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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Albizu chapter.

Through the media and current values in our culture we have been implicitly instructed to avoid “negative feelings”. We are on a thorough diet of messages with positive vibes only, memes depicting the horrors of negative thoughts and the rose colored lens of what thinking happy thoughts “truly” looks like. There are dozens of guides on how to re-direct our thoughts towards happiness, which is pretty useful when our thoughts paralyze us. However, the danger lies in the belief that we can decide to be happy—whenever we want.

            Is it true that we can decide at any moment to be and to feel happy? Is it truly as simple as waking up and declaring that we will be happy today? What we don’t see is how we are placing this pressure on our mental states—isn’t it enough having to deal with it from the media, family members and well-intentioned friends? 

            “You’re only happy when you decide to be happy” is a watered down solution that doesn’t take in perspective the complexities, ambiguities and particularities that encompass our daily lives  Instead of waking up and forcing ourselves to smile, what would it be like if we were to explore our sadness, yearnings, angers, frustrations, melancholic states with curiosity? This is truly hard, for when we are experiencing discomfort we rush to automatically bury those feelings telling ourselves that we shouldn’t be feeling this way; yet, have we stopped to ask ourselves who says that we shouldn’t feel a particular way?

            The mission to be 100% happy does not allow us to live fully because as we deny every other feeling that does not contribute to our happiness in the moment we are denying ourselves the opportunity to live a fully-fledged life. We may benefit more from shifting our perspectives on happiness for a bit. Embracing with open arms that life is difficult and is filled both with the complex experiences that lead to our happiness and to the grips of sadness opens up an area we might have not seen in ourselves. These unexplored places are filled with the possibilities and potentialities of growing towards a person we might have not envisioned being.

            Even though it is with well-intentions that we say, “please try to be harder and decide to be happy,” it does harm to the decent and wonderful people that have a very hard time in life. And these conflicting messages about cheerfulness only lead them to suffer in silence and feeling ashamed of their own emotional experiences. As I have recently begun to learn, simply being present or stating that it is very hard to accept that things are not going the way we want it to go makes a huge difference.

            A much more compassionate approach would be to recognize sorrow as a pivoting moment in our human experience. We all face different and distinct difficulties that challenge us—keeping them buried only contributes to misunderstanding and suffering with a lingering sense of shame towards ourselves. Forcing a smile denies us the opportunity to flourish, to learn more about who we are and how we experience life and the profound knowledge that comes from recognizing what is truly important to us.

Jose is a recognized Puerto Rican poet who has published three poetry collections that explore themes of identity, shame and collective suffering.  He is currently enrolled in a Clinical Psychology doctoral program at the Carlos Albizu University Mayaguez University Center.  In his spare time he facilitates creative writing workshops for the community.
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