This is an article I found that sparked my thinking about this concept. I don’t like the idea of ‘proof’ since I don’t think there is such a thing as proof since there is always the chance something in our reasoning is incorrect and I think it’s dangerous to think of things in absolutes like that. However, I do truly believe that happiness is a choice. Furthermore I believe many other things in life that people believe they are stuck with are also choices. I know that’s an offensive thing to say but I don’t say it because I want to hurt the feelings of people with chronic depression, attention-deficit disorder, insomnia or members of the gay community, but I say this to empower people. I do not understand why so many people take so much comfort in this idea that they are helpless to change who they are…
…well, I heard a theory once. I believe her name was Carolynn Myss or something like that–but I may be confusing her with someone else, but I rented this video of a speech she gave about people hanging onto their pain and emotional and physical injuries. She described this concept of “social currency”, the idea that people hold onto their problems in order to gain that sympathy that they crave from society, that they make subconscious choices that undermine their attempts to heal so they can prove that they are helpless, that they are just a victim, to gain that sympathy from people and to feel comfortable in their place in life.
I see overweight people with unhealthy lifestyles who fall and hurt themselves, get headaches and regularly feel ill and tired, then wonder why they have such bad luck and imply that they are somehow cursed instead of admitting that their unhealthy lifestyle is affecting their health. They get offended when people don’t show sympathy or recommend changes they could make to improve their health. It’s so simple to drink enough water or balance your protein intake yet they refuse to do it and roll their eyes when someone suggests that one thing affects another, just insistent that they are powerless.
It seems like when I was a kid we still had people in the gay community considering the idea that they had made a choice, saying “well, maybe when I was a little kid I just saw the way this society works and the way men and women treat each other and I saw the overpopulation and this static, plastic society we live in and I just decided I wanted something better for my life and it just stuck in my head and it became a part of me over time. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell.” But now they won’t even consider the idea, and anyone who suggests that there’s an element of choice in our sexuality is just an asshole, hate-monger republican. This attitude, I think, makes the whole situation worse for the gay community, increasing their sense of helplessness and increasing homophobia and decreasing individuals and society’s ability to understand their own sexuality.
Instead, I believe in choice. I was NOT born this way. When I was born my brain was unformed, as I heard in some documentary about childbirth. When we are born, our brains are simpler than just about any other mammal. Everything we are, everything that makes us human beings is formed after we are born, through our environment and our choices. Nothing is completely out of our control. You can show me scientific evidence of how wrong I am, because I’m sure there is lots, but all that will do is empower you to be powerless and meanwhile those of us who believe in choice, will be capable of figuring out ways around our problems, to deal with them, eliminate them, or turn them to our advantage.
When I was a kid I was very depressed, and granted, part of it was school. Just being trapped in a classroom every day without ever given an opportunity to feel like I was actually accomplishing anything or feel like I had a choice, that was much of what made me depressed, but the core of my depression came from me. I could have dealt with it if I’d had the courage to step outside of my comfort zone and be the person I wanted to be instead of embracing the idea that this was just who I was and I’d be depressed forever. I remember watching Herman’s Head and thinking that’s all I wanted out of life, was 500 channels on the TV and if I was lucky I could find a girlfriend who didn’t get mad at me for looking at porn. That was the extent of my ambitions. Today I have accomplished all of my childhood goals plus so much more.
When I was 18 I started smoking pot, and I don’t want to imply that marijuana cured my chronic depression but it did open pathways in my mind that allowed me to think about life and the universe in a totally different manner. It allowed me to accept the fact that I’m just a human of flesh and blood and that my life really isn’t worth a whole lot, which sounds depressing but in my situation it was freeing and empowering, knowing that if I had an accident and killed myself, it would not be a travesty. I started taking risks in life and started going out to enjoy myself. Instead of blindly following society’s standards I started selling weed and making friends, many of whom are still good friends today, putting an end to the loneliness that had plagued me my whole life.
I recall after I’d been in the drug community for maybe a year or so, around early 1998, and I broke up with my girlfriend for unrelated reasons and I had this night where my depression came back. It was really weird as I still did not have a solid understanding of how my mind worked. I don’t remember what exactly happened that night but I remember taking a large dose of mushrooms by myself, as I was still under the mistaken impression, inspired by my old DARE classes, that drugs just “make” you happy, like they can just kill the sadness the way ibuprofen kills physical pain. Of course, this is a dangerous fallacy but something many drug users fall into. So I took shrooms by myself and walked to the graveyard where I had happily tripped with friends a few times before. It was a mile or two away and as I walked I became more and more depressed and dejected, thinking of how all of society hated me for being a drug user, how I had not yet become open about it with my family and of course about how I’d finally had to end it with my girlfriend who I cared about very deeply but just wasn’t sexually attracted to anymore.
