I Choose Joy

Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  We’ve had a lot of things going on in recent weeks (months), and I’ve been having some back problems that have made it pretty darn uncomfortable to sit at the computer for any length of time.  But thankfully my awesome doctor has prescribed some new medication and started me on physical therapy to regain my strength from being a forced couch potato, so all is well (or on its way there, anyway).

Those who know me know how frustrated I’ve been to be tied to my recliner, unable to do all the things I’ve wanted to do.  And most days it’s been hard not to complain.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs to vent their frustrations every once in a while, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s been a real struggle to keep myself from falling into a pattern of continual grouchiness and/or whininess.  God bless my exceptionally patient husband (and the rest of my family) for putting up with me.  I know I’ve been particularly short-tempered as of late.

I recently got invited to become “Facebook friends” with one of the receptionists at my doctor’s office (I’ll not call you out and embarrass you, but if you’re reading this, you know who you are), and I was happy to get the invitation.  See, when I first met her, I was still trying desperately to find a doctor who was willing to work with me to make me well, not just “good enough”, and willing to learn about a pretty obscure disease.  She was the first person I talked to, and has never been anything but kind, cheerful, and enthusiastic.  Have you ever met someone and instantly thought you were kindred spirits?  She is one of those people. This girl reminds me of myself 20 years ago.  And I find that nearly all of her posts are uplifting and encouraging, things that just make me smile, so I’m so much happier to see something from her pop up on my newsfeed than most of the political, negative, woe-is-me or woe-is-our-country crap that I often see.  Even as rarely as I’m on Facebook, I’m already glad she asked me to “friend” her.

I think there are two main parts to choosing joy in our lives, and one is primarily internal, the other a little more external.  First, how do I view and think about myself and my circumstances, and second how do I view others and my relationships with them?  Today I’ll just talk about my attitudes toward myself, and deal with my attitudes towards others in my next post.

There’s an old-ish song (1994) by Larnelle Harris called “I Choose Joy”.  The video is pretty goofy, but I love the lyrics.  Specifically, the line that keeps coming back to me is: “I’ll never let the problems keep me down”.  Note that it doesn’t say, I’ll never let the problems GET me down, because that is entirely unrealistic, but I won’t let them KEEP me down.  That’s important.  Everyone has times of discouragement, but it’s when I allow myself to wallow in that and remain in a state of self-pity and despair that I have a problem.  Now I’m not saying that someone who has clinical depression can “wish” their way out of it, but I will go so far as to say that even when medications are necessary, they cannot work as well alone.  I have to make a conscious, sometimes daily, even minute-to-minute decision to choose joy.  I repeat, I’m not saying you can magically think yourself out of depression.  But I truly believe you CAN mentally trap yourself there, regardless of medications.  I shouldn’t think of depression as a pair of handcuffs, where if I just have the right key I can open them, click, and then I’m not carrying that burden any more.  It’s more like being bound by a spool of unbreakable thread. I have to unwind myself a little at a time in order to get free.

There is nothing wrong with occasionally saying, “Ugh, I don’t feel well”, but if every phrase that comes out of my mouth is “oh, my aching ____” or “oh, my terrible job/husband/friend/family member/life” or some other version of “woe is me”, my focus is in the wrong place.  I’ve seen the thankfulness challenges quite a bit lately (I guess they’ve been extended from just being thankful around Thanksgiving) and there’s nothing wrong with those, but I challenge you to make sure those statements are not superficial.  Better than saying, “Ugh, my back hurts, but at least I’m still breathing”,  I should be thinking something more along the lines of, “Ugh, my back hurts, but it’s better than it’s been at its worst, and I was able to fold a load of laundry today!”  I can’t be afraid to celebrate small accomplishments, but I have to make sure that my thankfulness for them is genuine.  I may not enjoy being a cashier or a waitress or burger-flipper or whatever, but at least I have a job while I’m looking for something better.  And there is nothing wrong with wanting something better, but I have to take care that I don’t allow myself to fall into the constant pattern of never being content with what I have right now.  I’ve written about contentment before, but it’s a topic that’s really important to me.  I just see so many people who live their entire lives with a “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” mentality, and never reach a place of contentment because of that internal attitude.

All this to say, we all struggle with challenges like this.  You’re not alone.  My frustrations might not be exactly the same as yours, but I do know how it feels to be frustrated with myself or some aspect of my life, and I know you do too.  But I issue you this challenge: try to be really observant about what comes out of your mouth (or what gets posted on your status, or tweeted) for the next few days, and see if you can add something positive, even if part of it is negative.  It might just be baby steps at this point, but we’ve got to start somewhere.  I’m with you on this; let’s keep moving forward together.  Choose joy in this moment.