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On March 6, 2015, Miriam’s life began again. Due to end-stage lung disease, she had waited over six months on the transplant list. And for someone like her, that felt like forever. She had come precariously close to the unimaginable; but, on that remarkable day, because of an anonymous organ donor, she received her new lungs and another chance! Her life hasn’t been the same since. On that day, her whole perception changed: how she feels about life, the meaning of true friendship, whom she considers to be family, even things as seemingly simple as how she views food (she says she eats a lot more candy now!). Even though she continues to fight for her life, overcoming the odds every day, she strives to take living in joy one breath at a time.
Please welcome Miriam Ford Rhymes to Truly Madly Sassy this week as she talks about how she finds joy.
The alarm goes off. Great, another day. I wake up in pain and slowly stumble into the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee. It’s literally the only thing that will get me out of bed. But then again, will I even be able to drink it? More often than not, nausea sinks in before I get into my third sip! As I wait for the coffee, I draw the living room curtains shut to drown out the light from the sun. I’d rather sit in the dark. I plop down on the couch my parents bought us as a gift before we left for transplant, which by now is starting to show its wear, and let out a gigantic sigh. Why don’t people make furniture like they used to? Today will be a busy day, like most days. I start to make a list of what I need to do to attempt to get everything done. The list just gets longer and longer – I’m so overwhelmed! The dogs are playing outside and barking endlessly. I knock on the window to try to get them to be quiet. I need to concentrate. Today already feels like a bad day and it hasn’t even started.
I wake up in the morning and see the sun shining through my living room window. It always looks so beautiful this time of day. I make my way over to my coffee machine – this is what I look forward to every morning! Soon I will sit with a hot cup of coffee on the couch my parents bought us as a gift before we left for my transplant, one of my cherished treasures, and let the warm sun stream across my face. I can see the trees from my window, and watch the wind rustle their branches. I love where I live! Today will be a busy day, like most days, so, taking a deep breath and inhaling the beautiful aroma of that powerful coffee, I make a list of what I need to do and prepare myself for the day. I hear the dogs barking outside, playing with one another. I chuckle to myself, thinking of them playing together, two doggie best friends, Molly and Copper. Today will be a good day.
In the Society we live in today, people believe joy and happiness depend on a strict set of circumstances. A preconceived notion of topics.
As proof, consider the following dictionary definitions alone:
Merriam-Webster defines joy as “the possession of the emotion of well-being, success, good fortune or possessing what one desires.” The free dictionary defines it as “an intense or ecstatic emotion expressing exultant happiness.”
Wow! That’s intense.
When you think of joy in the context of those definitions, it seems completely out of reach.
It gives that tiny, three-letter word this giant abstract concept that demands so many specific conditions and checkmarks in life. It almost gives the impression that it can never be achieved. In fact, the definition shows that the pressure to be happy in society itself is great. This pressure to reach an unidentifiable level of “happy” can in itself remove it! Have you ever felt pressure from others to be “happy?” I have.
Think about it. When in life does a person ever achieve all of those things? Well-being, success, and getting everything you want in life? Can that ever really happen to the same person at the same time? If that has, in fact, happened to you, please email me immediately. I would like to know how you achieved this. (I would also like to know if this actually gave you joy.)
That being said, I would like to propose a different definition of joy in this post. An interpretation, really, of the expression that I have found to be more realistic, easier to achieve, and far more satisfying.
My experience has taught me that joy and happiness in life don’t have to be attributed to achieving some arbitrary and cliché combination of factors of life. Especially not in a list that someone else somewhere out there has made for all of us. Joy can be achieved by a list you make for yourself. In fact, it can be found without completing any arbitrary checkmarks at all!
If a person is constantly running after this preset list of an unreachable “dream,” this will actually produce the opposite of joy.
Instead of achieving happiness, most individuals chasing after it will miss all the beautiful moments in life that will actually produce joy for them. They just keep running and running, searching for “The Thing That Will Make Me Happy,” and once they get there, don’t even realize they are already running after something else. How sad!
