I don’t remember the stated topic for the church lesson, but a tangent landed us in a discussion about the power of conscious choice in changing our lives for the better. I love hearing discussions like this. I like it when people are empowered in their lives. However the phrase “choose happiness” kept getting tossed around as part of the discussion. All the rest of the discussion was wonderful, but that phrase bothered me. As a person who wrestles with anxiety and who lives around people who get depressed, I know that emotions are not under logical control. They show up unbidden and making them leave can be extremely difficult. Telling a depressed person “Just choose to be happy” is about the worst thing you can say, because they can’t. Sometimes they can’t even believe that happiness exists even though they logically understand that it does. There is a huge difference between knowing and feeling.
I sat in the meeting trying to figure out how to retain the message that we have the power to choose without implying that we can do the impossible. Then I realized that “choose happiness” left out a few words: Choose to reach for happiness. We may not be able to grasp it for a hundred different reasons, but we can choose to reach for it. That reach may look like taking a brisk walk on a Sunday morning so that anxieties will not chase you through your dreams at night. It may be seeing a doctor to discuss mental health issues. It may be skipping a treat and paying down a bill so someday that crushing load of debt will be gone. It may be splurging on a small treat because this particular $3 purchase bestows hours of enjoyment. The answers are unique to each person, but each of us can reach for happiness, taking logical actions toward it, even if it seems that grasping it is impossible. That conscious choice–to reach for happiness–sets your feet on the beginning of a path to attaining it.