Why we must be Careful with our “Choose Happiness” Culture.
It seems like pop psychology has found a new home in the wellness world with declarations such as “happiness is a choice” and advice suggesting that joy is a low-hanging fruit, easily within reach.
It’s wonderful to think that happiness is always available, even when things aren’t all that great. But a life of positivity is something that’s fostered and consciously curated, not granted.
However, we have to remember that some people have a brain and body chemistry that don’t allow happiness to be a choice. It’s not a matter of having a “good” or “bad” attitude. This concerns an illness that creates feelings of such heaviness and pain that being told to “be happy” in their condition is like telling a person to take a deep breath while chained underwater. When we simplify the message of being happy to “just choose to see it that way” we are at risk of unintentionally alienating a percentage of people from an effective method of therapy.
I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety since a really young age—the girl in Inside Out has nothing on the bleakness I brought to childhood. As a person who is generally more sad than happy, living in a world where sadness is met by people asking, “What’s wrong?” has made me feel broken most of my life.
In the quest to “fix” myself I’ve worked through years of both prescribed and self-medication. The first numbed my pain but left me feeling like a robot. The second made me superficially happy but dependent and ultimately worse off. A third option revealed itself as my yoga practice evolved.
My practice is one of the only places where I feel my emotions have space to take life without needing to conform to how I think everyone wants me to feel. Over time, my feelings of angst have felt acknowledged so they’ve been much easier to contain. The most profound healing I’ve found has come from walking straight through my depression until I came out on the other side, leaving nothing left to explore. It’s been a maze I’ve had to wander through to find my way out.
Yoga teachers give cues for the physical body with impeccable finesse, optimally aligning our bodies to relieve muscular tension while the emotions under the surface of our skin runs rampant. Tension released through our material self is a physical manifestation of something more subtle—usually an emotion or configuration of energy we didn’t want to process at the time. Letting these vibrations, which are often fierce and chaotic, loose in our students’ bodies without the tools to navigate, transform or release this energy is a missed opportunity. Emotions are complex in nature; skipping right to a perspective of peace and joy through this storm of feelings seems like an over simplification.
I want yoga teachers to be armed with the education to guide the emotional body in practice. The emotional body is just as important as the physical body. Somatic counselors or therapists could come into yoga trainings to help teachers show students how to navigate their body/mind experience.
Additionally we should stop treating sadness, depression and anxiety as something “wrong” that needs to be made “right.” Rather, they should be viewed as just another filter through which to see the world. Think about how easily we can interchange words such a “bad feelings” with depression. This attitude is so engrained in our language and culture that those who feel consumed by these feeling can’t help but feel faulty.
I know some of the most beautiful parts of my life have also been the saddest. This must be true for many, looking at the plethora of art we get from notoriously melancholy people.
If the health and wellness industry solely focuses on people who already have a baseline of contentment, it will shut out those who are being dragged down by consuming feelings of hopelessness. Shifting our message, even slightly, could lift them up and allow them to take control of their own healing and feel like they belong in the community.
Author: Krista Block
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Krista Block