Why choose happiness?

There’s a saying that you may have heard: ‘happiness is a choice’. 

But is it? Is it really? 

I got a bit pissed off when I heard that for the first time (ironic I know). But we don’t choose to be pissed off, do we? ‘Our mind automatically goes there’ seems more accurate. And our choice is often how to respond to what we’re uncontrollably feeling in response to something that has just happened. In any case we do have freedom to choose something. 

As Victor Frankl says:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

And Frankl was an Auschwitz prisoner so I’m definitely taking that on board. 

What even is happiness though? It’s a little broad. For the sake of this post let’s define happiness as:

‘having a grateful attitude for everything that encompasses life’. 

In that sense I can still feel ‘shit’ when my cat dies but as a ‘happy’ person there is deep meaning in her having lived and then died that nourishes my soul rather than feeding my negativity. Something like that. 

So let’s just say then that ‘happiness is a choice’. And if that’s true then I must believe it’s possible. That it is possible to spend more of my life in state of gratitude, joy, compassion etc etc. For if I don’t believe it is possible then I will revert to ‘whats the point in reading that book, or going on that run, or trying that new vegan recipe because fuck it, it’s not going make me ‘happy’!’. 

So let’s just say that it is a choice and that ‘happiness’ is possible.

Why choose it?

There is SO MUCH suffering in the world. Santa doesn’t exist, homeless people do and there are bugs that spend their entire life span feasting on the blood of children in Africa. And I’m supposed to ‘trust’ that there is a compassionate force at play, that ‘life has got my back’!?

You can see why so many people have a hard time fostering faith in the world. 

I was one of those people. Nihilistic to my core in my early twenties. This was the sum of my world view:

‘Life is meaningless’.

Yep it was a tumultuous few years. I was alright at parties though don’t worry. A few gin and tonics and I’d be a world of fun. What’s interesting is I didn’t actually act as if I believed life was meaningless.

I went to work. I brushed my teeth. I cried when watching The Notebook. 

There certainly seemed to be some meaning underlying my existence otherwise, why do all those things? 

But ‘happiness is a choice’. 

Fuck off‘ – says past Will. And fair play I don’t want to call out my former self. He was doing the best he could do at the time. And he’s got a point. Justifying my own lack of faith in the world was easy. Here goes my best past Will impression: 

How can everything happen for a reason when it seems undeniable that randomness exists? 

People get killed by others randomly, kids get cancer, there’s nuclear explosions, virus’s, dementia and motor neurones disease – the list goes on. And I’m supposed to believe ‘everything happens for a reason’? That apparently a creative intelligence, a benevolent power created this and I’m meant to worship this power or I’ll suffer?

Wow! Seems like a sweet deal to me!?

Just because an acorn turns into an oak tree doesn’t mean that’s an ‘intelligence at play’. That there’s a ‘reason’ behind it. It could just as well be randomness and we’re saying there’s a designer because it makes us feel better. What if we went into another galaxy and saw a world that looked so fucking random and messy (they had door knobs as tv remotes and toilets didn’t exist) and we managed to communicate with the aliens there who were telling us: ‘our world is perfect, it was designed by a creative intelligence. Check out my new door knob’. 

Looks pretty random to me mate! 

And these aliens have no noses, they look like lord Voldemort but to themselves they’re beautiful. Everything is measured in relation to our own humanness, our minds, our concepts and stories. You cannot escape this human metric-

Okay. Okay. You’ve made your point past Will. Sure. Let’s say ‘everything is random’. And ‘life is suffering’ as the Buddha said. Then a good question is: Why add more suffering to the world? 

If it is possible to be ‘happy’, then why add more suffering to the suffering that you so eloquently pointed out, past Will? 

(Pause. Past Will doesn’t reply.)

Seems to me you’ve been using the suffering of the world to justify your own unhappiness and rejection of faith. Saying: Why should I put my faith into a higher power when the higher power is so cruel? There is no logic in outlining the suffering and then choosing to suffer also. You’re just adding more suffering to the suffering. Let’s say I agree with you: Randomness exists. I could pick up a gun and shoot anyone. Sure. God (or nature, or the universe whichever word you’re comfortable with) has given us the capacity to do evil things but we also have the freedom to choose whether we act evil or not. So in that sense the world isn’t evil you are giving it that characteristic by your own ‘human metric’…
 
(Present Will winks at past Will. Past Will is taken aback.)  

Without evil there would be no good. I am only good in as such as I’m aware of how evil I could be and then I choose to be good. Us humans just seem to get lured into evil and can’t help ourselves. Putting evil to the side there are also freak accidents, natural disasters and a lot of suffering that comes from purely existing. Suffering it seems is an intricate part of life. Or pain is at least – so why add to it with your own revolt against existence? 

Well-

That was a rhetorical question. I’m not finished yet.

Sorry. 

(Present Will takes a deep breath.)

You are here whether you like it or not. And you can choose to live in your own hell or you can choose to work towards your own heaven. Hell is easy. Nothing good in life comes easy and that’s because it wouldn’t be good if it were easy to obtain in the first place.

So, what’s it going to be bud? It’s your choice. You have the freedom to decide. Remember what Victor Frankl said.

(Pause.)

Fuck it, let’s have a crack at this happy thing. 

(Past Will and Present Will hug.)

Published by WillAdolphy

Trainee therapist, host of the 'Into the Void' podcast and Artistic Director of Flux Theatre.

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