Happiness is a Choice: How Inspirational Quotes Hurt

We all want to be happy but it may not be in the cards for everyone. Mental illness is real and, unfortunately, it can take more than a few inspirational quotes to get some of us out of bed in the morning.

Inspirational quotes pepper our Instagram and Facebook feeds. “Be strong,” they urge. “Be a man,” they beg. “Happiness is a choice,” they implore. That sounds wonderful. If only the world were full of puppies pooping rainbows – and for some lucky people, it is. But, for a select few, these messages of canned hope are more hurtful than joyful.

The Reality of Being Happy

These inspirational quotes that bombard our social media feeds daily are nothing more than blank sentiments. Like the QAnon posts about, well, anything, they lack basic facts.

Telling someone to choose happiness is like going to McDonald’s and saying, “Choose not to get 1/3 of your daily caloric intake from one Big Mac meal”. It’s not going to happen because with the fries and drink, you’re looking at 1100 calories easy. We’re not saying you can’t indulge once in a while, but you wouldn’t eat like that every day.

The same goes for happiness. If you’re in a good headspace, have an incredible support system, and have never experienced any form of depression, for you, happiness is a choice. For those who find themselves with feelings of self-hatred and constant sadness, choosing happiness isn’t an option without therapy and/or medication. And this isn’t talk therapy/life coaching sessions where you repeat a mantra over and over again, or your run-of-the-mill CBD products for the blues, we’re talking cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with a psychologist and heavy-duty SSRIs prescribed by a doctor.

The Deepities that Cheapen Happiness

Dr. Daniel Dennett was the first to publicly use the term “deepity” to describe the triviality behind statements that appear to be profound on the surface. An example would be this gem: “The world is full of guys, be a man”.

This statement can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. Being a guy means you don’t measure up.
  2. If you aren’t a man, you’re a guy, which is a bad thing.

No matter how you interpret this statement, you’re led to believe that being a man is the only way to live. If you’re simply a guy, you’re inadequate. But what does being a man even mean in this context? Is it society’s view of manliness? Is it having a steady job, a wife, 2.5 kids, a dog, and an SUV that you park in the driveway you paved yourself with your own manly man hands? Can only men be happy? What if you’re a guy? Does that mean you don’t have the right to happiness? In this scenario, happiness is a choice but only if you choose to be a man.

For some, being a man isn’t about the wife and kids, or the job. It may be just about the SUV. Or, it may be about something entirely different like treating others with respect. There’s nothing wrong with taking what it means to be a man and tailoring to your needs so that you can be happy. There’s also nothing wrong with referring to yourself as a guy.

Be Mindful When Encouraging Happiness

For those who suffer from severe depression, telling them to man up and choose happiness is like when the server sets your plate down, tells you to be careful because it’s hot, yet you still touch it. It can be emotionally draining and painful for someone to see a deepity in their social feeds, akin to the burn you get from touching the hot plate of food.

It’s important to be mindful when posting inspirational quotes because there are people who will take them to heart (in a negative way). When you post quotes, you are inadvertently telling someone that their depression can magically disappear if they keep a positive mental attitude or hum a mantra silently to themselves whenever they feel like crap. In 2022, most people will still find themselves in a 2020/2021 boat – furloughed from work/loss of employment, unable to pay bills, isolated – and having a constant reminder that if they’d only choose happiness, they’d be alright. If it were that easy to choose happiness, we’d all choose it and walk around with Jokeresque smiles all day.

What's in a quote?

Another thing to consider when posting inspirational quotes is what you’re actually getting from them. Most people post quotes and don’t live by them. We think that’s a good thing. Instead, think about what you’re posting and ask yourself if you really intend to follow the idea behind the quote and if it’s something that makes sense.

Let’s look at one of the most famous shared quotes by Henry David Thoreau:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

Sounds great, right? If you walk towards your dreams, you’ll have the life you’ve always wanted. In reality, walking towards your dreams might not be fully possible. If you dreamed of being a painter but ended up an accountant, does that mean your life sucks? No, it means you had to take up a profession that pays the bills. Does paying the bills make you less of a man? Absolutely not. It means you’ve chosen reality and understand that if you don’t pay the bills, you can’t eat, pay rent/mortgage, or buy yourself a Rolex

Be All that You Can Be (Whatever That Means to You)

Be a man. Be a guy. Be a dude. Be a bro. Be whoever you need to be to get through the day. But remember, happiness takes work and isn’t a choice for everyone.

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