I think that may have been the night when I started to really understand that pot and shrooms tend to act as enhancements to the feelings you already have and do not change your emotions. I tried and tried to get into the trip like I usually could when I was out with my friends. The more I tried to make myself happy, the more depressed I became. So I decided to just go the opposite, explore the depression and just become as miserable and unhappy as I possibly could, thinking that at the very least, in the future, I would be able to tell myself “well, at least it’s not as bad as that night I went to the graveyard by myself on shrooms”. It rapidly became a horrible experience and I remember sitting on someone’s tomb, smoking bowls, dwelling on my ex-girlfriend, dwelling on my lack of accomplishments in my high-school years, dwelling on how my writing wasn’t progressing as I’d hoped, and dwelling on how I’d decided to become one of the most hated members of society, a drug user and beginning drug dealer. I told myself how worthless I was, how everyone hated me for who I was, how politicians campaign on their desire to destroy my life because society blames people like me for all their problems. I felt like I’d sink into this pit of tears and horribleness but I was so angry at my mind, so angry at my depression that I just pushed harder, saying fine, if I’m gonna be depressed, I might as well go all the fucking way with it.
Then I hit a wall, a place where I found that could not get any worse, a place that started to finally make sense and it was something that could not be put into words, an understanding of how the human mind works, how our emotions drive us, how they were created through millions of years of randomness and evolution to serve certain purposes but were not specifically designed and don’t always make sense. I learned more about myself that night, high on shrooms, alone in a graveyard than I think I ever have on any night before or since.
And all that depression reformed itself into a thoughtfulness, a revelation that I wish I could put into words. What I was feeling ceased to be depression and became a new perspective and a desire to make a positive change in my life… but not the kind of change that society demanded of me, the kind of change I wanted for myself.
I remember walking back from the graveyard after I had peaked and wondering what the hell had made me so depressed just a couple hours earlier. I saw the cars passing by and thought about the internal combustion engine and how spectacular it is that human beings could create something like that, how we could take charge over physics and our environment to benefit everyone (not that I think automobiles are such an awesome invention now. That’s just what I was thinking at the time.)
And I got back home and started listening to Weird Al Yankovic thinking that my life would never be the same, that I would never again feel that low, never again feel so helpless, feeling like I had finally, after all these years, made a conscious choice to take control of my mind and soul and that I finally had the power to be the person I want to be.
Anyway… I’ve been rambling. I wanted to talk about how people use this “born this way” attitude to justify being an asshole or being closed minded, saying “I can’t help it I’m a music snob” when they say hurtful things about your choice in music, just as an example, or in some cases, when they’re just a selfish asshole but instead I went off on my own little story. I keep wanting to remind my readers that I do not edit these posts any more. I just write and get my thoughts out without worrying about it, instead trying to have a free-flow of ideas, so as a result, shit like this happens.
But back to the point of the story: that you can’t just wake up and decide, “Okay, I’m gonna be happy today” and just make it happen. Maybe that’s what many people think we mean by “happiness is a choice”. But no, it’s much more complicated than that. Sometimes you need the courage to leap off that emotional cliff, the courage to give up everything you believe in and everything you think makes you you in exchange for the things you’ve always wanted but thought you didn’t deserve or otherwise could never have. You might argue that it was not my choice, that it was the shrooms and the weed that saved me, that my brain was simply missing whatever chemicals those drugs provided, but I do not believe that. I think those shrooms could have just as easily done harm, could have sent me in the opposite, unhealthy direction if I had chosen to allow that to happen… on the other hand, I don’t think I would have realized these things until many years later if I had not been experimenting with drugs.
So if you want to be happy, you have to get off your ass and do what you need to do to make it happen. Research the science behind happiness, explore your mind. Figure it out. Don’t just listen to Lady Gaga and tell yourself you were ‘born this way’ and give up. We all have it in us to change who we are and become better, happier people if we put forth the effort and make the decision to make it happen.
Originally published at kalinbooks.com.