With all of this confusion, a lot of us run around trying to find happiness in life, but really never find it. We may get glimpses of it for fleeting moments, but then suddenly, away it flies, and we are left empty and depressed again.
So I come to my story at the beginning of the article. My two mornings waking up and going to my beautiful teal couch by the window, my favorite spot! You see, in both illustrations, it is the exact same day – but there is a clear difference. Happiness. Joy. Contentment.
Why the difference? How am I able to have such clear contentment in one morning and such complete misery in the other?
With all my hardships, people ask me all the time why and how I can maintain joy, happiness, and contentment? Honestly, sometimes I don’t really know myself. When I was asked to do this article for Truly Madly Sassy, I really had to take a long, hard look at myself to find out. What did I discover? It really isn’t all that complicated. The concepts are basic and few – but are much harder to actually put into action all the time, especially when things aren’t going exactly as planned.
Let’s just get one thing straight: I do not understand this question → “With all you’ve gone through, how can you still be happy?” I acknowledge that I’ve gone through a lot, and I also appreciate that others take note of my endurance.
Contentment and happiness do not depend on ideal circumstances.
Happiness is a choice. Joy is something one should strive for every day, not something to wait on. Contentment is a way of life, a certain way of residing in oneself, not something that depends on your environment, socioeconomic status, health, job, clothes, weight, relationship, or otherwise.
You decide, “Today I will be happy.” And even if you don’t feel it right away, you work toward it, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. The next day, again, “Today, I will find something that makes me joyful.” And the next day and the next and the next.
Just like I get up every day and chose to put on clothes, I choose to be happy. I choose to find joy. The Bible says, “Clothe yourselves with love.” (Colossians 3:14) So I make it a habit! Eventually, it becomes second nature.
But just like developing any habit, there are do’s and don’ts to help along the way. Here are a few things that help me to find my joy despite adversity.
Do have hope for the future.
My favorite poet, Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. And sings the tune without the words. And never stops at all.“
What a beautiful way to describe hope! Hope is the beautiful sense inside oneself when you both want and desire something to happen, and you have no doubt that it will happen. It is a very powerful emotion! Having hope helps to create joy because it controls negative thinking and promotes positivity. Having something to look forward to, even if it is something seemingly small, can make a huge difference in the contentment you feel. In addition, just as Dickinson wrote, once you establish your hope, it is almost impossible for anyone or anything to remove it from you. So, find your “tune without words” – whatever it may be – and allow it to help you to focus on happy things.
Don’t hold onto the past.
Even more so than the having of hope will give you joy, holding on to negative things in your past will completely drain your happiness. Mulling over and over things that have already happened to you and that you can no longer change will only frustrate you and lead to discontentment. On the other hand, I have learned that happiness requires acceptance.
I’ve heard it illustrated before that accepting your past experiences is similar to driving a car. If you are constantly keeping your eyes on the rearview mirror, you cannot pay attention to what is ahead of you and you’ll crash! You have to see behind you to learn and be aware of your surroundings, but the rearview mirror should never be your primary focus. You should always pay more attention to your biggest window: the front windshield and what is ahead of you!
Of course, this is not always easy. My life has consisted of many events that have caused pain, leading in fact to a diagnosis of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Talk about being affected by tragic past events! But, I have learned that if you have hope for the future, and focus your eye ahead, it harder to look behind you, and easier to accept and learn from your past. I’m much happier since.
Do find your purpose and create goals.
I have found that a key thing to my happiness has been finding my purpose in life, my passions, and acting on them. Once I learned these things about myself, I was able to set goals related to this work. When I reached my goals, they actually brought me joy and satisfaction because they were in relation to my passion.
Ask yourself – What do I really want out of life? What truly matters to me? Who truly matters to me? What am I passionate about? Use this self-examination to set some sincere priorities and life goals that center around your purpose and those loves.
