On Choosing Joy

I’m just going to write a little bit. Not a lot. I don’t want you to get the idea that I’ve got all or any of the answers about anything. You’re talking to a girl who almost cut her finger off the other day because she mistook it for an onion. So, yeah. That’s how good my decision-making skills are.

Choosing joy. They are two words that, as with all directives, are way more work than they seem.

There’s this culture of taking responsibility for your emotions. I have to admit that I have been in this camp for a long time. If someone cuts you off in traffic, you get to choose how you’ll respond. If you are going to school, you get to decide whether you’re going to learn. And if you are sad, it’s you that has to choose joy.

I don’t know, man. It’s getting really hard to choose joy.

I did well for a while, you know? I tried to find things that brought me joy. I did ice skating. I wrote a book or two. I danced Zumba in my living room every day for a year. I feel like I was really on a roll. Things weren’t perfect, but they were good. And I tried to find opportunities to be happy.

I remember one day a few summers ago. It must have been before Covid. I was so sad, but I don’t remember why. I took my youngest daughter to the park and the sprinklers came on. We danced in the water, and I cried. I was so happy and sad at the same time. That’s such a human emotion—the equal parts infinitely happy and infinitely sad. But I remember seeing the sun sparkling through the water as I lifted my hands and twirled. I was happy. It was magical.

The other time that relates is when we were heading towards Hawaii. I have already written about it, but it bears repeating. We had got to the airport late, gotten stuck in baggage, and were just coming to the gate sign about 15 minutes till the flight left. We could hear them calling our names over the big speakers.

When we go the sign, already running, there was an arrow and a small print below: B Gates 9 minutes from this point.

My heart sank. I started sprinting down the stairs, through the tunnel. By the time I hit the middle, I had a stitch in my side and I was crying. “We’re not going to make it,” I wheezed, tears rolling down my cheeks. “We’re not going to make it.”

And yet, I was still running. Because some part of me believed that it was not too late. Some part of me believed that there was a reason to hope. And when I reached the end of the hall, they were happy to shuttle us onto the flight with seconds to spare.

The other day, I went to the grave where my twins are buried. I had just had a fight with my husband and I was feeling destitute, desperate, and depressed. I thought how it might be nice to just lay down in the snow and fall asleep.

But I thought of the flowers that I planted at their graves. I wanted to see those flowers bloom. No matter how white and cold and silent it was in the dead of winter, those flowers are there, waiting to bloom when the sun thaws the world.

What does this have to do with choosing joy? Everything.

Choosing joy doesn’t mean that your life is sunshine and roses. But it means that there is something inside of you at the bottom of your soul that believes that sunshine and roses will come.

It doesn’t guarantee that they will stay, or that there won’t be thorns and sunburn. But choosing joy is not always wild laughter and thrills. Choosing joy has to do with the spark in the pit of your soul that says, like Anne Frank, “In spite of everything I still believe…”

In spite of everything, I still believe. And there is joy in that. True joy. And I will continue to choose it.

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