“Happiness is a Choice” by Barry Neil Kaufman is a book I read about 24 years ago when I was in the middle of one of the worst depressive episodes I have ever lived through. I don’t own it and I have never read it again but, some things I learned from that book have stayed with me. The first is the title and the truth of it. The second is that feelings follow thoughts which follow actions. I do not believe these things to be true, I know them to be.
I am not talking about some pollyanna placebo, or platitude. I am not talking about some kind of “positive thinking” quick fix. This is not about “6 easy steps to have everything you want”. This is about how to do the work to change your thoughts and habitual emotional patters that result in chronic clinical depression; recurring, debilitating, suicidal-thinking kind of depression.
If you are in the middle of such an episode, please seek help from a psychiatric professional, now. If you are in crisis, you are in need of emergency medical attention.
Psychotropic medication and intensive therapy have never been a part of my healing, if they had been, I might have learned how to cope with my shadows sooner. For whatever reason I have had to learn things on my own but, Mr. Kaufman’s book helped me to understand the patterns. It helped me to analyze my own thoughts and the feelings that followed them and the behaviors that perpetuated them. It helped by giving me a place to begin.
I have learned how to take responsibility for those patterns, and how to recognize them before they evolve into yet another long term episode. It helps to understand the mechanism of depression, and to understand that, for me, that mechanism is within my control. It is something I can affect and change. I can choose.
One of the most important choices is NOT to act today on the impulse to do something destructive. I don’t have to decide never to act on the impulse, just not today. Sometimes that is the best you can do. Not act today. Sometimes you have to create a reason to not act, so you find something, anything, but you do not do anything permanent today.
Then there is the choice to do those things that you do not want to do. Get out of bed, take a shower, go to work, go outside, talk to another person, and eat (even if you have no interest in food). Turn off the TV and turn out the lights and give your body a chance to sleep. Insomnia, not eating, inactivity and isolation are behaviors as well as symptoms; they perpetuate depression.
When you are suffering from clinical depression, these things are all incredibly difficult but, not as difficult as changing the thoughts that go through your head every moment of every day. Changing those thoughts is possible and necessary but, it is not easy.
Like I said, this is not about “6 easy steps to have everything you want”. There is nothing easy about the choice to be happy, but it is absolutely worth the effort. I am a happy person today. I choose to be happy every day. I have a life that I love and a wonderful companion who gives joy to my life every day. I have a home that nurtures my soul; I have community and family that support me and my work. I have work that I love and that allows me to express myself and my truth.
Sometimes I don’t enjoy going to my job but, it allows me to support myself and my companion. Sometimes I experience disappointment and stress. But happiness is not about having everything that you want nor is it about ease and leisure. It is about being happy with what you have and making choices to change what makes you unhappy. It is about taking responsibility for your life and pursuing your own happiness. It is about being grateful for the blessings you have and choosing to release those things that harm you.
I find it wonderful that I can choose every day to be happy about the sun shining or the rain falling or the snow or the wind. I find it amazing that I can get out of bed and go to work and pay the rent on my little tree-house. I find it beautiful that every day I can choose to be happy with the life I am creating and that I can have faith and hope that I will find that which I desire in the future if I continue to follow the path my heart sets my feet upon. I find it magickal that even through the long nights of darkness; I get to choose to be happy in the night and in the morning. I find it a miracle that I can choose to love. I choose happiness.