Two contradicting memes side-by-side. Batman slapping Robin telling him, "Happiness is a choice." And a sad dog thinking people don't understand that depression is not a choice. ."
If you take your advice from social media, you've no doubt seen contradicting memes. So, which is it? Is happiness a choice — or not?

Happiness is a choice, or is it?

Welcome to part three of my series on depression. In part 1, The Mental Health Checkup & Toolkit, we skipped straight to a solution to help you feel better now. In part 2, Is Depression Bad, we discussed the problem a little bit, and we learned that being sad is normal and another solution to feeling better. Today, we will discuss whether happiness is a choice or whether you are a victim of sadness. And I will give you two more simple solutions to feeling better right now.

Well, I start this post with a heavy heart. I didn’t plan to say this. I just learned of this fact this morning. An old neighbor of mine, Bernell Trammell, was shot and killed in Milwaukee a few days ago, presumably for being too outspoken or opinionated. He owned a storefront one block away from I lived called Expressions Journal, where he printed pamphlets and signs and shared his opinions with everyone. He was the most interesting person in the neighborhood and always in the mood for a good conversation. I walked by his store almost daily.

So, why am I talking about this tragic event? (Besides wanting to make a plea to my fellow human being to have more compassion.) I’m sharing this as an example of whether I have a choice to be happy or not. Would anyone blame me for feeling sad right now?

Let’s check in on my emotions. How do I feel? First, I felt a sense of disbelief. I had to read two obituaries. Then I felt a sense of anger. I’ll call it righteous indignation. The world we live in — UGH! I want to right this wrong. This whole time a sense of sadness is creeping into my being. Yesterday, in part 1, I called it grief. Sadness is an appropriate emotion. But, I have to be honest, I can feel it heading down the rabbit hole towards depression. When I realize this, I begin to blame myself for feeling upset, which is the downward spiral. Those are a lot of emotions tied to one event. So, at what point am I a victim of my emotions?

Consider the meme above. On the right, we see Batman “teaching” Robin a lesson, “Happiness is a choice!” And on the right, we see the frustrated dog that is essentially saying, “Happiness is not a choice!” So, which is it? Is happiness a choice, or are you a victim of your unhappiness/sadness/depression? My answer: it depends. As I said, depression is complicated. You may not know how you got sad or depressed, but one thing is for sure: if you feel sad or depressed, you can always choose to feel better. There is always some thought or action that you can take. It might not work, but you can then choose to try again.

I think it is important to honor my emotions. I think grief honors Bernell. I think righteous indignation will fuel change. I think accepting my emotions will help them pass. So, the goal is not to feel nothing. The goal is to feel the appropriate emotions of the appropriate amount of time. I know! Easy to say, right?

Let me phrase it backwards: if I feel happy, does that make me a victim of happiness? Being a victim of happiness sounds scary. What happens if I couldn’t stop laughing. Our emotions are what make us feel alive. True, the can be a roller coaster ride, and sometimes we may want to get off. I think being sad is okay. The question for me is: how far do I allow myself to go down that rabbit hole. That’s the choice. You may not be able to choose your emotions, but you don’t have to keep dwelling on it, because if you do, believe me, soon you will be thinking about every sad thing that ever happened.

Two more solutions to depression

First) As I mentioned, decide — choose — how far you want to go down that rabbit hole. Perhaps, set a time limit. For example, feel as sad as you possibly can for 10 minutes. If you’re like me, it will seem like a really long 10 minutes.

Second) I recommend you find a way to channel your sadness into something productive. Pretend you are an alchemist turning lead into gold. I am doing that right now as we speak. I am taking my grief and expressing it here. I’m not venting my emotions, but I am using them as my motivation to find meaning in life and help others do the same.

If you need help getting out of your rabbit hole, or are wondering how to talk to someone who is experiencing sad or depressed feelings, get more information from BetterHelp.

As for me, I’m going for a walk.

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