In a recent article on Elite Daily, writer Miranda Athanasiou listed five “optimistic thoughts” that will supposedly change your perspective on life and turn you into a happier person. There’s just one problem. Most of her “optimistic thoughts” are superficial yet very popular lies. In fact, I’d venture to say that if you believe these lies, and live them out to their logical conclusion, you’re setting yourself up for a world of pain and confusion. I’ll go through them one by one and explain what I mean.

1. Everything happens for a reason. {PARTIALLY TRUE}

As Miranda points out, “Even the awful mistakes that have no obvious silver lining end up acting like life lessons, which save us from making the same mistake at a more important point in our lives.” True. We can learn from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others. Unfortunately, most people have to make the same mistake multiple times before figuring out what went wrong, but we’ll let that slide for this blog.

Christians believe that everything happens ultimately for the glory of God. When good things happen, we thank God. When we’re scared, we pray a lot harder, thus strengthening our relationship with God. When bad things happen, it is God’s glorious joy to rescue us and help us heal.

However, oftentimes “Everything happens for a reason” is the opposite of what a suffering person needs to hear. Telling a parent that there’s a reason their child is sick will likely earn you a swift punch to the throat. Bad things often happen for no reason at all, or at least, no reason we can hope to comprehend this side of Heaven.

2. Life only gives you as much as you can handle. {FALSE}

The “Christian” version of this myth is that “God never gives you more than you can handle.”  This is a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad lie. Talk to someone battling cancer, or a soldier with PTSD, or a teenager in foster care. Sometimes, life gives you a whole lot more than you can ever hope to handle. When that happens, it’s OK to admit that life is too hard. Admitting that we are overwhelmed frees us up to ask for help, to accept help, to be open to medical intervention, and it empowers us to cling to God. It’s a fact: If you carry everything on your own shoulders all by yourself all of the time, eventually, you will crack. Emotionally healthy people are aware of their limits and accept them.

3. Happiness is a choice. {PARTIALLY TRUE}

Miranda says, “The difference between a happy person and a miserable person are the thoughts they choose to give room to in their minds.” This is obviously not always true.

You can choose not to be annoyed with the colleague who never refills the printer paper. You can choose to forgive your spouse for shrinking your favorite shirt in the drier. You can choose not to lose your temper when you blow a tire. You can choose to find joy in the little things.

However, for many people, happiness is unattainable and depression is a reality. Some people have a chemical imbalance that makes them constantly sad or anxious. Others are enduring hardships that are so severe that happiness would be nonsensical or even delusional.

When someone you love dies for example, it is healthy and justified to be sad. When a relationship falls apart, it is normal and natural to grieve and feel wronged. When you find out your unborn baby is not going to make it, you are absolutely right to cry.

Anyone who faults you for being sad is doing you a great injustice. They are minimizing your hardship and they are stifling your natural emotional response to pain and loss. In times of great sorrow, we must walk through grief patiently, so that we can arrive at happiness again.

4. Nothing is permanent. {FALSE}

God is permanent. My love for my children is permanent. Death is permanent. It’s true that difficult seasons of life are fleeting, and that is indeed very comforting. We also mature in our ability to cope with hardship. As Miranda says, “A year down the line, you won’t believe you were so upset about something which seems so trivial now.” However, just because something isn’t permanent doesn’t mean it isn’t utterly horrible or excruciatingly painful.  Sometimes “a year down the line,” we look back and thank God we’re not still enduring that agony.

5. We always have the final say. {FALSE}

Miranda claims, “You get the final say in how your life turns out. You choose your career, your friends, your partners and with whom you share your life.”

I’m a big proponent of owning our choices, good and band. However, most of life really is outside of our control. Industries and businesses change and our job skills are no longer required. Friends change and drift apart. People do terribly cruel things to each other; cheat, gossip, betray, and abandon. People get sick. People die. There are many very kind, good, and lovely people who end up sad and alone at the end of their lives. Visit any nursing home and you’ll see that this is true. We do not have final say. We do our best with what we’re given and hope it makes the world a better place.

Conclusion:

Being happy may sometimes be a choice. However, life is usually more complex than a multiple choice question on the SAT. Being happy is not always an option. When it’s not, we should never pressure or guilt ourselves (or each other) into acting happy when we’re really sad. We should also be careful around people who minimize our pain or marginalize our feelings.

I’m not writing all of this to rain on anyone’s parade. I’m writing this because …

  • Bad things frequently happen to very good people.
  • It’s healthy to be sad and even angry when bad things happen.
  • It’s healthy to mourn and grieve when tragedy strikes.
  • It’s normal to have limits and to hit those limits on occasion.
  • Strong people admit that they are weak and can ask for help.
  • There’s nothing wrong with taking antidepressants if you need them.
  • It’s healthy to seek therapy or counseling absolutely anytime.

Happiness isn’t a virtue. Happiness is a blessing. And you know what? Perhaps sadness is a bittersweet blessing too. After all, who do you think values happiness more: the one who is used to being happy, or the one who has tasted sorrow? I believe it is the latter.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

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