At the risk of sounding about 50 thousand years old, it used to be that if you had a bad day, you had a bad day.
Back in the good old noughties, if you felt sad, anxious or frustrated, it was probably because something sh*t happened, as sh*t things are wont to do. If any effort was made to fix it, it usually came in the form of a hug or a biscuit. Some people did this new-fangled thing called ‘yo-gah’, but they were universally regarded as twats. It was all very British.
The internet was quieter then, couldn’t reach you through your phone, and spent more of its time trying to sell you things than ideas. Now we have Uber and meditation apps, back then we had mail order books and (super modern and exciting) customisable trainers delivered to your door at the lightning fast speed of 7-9 days(!!!) You get the picture. I’m old af.
Contrast that era to now, and if some part of your life is spent perusing the more lifestyle-centric, female dominated sections of instagram and the blogosphere, you’re likely to come across multiple instructions, orders and invocations to be happy almost every time you venture online. It’s all ‘the only person in charge of your happiness is you’, ’21 ways to banish self doubt’ (ambitious!) and – particularly vom-worthy – ‘to be happy you must be your own sunshine’. Gross. It’s like happiness itself has become a stand alone hobby for 18-35s, and there are ever-increasing mountains of material telling us all how to do it correctly. You can easily see several iterations of these slightly shouty mood management mantras during your early morning insta-scroll (guilty) before you get out of bed.
Just this morning I saw emblazoned across my insta feed ‘Happiness is a choice, not a result’ which – I’m sorry – is patently a load of bollocks. Here’s why:
1 – Endless, and I mean endless studies have shown that the things that make people happy are meaningful social connections, helping others, having a sense of purpose in work or home life, and. . . living near a pub (lol – true story). ‘Choice’ is not mentioned even once. Happiness is a result of socialising, exercising, putting the effort in to see results at work, and so on. While we can all choose not to get too grumpy over small things, which definitely helps, sustained long term happiness is not a matter of willpower or choice. Yes, you can choose to behave differently (go out more, spend more time with family etc) to increase your chances of happiness, but you can’t simply will yourself into a joyous state. And – again, sorry – it’s stupid to suggest you can.
2 – Suggesting that happiness is a choice or a state that can be achieved simply through added effort places an extra burden of blame and culpability on those who fail to achieve it for a multitude of different reasons ranging from something as banal as a recent breakup, all the way to full blown clinical depression. It’s not helpful.
3 – Pursuing happiness as an end goal is quite a self-focused thing to do. In fact it is horrifyingly stereotypical millennial individualistic me me me stuff, of the kind our grandparents just wouldn’t comprehend. If we learned anything from point 1, it’s that focusing on others – not ourselves – is the fast track to happy town. (Happy town? wtf?) So a concerted, inward-facing, self-serving effort to achieve joy may actually take you further from your happiness goal. It’s well-meaning, but self-defeating.
Ok I think my work here is done.
Now, I understand why people publish these kinds of posts, I do. I get it. Advice posts and listicles get a lot of shares and clicks, and are a fast(er) way to grow a blog. And these little motivational mantras sound uplifting in a glib kind of way, which I guess some people like. There’s no shame, in my opinion, in wanting to grow one’s following, so no judgement k? I really mean that. But I do wish I could follow some of my favourite lifestyle blogging ladies, click like on their pretty photos of breakfast and their awesome well-written recipes, and not be bombarded with this half-arsed armchair psychology on a daily basis.
It’s easy to get sucked into the idea that one’s happiness is a never-ending project to be chipped away at, sculpted and moulded into perfection by sheer force of will, and that failure to do so is in some way negligent, or lazy. Until I started wholeheartedly rejecting this idea – which is implied and reinforced by the vast majority of these posts – I was starting to feel, well, a bit sh*t. Which is ironic really. So, in the kindest way possible, please stop. You may be well-meaning, but the constant cacophony of mood management instructions is just not that helpful. And setting up pure ‘happiness’ as an end goal in itself is an exercise in futility. I thank you for your good intentions, but please stop telling me how to feel. I got this.