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May 7, 2017

When Life feels Crappy, this is how to Be Happy Anyway.

 

 

“Make yourself so happy that when others look at you they become happy, too.” ~ Yogi Bhajan

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I’ve come to believe that experiencing joy is more of a choice than a destiny—that it’s possible to be happy for no reason.

Flashback to 2013: I was living in New Orleans for a few months to get hyperbaric oxygen treatments. Before the treatments could begin, I had to have scans done at the local hospital.

At the time, I was experiencing some stressful health issues. The trip to New Orleans and the medical treatments dug into my savings, piling financial stress on top of health challenges. Hopeful the treatments would help, I napped during most of the procedure.

Afterward, I stopped at the hospital cafeteria to buy a snack for the drive to my hotel. While waiting in line with my banana, I could hear the man in front of me pressuring his mother to get moving.

“Come on, Mom. Let’s get going!” he pushed. But she continued to loiter.

Suddenly, she turned around and looked me right in the eye. Her eyes twinkled with joy, and her smile ignited my own.

“Does he always tell you to keep moving?” I asked.

Her son turned to me and rolled his eyes, “If I don’t, she stops and gives everyone a massage.”

“Really?” I said.

Southern hospitality continually surprised me, and though this should have felt weird, it didn’t. Instead, this petite, older woman stood before me with so much love in her eyes that I felt welcomed. I could have used a massage, too. But the cashier’s station in the hospital cafeteria would definitely be an odd place to get one, especially from a stranger.

No, I wasn’t about to ask for a massage.

Just then, the tiny woman took my hands in hers and began to massage them. She looked sweetly into my eyes, smiled with glee, then hugged me and said, “Love is free.”

All my worries dissolved in her hug. On a day filled with stress, she reminded me that love is simple. No matter what happens—financial, medical, or personal issues—we always have joy to share with others. I walked to my car beaming. My situation hadn’t changed, but I felt happy anyway.

Fast forward to a couple of years later. I was sitting in the crowded waiting room of my doctor’s office waiting for a routine check-up. A mother was there with her two small children. Her six-month-old leaned back in his stroller smiling like a contented Buddha. Her three-year-old girl frolicked around the office like a whimsical fairy-elf.

As she played, her expanding joy touched each of us like fairy dust. We all began to smile and chat amongst ourselves. After my appointment, she was still playing, bringing light-hearted cheer to everyone’s faces.

I smiled at her mother and said, “So much joy!”

Her mother remarked, somewhat resigned, “Yes, but it’s too bad children have to grow up into adults and lose their joy.”

For a second, I felt offended. I don’t believe all adults are surly and joyless. I was doing my best to choose joy after facing my own adversities.

Then I looked around the room—everyone was still smiling, laughing, and talking.

I knew that if she wanted to believe we’re all miserable, I couldn’t stop her. But I couldn’t leave her statement hanging in the air unopposed either. I paused for a moment, then responded in my best conversational tone, “I don’t think all children grow up and lose their joy.”

As if to clinch her point, she said, “But the world is such a miserable place. It’s hard not to.”

“I agree, there’s definitely misery and pain,” I replied, “but if only one person brings some joy to the world, the world will be minus one miserable person and grow a bit more in joy. Isn’t that how we can each make the world a more joyful and less miserable place? Just one person at a time?”

She tilted her head slightly to consider this option, then nodded slowly in agreement, “I guess so.”

I realize it’s not realistic or even human to frolic in joy like a child all the time. Children can be more carefree than adults because they have less responsibilities and obligations. And few people, if any, escape trauma, which means most of us have experienced loss, shock, and drastic change throughout our lives. However, neither growing up nor trauma need be an endless source of misery.

Just as a rose grows out of manure-based fertilizer but still smells sweet, there are countless examples of famous and everyday people who’ve risen up through crappy circumstances and events to create something better. That crap we experience often elicits the most inspiring resilience and capacity for joy.

The late Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, who survived two concentration camps in Nazi Germany, has always lifted me up because of his capacity for joy. Despite the devastation and loss he experienced, Wiesel didn’t become embittered. Instead, he dedicated his life to creating a more peaceful and humane world through teaching, writing, speaking, and philanthropic work. When I look at photos of Wiesel, I often feel the gentle joy in his eyes, the joy of a person who turned his own pain into poetry and peace.

In a 2006 Time interview, Wiesel quoted Albert Camus, “‘Where there is no hope, one must invent hope.’ It is only pessimistic if you stop with the first half of the sentence and just say, ‘there is no hope.’ Like Camus, even when it seems hopeless, I invent reasons to hope.”

Wiesel’s ability to invent hope with such grace and determination is a gift we can all borrow from to find strength within ourselves.

So what shall we choose? Can we find reasons to choose joy and be the ones whose smile helps lift the weight of misery from the world? Or just invent joy within ourselves and spread fairy dust when there’s no good reason?

I like to imagine that if more of us can choose joy, then maybe when that mom sees so many adults smiling, she’ll change her mind about the nature of the world.

And the world will truly be more joyful.

~

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Author: Sally Stone
Image: Rhendi Rukmana/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron

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