It’s More Than a Choice

…but that’s as good a place to start as any.


Reading through some of my posts, if you don’t know me well, you might get the idea that I’m happy-happy-happy all the time-time-time.  If you do know me well, you just soiled yourself laughing.  Go change.  We’ll wait.

Years ago, there was a book making the rounds called Happiness is a Choice.  I don’t believe that and I believe that psych wards are full of people who would agree with me.

I know people who struggle with bipolar disorder, unipolar major depressive disorder, and other psychiatric conditions that are biological in origin.  These are often endocrine issues – just like diabetes.  Who in their right mind would tell a diabetic to “Buck up! A sugar coma is a choice!” No one, right?  Yet, every day, all day long, people tell those suffering from depression that they could be happy if only they wanted it badly enough, if only they chose to be. How archaic and counter-productive.

Earlier in the week, I was discussing a bad study habit with my son.  We discussed how this habit was reinforced during his pre-college years.  Now he is dealing from the fall-out and blaming himself 100%.  He doesn’t want to be “that guy” who blames all of his short-comings on someone else.  I told him that finding the genesis of the habit isn’t blaming anyone.  It is simply examining the habit, finding its causes and edges so that he can develop workable coping mechanisms or effective habit-changing behaviors. Finding the edges defines the habit, not him. I do not believe that he is to blame for the behavior’s inception.  I DO believe that he is to blame for its continuation if, after recognizing it, he does nothing about it.

Likewise, if I know that I have depression or other biologically based mood issues, I cannot reasonably blame myself for their existence. However, I can blame myself completely if I do not develop, implement and maintain coping mechanisms or follow prescribed treatment.  Just because my body is predisposed to produce this negativity, does not excuse me from spewing into the world around me.  I’m not Vesuvius. I’m not even Italian, for goodness sake!

A positive attitude is very difficult for me on some days.  On those days, I find myself jonesing for calorie-dense foods more than usual. I find myself pulling the covers over my head rather than going for a walk.  I find myself giving in to the darkness.  While I’m not always responsible for my moods, I am still responsible for how I respond to them.  Do I take the easy road and let them win? Or do I take the harder road and fight for myself?

On Tuesday, I posted a photo I took this summer at a serenity garden on the campus of Tacoma Community College.  On that photo, I wrote, “I am responsible for the energy I bring into this space.” I don’t recall where I first heard that; but, I have it written on a photo of an F-18 on my desk, too. It’s a good thing to remember.

Maybe I can’t choose to be happy, but I can choose whether or not to be a jerk.


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