January has passed, and like many others, I contemplated what changes I’d like to see in the new year for myself and my family. For some it’s eating healthier, working out more, drinking less or maybe learning a new skill. While all those things are beneficial, as I find myself in a difficult season, I have thought a lot about how we can become so focused on problems that it can rob us of joy. As a mom, I’m painfully aware that my attitude permeates the atmosphere of my home and profoundly shapes my child. I also know that if I’m miserable on the inside, no exercise program, shopping trip or beauty treatment can fix that. So, the focus for me and for my family in 2018 is joy.
There are countless scientific studies that prove that a positive attitude can lead you to a healthier, more fulfilling, longer life. A study from the Yale School of Public Health of more than 4,000 people age 50 and older by Becca R. Levy and Avni Banshi proved that having a positive view can have an advantageous influence on health and longevity. Barbara Frederickson from the University of North Carolina published a revolutionary study that demonstrates when people experience positive emotions like joy and love, they see more possibilities in their lives and are open to develop more skills.
Simply put; what the brain does influences the body.
The word joy is used over 200 times in the Bible (NIV). Webster Dictionary’s definition of joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires or a source or cause of delight. Joy is very different from happiness in that it is not tied to external circumstances. Finding joy requires effort and intention. We don’t always know how to find joy, so we constantly look for quick fixes to bring us happiness, such as shopping, traveling, or escaping in social media, drugs or alcohol, which can wreak havoc in our lives. And when those temporary things have passed, we can find ourselves empty and longing for more.
Joy, on the other hand, is overreaching; we can still experience joy in the middle of difficult times if we pursue it. As the apostle Paul said, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil 4:11-12)
So, what does all this mean for us? What was Pauls’ secret? Joy is a choice. We can choose to feed fear, stress and negativity, thus pitching ourselves into a downward spiral of depression and cynicism. Or, we can feed ourselves with faith, thoughts and activities that fuel our joy. The other part of Paul’s quote is “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13) Paul’s secret was his faith. His primary focus was on God and not on his worldly problems, which is certainly easier said than done during difficult seasons.
I love Max Lucado’s quote on joy. “Worry is to joy what a Hoover vacuum cleaner is to dirt; might as well attach your heart to a happiness-sucker and flip the switch.”
How do we make room for joy in our lives? We must be intentional about seeking it and understand that life is not happy all the time. Observing and soaking in even the smallest things can bring joy – a beautiful sunset, your child’s smile, your silly dog rolling in the grass. Here are some things that have helped me in my quest for joy:
- Daily quiet time and prayer: As a Christian, for me this means aiming to carve out time each day to be still, talk to God and meditate on His word. Memorizing scripture that applies to your current situation can be encouraging. I had six miscarriages before my son, and there were times during my pregnancy that I was so afraid of losing my baby. I wrote out several verses on fear and meditated on them frequently. Later when I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, I went back to those verses (and many others).
- Gratitude: Make a list each day of 5 things you are thankful for; being thankful gives us hope and redirects our focus on what we have instead of what we don’t’ have. This has helped me in the darkest of times. I took this a step further and create a list of affirmations for my son and taped it on the bathroom mirror, so he could read it aloud each day. Ours includes Bible verses to back up each affirmation.
- Forgive: If someone has wronged you, forgive them even if they have not asked for it. You may even need to forgive yourself. Forgiveness is not about the other person, but about you. It’s very freeing to stop carrying around the weight of anger, resentment or shame over your past. After all, God forgave us.
- Deal with your stuff: Deal with your issues and ask for professional help if needed.
- Give back: Volunteer or do something small like helping a friend or neighbor; offer encouragement to someone who needs it. It’s amazing what happens when you take the focus off yourself for a minute!
- Get outside and exercise: Enjoy the beautiful outdoors and take a break; it releases stress and produces great endorphins.
- Socialize: We are made for connection and community; face-to-face interaction increases your body’s production of oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins. Studies show that people who are social live longer, healthier lives. Make sure you are spending your time with people who possess positive, healthy attitudes. I’ve learned to distance myself from friends who suck the life out of a room…we’ve all had them!
- Limit social media: Its easy to become disconnected from the real world if you get sucked in for hours on end.
- Listen to uplifting music: For me this is praise music or my latest mix; I love listening while practicing yoga outside on a beautiful day.
- Be creative: Journal, paint, take a cooking class; think outside the box and try something new.
In my short 51 years on this earth, which includes 17 years of marriage, surviving breast cancer, enduring seven miscarriages and being the mom of a wonderful boy, I certainly don’t have it all figured out. What I’ve come to realize is that I can’t control how others behave, and I can’t stop catastrophic events from occurring or minor upsets from coming my way. People will disappoint us and leave us; tragedies are inevitable.
I can only choose how I respond and how I face the day when my feet hit the floor in the morning. I want to leave a legacy of encouragement, love and faith for my son and those around me — not anger, bitterness and resentment. Some days I fail miserably, but that’s the great thing about God’s grace; we get another day to get it right. So, today I choose Joy!
For Bible verses on joy go here https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/joy-bible-verses/