been visible to me before.

It can be difficult for people to understand depression

If it were a choice, why would anyone choose anything but happiness? The implication was clearly if you’re sad you choose to be so for attention or self-pity or out of laziness. If anything, being depressed made me want to isolate myself from everyone. Attention was possibly the last thing I wanted.

I realise now that anger was not the right emotion. I now know how difficult it is for someone who doesn’t have a mental health illness to understand just how debilitating it can be. I have no reason to be angry with her, or those like her. When I think of that woman today I’m filled with sadness that I never got to explain to her how I, and many like me, do not chose to be like this.

Now if the opportunity arises I try to explain and encourage dialogue, however daunting and challenging it may be to speak about my experiences. It breaks my heart that on top of fighting for their lives, many also have to fight against the ignorance that surrounds their illness, but it makes me truly proud to see how far we have come to conquer the stigma.

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I do not think your (not you

I do not think your (not you personally!) emotional state is a choice and it is naive to think so. However, as I am sure you are familiar with through CBT, the way we choose to react to those emotions IS a choice. We can choose whether to feed the anxiety/depression/OCD cycle or we can choose to break it and change our thinking and the way we respond to these. That is the basic premise of CBT. However bad, sad, angry or scared our own MH can make us, we can choose freedom. It is a very difficult but ultimately liberating skill to learn. In light of that instead of thinking of the woman's bag as an ignorant peiece of fashion, let's flip that and think of it as encouragement: 'I don't choose to feel the way I do, but I do CHOOSE to commiting myself to do everything in my power to change the way I respond to it'.

Very well put Lauren. I

Very well put Lauren. I agree, our reactions/actions to our emotional landscape is something we can choose and that this understanding can elevate suffering as demonstrated by the success of CBT and other practices. Personal health and well being is the responsibility of every individual on the planet, regardless of their mental and physical faculty - not just those with mental health issues! It is a great deal more complex and often more difficult for those of us with profound health issues to do this work, but we can. And this is good news! I may have to live with anxiety related issues for the rest of my life, but I do not need to be defined by it. Even on the toughest days I can accept my situation but do what I can to reduce my suffering - even if it is just letting myself be. Happiness does not necessarily mean 'fixing' or being cured. For most of us it simply means accepting the skins we are in and doing what we reasonably can do to support ourselves. BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS.... The bag may seem to sport a shallow statement but it is also simultaneously a profound one. This is a long and difficult path to walk and it takes incredible courage to do so... Lisa you are very brave, very brave indeed, to start a open dialogue with the world... You have made a choice, a positive courageous choice, that paves the way for understanding of these matters, both for yourself and others - and I wish you all the strength and love needed for you to continue on that journey.

Hey Lisa.

Hey Lisa. Just like you, I do NOT choose to be sad. I am willing to overcome my constant and continuous depression. I just wanted to thank you for this article and for revealing yourself like you do. I wish I was as courageous as you. Love from France Tissem


I read your post, i also have o.c.d and its a struggle every day.good luck and you will come out the other side and get to laugh untill your belly hurts xx

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