Choose Happiness. It’s a phrase I’ve heard many times in recent years, from YouTubers using it as their sign off, from random “inspirational tweets”, from friends just trying to help and give useful advice. I used to hate it, thinking it was just happy people who’ve never dealt with a mental illness not understanding how hard it can be to feel happy sometimes. It sounded ridiculous to me, the notion that someone could choose their emotions. The phrase only made me feel isolated, and I preached to my friends about how stupid it was to tell people to simply be happy. It’s just not that easy.

I’ve had severe anxiety my whole life. I remember being a kid and not being able to sleep at night because my anxiety would keep me up and my parents would have to sit with me for hours until I finally fell asleep. I struggled at making friends because I was too scared to talk. It caused me to be incredibly insecure, and there was a point in elementary school when I refused to even look in a mirror because my anxiety told me I was too ugly.

My anxiety disorder peaked in the first year of high school when I started to have panic attacks so bad that I’d have to leave class multiple times during one period to go to the bathroom and try to calm myself down. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me, I thought I was just going crazy and would end up in a mental institution somewhere. I finally gained the courage to talk to my mom about it around the end of my freshman year. Thankfully she was very helpful and took me to a doctor and a therapist and we finally got it under control. It completely changed my life once I finally got treatment. Today, it is still sometimes a struggle to deal with my anxiety, and it still makes certain things difficult for me. I don’t like to talk about it, and writing this still scares me. But thanks to my mom and my doctor, my anxiety disorder is much more manageable and in much less control of my life.

However, even after I learned to control my anxiety, it still felt like a challenge to be happy a lot of the time. I had everything I could ask for, a loving family, good friends, I was getting an education at a good public high school, and my family had enough money to give me a very comfortable life. Yet, even with all of this I still found the negative in almost any situation. My family would annoy me, my friends would fight, school was hard, and I still couldn’t afford everything I wanted. I focused on the negative side of everything.

It took me a long time to realize it, but I had surrounded myself with very negative people in high school. My closest friend for years was extraordinarily negative, and that affected me tremendously. Because the people around me would find the negative in every situation, I learned to follow them. It wasn’t until I moved away for college and met positive, uplifting people that I realized how much my friends’ negativity was impacting me. This isn’t to say that I got rid of my old friends and replaced them with new, better ones, but it forced me to realize how contagious negativity can be.

There came a point about a year ago when I was so frustrated and fed up with feeling sad all the time that I decided enough was enough. I finally decided to stop enabling myself to feel sad and start working towards making positive changes in my life. I was determined to better myself however I could and stop feeling like crap all the time. I chose happiness.

My life didn’t change immediately. I didn’t wake up the next morning suddenly happy with no problems in sight. But I did wake up determined, and I did work hard to change myself. I made lists of things that made me happy, and focused on those. I made lists of things and people I was grateful for and focused on them. I started doing things I knew would bring me happiness, and I started dealing with my problems.

I finally began to understand that choosing happiness doesn’t mean there’s a switch inside of you somewhere that you can flip to the happy setting and suddenly life is full of rainbows and butterflies. Choosing happiness means to choose to deal with your problems, to choose to do constructive things to better yourself, to choose to focus on finding the positive instead of the negative. For so long I chose the easy route, because ignoring your problems and feeling like crap is usually the easier way to go. Happiness is hard work, and there are still times when I’m not happy. That’s just a simple fact of life, that even when you work hard and focus on positivity, there will still be times when you don’t feel happy. But instead of dwelling in it and enabling it, choose to deal with it. Choose to find the positive, even when there doesn’t seem to be any. Choose to overcome it. Choose happiness. I promise it’s the better route.