You can choose to be happy.
Such a short, yet controversial phrase. At best, it can empower positive action and thought. At its worst it can feel like a crippling impossibility. For those facing immense trials or challenges, being told they can choose happiness is often seen as making light of their struggles or dismissing very real emotional and mental trauma.
What most members of the Church don’t realize is that when they talk of choosing happiness they are actually talking about choosing Christ. At first glance, they sound like the same thing. Christ brings happiness! However, the worldly understanding of choosing happiness and the gospel truths behind choosing Christ have some distinct and important differences. By understanding what they are we can learn how to better strengthen ourselves and others.
Choosing Happiness Narrows Reactions. Choosing Christ Expands Them.
However well-intentioned, most people who tell others they can choose to be happy generally have selfish motives. It’s human nature to gravitate towards people who are happy and positive. When people are struggling, we are under covenant to help them and this can prove a major inconvenience. By telling someone to be happy, we are often telling them we wish they would put on a smile and act differently because that would make our own lives easier.
When we choose Christ, we are choosing a place of safety. Christ asks us to come to Him as we are; we can let Him know exactly how we are feeling and what we are thinking. While we may find ourselves facing negative emotions and attitudes, we can share them with Christ. In turn, He will help us channel these emotions into something that can be used for good in our lives. Our ability to react and find control through the will of God will expand.
Choosing Happiness Dismisses Struggles. Choosing Christ Honors Them.
Most people who are suffering want to be able to express themselves without having their hard times belittled or dismissed. Even if we only want the best for them, being told on how we can fix the situation with a better attitude is rarely helpful. There is a time and a place for solutions and squaring your shoulders. The depths of a particularly low point is likely not one of them; it is a time to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who need comfort.
Christ honors our pain. He does not tell us to buck up or get over anything. He takes our pain and He sanctifies it. Most importantly, He puts it to use through His Atonement. When we choose Christ, we can know our sorrows will be compensated for and made glorious with time. He realizes we are full of pain and waits with us until we’re ready to hand some of it to him. Christ can then place seeds of hope and momentum in us.
Choosing Happiness Provokes Pride. Choosing Christ Invites Humility.
As human beings, we are naturally defensive. We also like to remain in control. Combine this with adversity and we are often left feeling raw. Many people get upset when they are told to choose happiness because, to them, it infers their sorrowful state is a choice. We feel our pride bristle and we want to shout out, “I’ve done nothing to deserve this. I tried to do everything right.” If we’re not choosing happiness, then we must be choosing something less. That’s how the world can make us feel.
Instead of telling us to be tougher and stronger, Christ invites us to be meek and as a little child. When we are in the midst of hard times, there likely are improvements to be made and positivity to find. Yet Christ guides us gently to humility. He shows us pure love and softens our hearts to the changes we can make.
Choosing Happiness Doesn’t Last. The Peace of Christ Does.
We may think we know what happiness is. In fact, there are multiple definitions of happiness being pressed upon us from all sides, including both worldly and cultural definitions. By choosing happiness, we are often limiting ourselves into a narrow point of view of what we think happiness means.
Through Christ, we learn what true joy is. It is more about lasting peace and conviction than elation or enjoyment. It is more than just a good day and it doesn’t always look like we think happiness should look. In fact, it may look different on everyone. Instead of focusing on those things which may bring a momentary smile, we can build righteous habits and safeguards that bring consistent faith and strength. When we choose Jesus Christ, we are choosing to believe in His promises over everything and anything else. We choose to do our best to move forward, even if that doesn’t feel or seem very enjoyable or pretty.
In the end, choosing Christ is the very best decision we could ever make or encourage someone else to make.