ASK A GRIEF COACH
Question: How Am I Supposed to Choose Happiness?
Answer: Who says you need to?
Ask a Grief Coach is an online column to address commonly received questions in private work with my clients. All names are kept anonymous, and the questions are shared with permission. As you read, keep the context of your own story in mind. No answers found here will apply directly to your circumstance because your grief is unique to you. However, the hope is that you will find tools and tips of support, whether you are the griever or the supporter.
I am dealing with grief in many different forms and areas of life at the moment. Naturally, I am pessimistic and introverted, so you can imagine that I process a lot of my thoughts and feelings internally and with great skepticism! Lately a number of my friends and family are fed up with the way I feel and act. They’ve started to tell me it’s my choice to be happy or not. I can’t. I don’t know how to explain that I can’t, but the idea of choosing to be happy feels so out of reach. I don’t know what to say to them, because when I say that it feels untrue, they become frustrated with me and stop listening. What can I do? I know I should try to be happier while I grieve, but I feel ashamed and incapable.
Choice is a privilege. It may seem like an easy thing to do; choose what you want to think or feel in life. But choice around our emotions is not like choosing which cereal to buy. The way we move through life is shaped by our physical circumstances, the way we were raised, our natural inclinations. You acknowledged your personality as well, being more naturally pessimistic… and there is nothing wrong with that!
Asking a griever (or anyone) to simply make a better choice is dismissive and insulting. First of all, who decided on what constitutes a “better” choice? Coming from another person, the definition of “better” is based on that persons observations and intuitions. The target of their “shoulding” is now beholden to a framework that might not work for them.
But second, making a choice means you have access to options. We do not all have access to options. Even if choosing to be happier was accessible, the measure of my happiness is not the same as yours. I even know plenty of people who would choose melancholy, and call that their happiness!
Our ways of healing, coping, growth, and movement are always going to be the most beneficial and healing when they come from deep within us. What is it that moves the needle for our hearts? What brings our thoughts and feelings back into alignment with our own values?
Telling someone they need to choose happiness is a little like telling them to stop being sad. Oh, wait. It’s the same thing said a different way.
And what do we say, dear grievers, when someone tells us we need to stop being sad?
That’s right. We say, “Thank you for your input. Have a lovely day.” Because we’re not in the business of telling other people where they can go or how short a pier they should stroll down.
As grievers, we honor our stories and the stories of those around us. We recognize each is moving at their own pace, and if we are unable to fulfill the type of supporting role that person needs, we keep our support to ourselves.
The next time someone tells you to be happy or make a different choice, give yourself permission to take a breath and check in with your own window of tolerance. You may not have the capacity to listen to their nonsense in that moment. You may not even have the privilege of walking away from that person. But you do have the privilege to call yourself home; back into your body, heart, mind, and spirit where you belong and where you are the one defining what is good, better, and best for you.
With a sincere hope that you will do what YOU need first and foremost,
Do you have questions about grief? Send Mandy your questions via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. All submissions are anonymous, with details occasionally changed to protected against identification.
You can also submit a question here: Ask A Grief Coach!
Mandy Capehart is an author, small business owner, editor, certified grief and life coach, and creator of The Restorative Grief Project. The Restorative Grief Project is an online community focusing on one another’s stories and new methodologies for grief, creating a safe environment for our souls to heal and our spirits to be revived. To learn more, visit MandyCapehart.com or follow her on Twitter. She thinks she is pretty funny. The jury is out.