Happiness isn’t a choice, it’s a pursuit

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“Happiness is a choice.”

For years, I’ve seen the slogan everywhere from online motivational blogs to t-shirts. The more often I see it, the further I am convinced of its insensitivity.

While I consider myself to be a very happy person, I also acknowledge that I am lucky to have been always predisposed toward optimism. I’ve also, so far, led a life in which my circumstances have made it easy for me to remain happy.

Of course, everyone has the ability to make choices that increase their happiness, such as making certain immense life decisions, or following habitual routines such as eating and sleeping well. Indeed, there are also people who, for whatever reason, do seem to be content with being sad and remain so by conscious circumstance creation.

But even if I concede all of that, there is substantial evidence, according to a study from UCLA, to suggest that optimism, which can be tied to happiness, is far more common in people who possess the oxytocin receptor gene.

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The presence of the gene allows those who have it to cope better with stress and depression. Thus, they can more easily find happiness.

Therefore, whether you are happy or not is at least somewhat biologically mandated. Further, we know that various mental conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc., diminish the capacity to feel happiness regularly.

This willingness to assume that contentment is wholly conscious exists coextensively with the incorrect belief that mental health is not as serious as bodily health.

In the face of these facts, one cannot flippantly claim that “happiness is a choice.” Arguing that happiness is a choice is tantamount to the assertion that people make the decision to be depressed.

Any mental condition, or physical discrepancy such as having or missing the oxytocin receptor gene, is at least some sort of a physical issue. The odd divergence between bodily and mental health needs to be dissolved.

Even if the biological proclivity to optimism or pessimism were no object, the vast difference in experience between any two people must also hold a great effect on happiness.

One who experiences systematic oppression, abuse, financial stress, emotional loss, trauma, among other factors, could very well find it more difficult to secure bliss than one who has encountered few major hardships in life thus far.

The mantra of happiness as a choice foolishly makes no allowance for physical or circumstantial disparities among people. The ways in which people find their way to happiness is so varied and exists in so many disparate degrees that to assert that it is a “choice,” a word often used to denote picking out a sweater or some other meaningless action, is incorrect.

The eventual attainment of happiness could mean medication, therapy, making acute adjustments in occupation and social relations, etc. These adjustments, which may or may not lead to happiness, are not commensurate to a “choice.”

Happiness has forever been a part of American ideology, existing as one of the named rights in our country’s Declaration of Independence.

Everyone should certainly strive for happiness by ever-improving our personal lives and our society. But we must recognize that each individual has their own pursuit of happiness, some more laborious than others.

So how do we, as a people, really become happier? I believe part of the answer lies in respecting happiness as a frequently elusive quality.

We must examine it from every angle: biologically, circumstantially and consciously to achieve it more fully on a communal basis.

Rather than dismiss those who are not happy as those who have not yet made the decision to be so, we need to somberly take the struggle as an intensely complicated issue.

Alex is a senior in LAS.

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