The general consensus on the meaning of life is to find happiness — to do good things that make others and ourselves feel happy. Unfortunately, achieving happiness is a great struggle for many. A person can’t always control how they feel. There are some who have a very positive attitude and wake up every morning saying, “I’ve decided that today is going to be a great day” and that single mantra is enough to keep the dopamine flowing throughout the day. For others, especially those struggling with mental illness or going through difficult times, it’s not so easy. And that’s okay.

Of course there are things a person can do to try to make themselves happy, especially when going through a bad period. Smiling more, even if it doesn’t feel sincere, has been shown to improve moods. A person can also make a greater effort to do things they love. Spending some time at the gym or jogging have also been shown to help improve positivity. In the words of Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde, “Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”

Sometimes a person can do all of these things and still not want to get out of bed in the morning. While making efforts to improve a person’s attitude can be helpful, they don’t always guarantee complete control over that person’s feelings. If someone is stressed about work or school, they might feel angry or frustrated. If someone puts a lot of work into something and ends up failing, they will probably feel sad. If someone has plans that they are looking forward to that get cancelled, they will probably be disappointed. And even though feeling angry, or frustrated, or sad isn’t necessarily positive, it’s okay. Everyone experiences these emotions, and feeling like it’s somehow weak or embarrassing to feel negative emotions is neither fair nor healthy.

Mental illnesses like anxiety, depression and insomnia also prevent people from feeling happy all the time, and they’re incredibly common among our generation. It’s often the case that with illnesses like these, people can’t always pinpoint exactly what’s  causing their sadness, anxiousness, etc., and this can be frustrating.

“I don’t think you’re actually trying to be happy.” The accusation has been said too many times, in one way or another. And for those who understand mental illnesses, it is a frustrating and inconsiderate thing to say. Nobody wants to be sad all the time, so telling them to “just be happy,” or grateful for what they have is condescending. If everyone could be happy all the time, they would be.

I think that when someone is asked to face someone else who is going through something that makes it difficult to keep a positive attitude, it’s important to remember that they’re human and their reactions to life are as common and normal as anyone else’s. Just like how it’s not good for a person to be sad all the time, it’s not human to be happy all the time. All emotions have to be felt — the good and the bad — in order to truly experience being human and to appreciate the feelings of happiness when they’re present. Happiness is a goal, not a requirement.

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