A conversation today with a dear friend shaped the thoughts in this week’s musings. The main topic was a trip we are planning, but our thoughts turned to other things, and soon we were discussing joy and being happy.
Neither of us are heads-in-the-sand people. We both stay informed, prayerful and often burdened with sad and tragic things happening around us. In our general attitude about life, however, we look for happiness and joy. I told her: “It was one of my mother’s lessons. She always told me that finding joy is an individual responsibility.”
It took me a while and a lot of life lessons to really understand that. It’s natural, I believe, to look to other people to bring happiness to you. Sometimes we rely on people we love to bring us joy. Sometimes we want the world around us to be a happy place where we can enjoy happy days.
What my mother knew from her life experiences is that joy really only comes from within. Life will knock you down. Tragedies will often leave you short on hope. Life, she would say, is not fair. You have to work through those days with a heart determined to find joy.
Mother did not leave me with platitudes and tired expressions. As we grew up and moved through our transitions of life, she showed and taught me the things I could use to find joy. Getting over an indignation at life for not being “fair” was the first one.
Personal responsibility and independence were always main topics as well. Giving up because I didn’t know how to do something was never acceptable. She over-inflated my ego with talk of my intelligence and abilities, figuring, I guess, that if I believed I could do anything, then I would find a way to accomplish things through sheer will and hard work. By the time I realized I wasn’t as brilliant as she thought I was, I had a firmly established pattern of working hard and problem solving. I was “creative.”
And it was joyful. I had some bad days on my career path, for example, but, for more than 35 years, I loved my job and found great joy in doing what I did. When I became a wife and mother, it was even easier to find joy every day.
Mother also taught me that thoughts matter. Words are important, and they are my stock-and-trade. Words can hurt and heal and shape other’s opinions. Mother, however, taught me that it’s not just what you say (or write) but what you truly believe that matter the most. Your faith and how that faith shapes your daily thoughts and approach to the world – your attitude, if you will – can be even more important to being joyful than what you say.
One of the lessons my mother only began to teach me and did not get to fully enjoy herself before she died at age 65 was that finding joy and happiness comes according to the natural turn of life’s seasons. The joy I found at 25 is different from the joy I find now. Mother got to meet all three of her grandchildren before she died, and she found it easier to live joyfully as her “senior life” began. I think the mountaintops would have had trouble containing her joy had she been given more years with our families.
The world around us can be challenging. There are people who cheat, lie, hurt themselves and others. Cynicism and confusion is high. But I still find so many good and wonderful people at every turn. And, if you believe as my mother did that finding your joy is up to you, why it’s right there within your grasp!
Enjoy your day. Find joy.
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.