We are only one month into the “Year of Joy” and I have to say, it’s hard work! I don’t just mean having joy in particular moments, I am talking about consciously waking up to embrace a mood filled with joy, ready to put it on display for the world to see. Maybe it is just because I have become more focused on finding all the moments when I either recognize joy in others, or the times when I am just being bitter for no good or acceptable reason. One thing is certain, we all need to put in the hard work necessary for us to experience and recognize how living a life of joy can change our lives.
The first thing I am being reminded of daily, is that joy is a choice. It isn’t a temporary emotion, it doesn’t change with the wind, and you cannot find it unless you choose to let it become part of you. For all of us, joy has to consume our being and control the desires within our heart. If we analyze our decisions based on how they will impact our ability to live a life of joy, we begin to understand how many times we are actually the ones robbing ourselves of the joy we seek as human beings. Just like our faith life, we must work to experience all the beauty within joy. In striving to live in joy, it is vital to surround ourselves with quality friends, and work to fill our time with joyful activities that not only help us to find pleasure in the instant, but gives us a sustainable sense of undeniable joy, which will carry us through our days.
In our home, my wife has purchased a few reminders of who we are working to be, not only as a ministry, but as a family. Our items are a small cylinder light for our family room which says “Joy” and also the only small book at our local grocery store which seemed to call out to her amidst the clutter on the shelves, devoted to nothing but “Joy”. We figure with all the distractions pulling our attention away from the positive things we need to focus on, we can fight fire with fire. Nonetheless, at any moment one of life’s little problems can creep in and completely consume our attention toward any one of the seven deadly sins. I literally have stopped myself, walking from the hallway to the kitchen, to look at our new lamp which glows, “Joy” and ask myself if I really believe what I preach; the answer is yes and I hit the reset button once more.
Before you dismiss me simply as a positive thinker who is supposed to be inspirational by trade, or you succomb to the struggles found in the challenge that exists in finding joy everyday, I want to make a confession; one that I have never made publicly till now. Through my adult years, I have suffered with serious bouts of debilitating depression. Not just “having a bad day” depression, but days and sometimes even weeks of paralyzing depression which makes it a struggle to get out of bed or even function. Over a three year period in my early thirties, it was necessary for me to take daily medication and regular physician check ups to keep it under control during my dark times. Thankfully, as I have grown in relying fully on my faith, I have been able to manage it pretty well with a combination of prayer, and every so often a good cry. Very recently, I was reminded of what a crippling disease it can be when a very good friend of mine, who I care about deeply, suffered an “attack” which sent him into a dark, secluded place. Journeying along with him through it all hit home and thoroughly affected me. His situation took me back to all the battles I had waged in my own struggle with depression, both those won and lost; truth be told, it is the major reason I had the idea to make this the “Year of Joy” for “Let Me Be…” Ministries. I tell you all this, not so you will feel sorry for me, but for you to understand each of us has to fight beyond what holds us back in order to live a life of appreciation which finds the blessings that exist in our life every day. In my life, it has been seven years since I stopped taking daily medication. I lost fifty pounds, began exercising regularly again, immersed myself in prayer and now consciously work to always find the glass half full. I won’t lie and tell you every day is perfect and that I still don’t tumble into sadness for no reason, but I can, without a doubt, tell you the single days no longer turn into weeks and they happen fewer and far between. I am just your ordinary sinner struggling to make the best of the cards I am dealt, with the Lord being my refuge to get through it all. If nothing else, God’s belief in me is enough to deserve my hard work to live a life of joy in return.
I chose the topic of hard work first in this series as a reminder you do not have to be perfect – just willing. Always know if you are in pain, you are not alone, you are not a failure, you are not without value and you are certainly not meant to live this life unhappy. It’s important to remember these things when working to live a life of joy. Truly, it’s all about stopping yourself and finding the joy around you in order to live life with a smile in some way. It also becomes your job to be a spot of joy for those suffering around you and to lose your own sorrows by carrying their burdens. Joy is available in any one moment. We may have to claw and scratch, kick and even bite our way through the fog which clouds our attitude, but we can, and we will, have joy if we desire it.
One tip I can offer while you strive to find joy, is to search for it in the least likely of places, because it will surprise you and make even more of an impact in your life. For instance, in the over the top glitz and glamour of award shows I love to watch acceptance speeches for those one or two celebrities who truly “get it.” They seem humbled and appreciative for what they have been blessed with, while showing the world they do not take themselves too seriously. This year at the Golden Globe Awards, Michael Keaton, blew me away (along with many others) in a speech filled with vulnerability and offering a message to inspire others. In addition to emotionally sharing that his best friend in the world, who just so happens to be his son, makes him a better person. Keaton gave people a look into the man he is because of his roots. He identified himself by losing his hollywood persona staring into the camera saying, “My name’s Michael John Douglas, I’m from Forest Grove, Pennsylvania. I’m the son — seventh child — of George and Leona Douglas. And I don’t ever remember a time when my father didn’t work two jobs. When my mother wasn’t saying the rosary or going to mass or trying to take care of seven kids in a rundown farmhouse, she was volunteering at the Ohio Valley Hospital where I was born – in the hallway.” He went on to offer this wisdom meant to bring about joy, “In the household in which I was raised, the themes were pretty simple, ‘Work hard, don’t quit, be appreciative, be thankful, be grateful, be respectful.’ Also don’t whine – ever – don’t complain and always, for crying out loud, keep a sense of humor.” Joy is the sum of everything he describes. This is his “comeback” role they say, but I think he proved to each of us, that the joy we live really comes from working hard for what and who we love.
Bottom line-joy is waiting for you to take hold of it and plant it within you for the world to see. Let it shine forth from you so each person around you longs to know the secret you hold which inspires them to want what you have. As with everything else, it will take hard work to see good in the bad, or victory when the battle is still raging. In the end, though, the life we choose to live will ultimately be judged by the joy in which we lived it with. Over the remainder of the year, I will share different stories, tips, prayers and people that can help all of us live a life of joy. Indeed it begins with you, but we also can’t do it alone. (and are not meant to do any of this by ourselves.)
CHALLENGE: Find one item that is your reminder of “Joy” and either place it in your pocket or purse to have with you at all times to help you reset yourself and know joy is yours for the taking.
Please email us your stories or reflections about your item and let us know how you are working to live a life of joy; just put “Life of Joy” in the subject line. Or if you have a topic you would like Greg to discuss you can send to him directly at [email protected]