A couple of years ago, I was in a very bad emotional state due to my failing health. I felt helpless and useless – basically like I was just taking up space on Planet Earth, but not helping anyone! I was very deep in frustration and anxiety. One weekend, I was at a special Bible educational event that helped me to reevaluate my situation. Using a butterfly with a torn wing, as an illustration, I was helped to see that everyone can contribute to helping others, even if we might feel broken or damaged because of our circumstances. It changed my perspective. It helped me to see the big picture, re-establish my priorities, and set new goals with my purpose in mind. Guess what? I also found joy again.
Don’t take leaps before you crawl!
Goals and purpose are tremendously important to happiness and contentment. However, (and this is HUGE), you should never set goals that are outside your means out of over-enthusiasm.
This is a TREMENDOUS temptation for me. I get excited about something and end up thinking I can do more than I actually can! I find myself taking huge leaps and falling flat on my face. How disappointing! Instead, it is much better to pace yourself, take “baby steps,” and set attainable goals that you can celebrate as you reach them one by one.
After my transplant, I had some sort of preconceived idea that I was going to jump right out of bed and start climbing mountains. I soon realized that my limitations were far greater than my expectations. When that didn’t happen, my initial reaction was frustration and disappointment in myself. However, after discussing what I was going through with other patients in my situation, I began taking things on a day to day basis and setting much smaller goals. One day, it was reaching a goal with my breathing exercises. Another day it was making myself breakfast. And on another, it was walking to the mailbox. Being victorious over the small goals gave me more confidence, and the courage to set more challenging steps for myself as time went on.
Do be grateful every day.
I’m sure you hear this all the time, but meditating on the things that make you thankful every single day will make a difference. In fact, write it down. Studies have shown that if you put something on paper (or tablet, phone, or screen) in black and white, it makes a stronger connection with your brain, making it more real.
As a suggestion, I have a notification on my phone in Google Keep at 8 PM every night entitled *Be Thankful* so I can keep a list. When it goes off, I type out at least three things from that day that I am appreciative for.
The list doesn’t have to be eloquent or grand. Some days, it’s just sunshine, coffee – even socks! The point is that I know that if I work hard to focus on these things, rather than all the negative stuff going on in my life, my perspective shifts toward the positive. And my joy will increase.
Don’t be a complainer.
Some people say that being negative, pessimistic, or judgemental may be “just be how I am”. But this will definitely detract from your overall happiness. Complaining all the time only makes you miserable. I find that in today’s society, it seems that sitting around talking about your problems is “the norm,” even to the point of being a hobby. Of course, there is always an appropriate need to vent and to get things off your chest (I am THE QUEEN of The Vent!). But, making complaining and grumbling a regular habit, whether it’s out loud to others, or just inside yourself, will ultimately take away from your joy, the happiness that everyone around you feels, and it will change your overall disposition to one of negativity and sadness. Who wants that?
There is an ancient Chinese Proverb that says. “Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses”. So train yourself to see the positive. Try to find the humorous side in bad situations. And look for the good qualities in the people around you. Doing so will help you not only to maintain your joy but allow everyone around you to be happy, too.
Do practice giving.
There is a very, very famous Scripture that says, “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving” (Acts 20:35). Well, guess what? It is famous for a reason. Why? Because it is true and it works. When you focus on people, and not things, you become happy. When you focus on giving, contributing, sharing, not only what you yourself can get out of a situation, becoming generous and not selfish, you will find joy!
Being chronically ill, having depression or anxiety, having financial problems, being a caregiver for an elderly parent or for a disabled child can easily lead to one being self-consumed with one’s own life and problems. I know because I was in that situation more than once. When you live a life of adversity, the hardships can become all-consuming, and can literally suck the life out of you. I realized that if I practice giving, trying my very best to focus on other people, it draws the attention of my mind away from myself and my own problems.
Giving doesn’t have to be humongous.
I’ve never donated a million dollars to a children’s hospital (even though that would be amazing!). It doesn’t even have to be financial. It just has to be from your heart, meaning something both to you and to the recipient. If it comes from a place of love, it will produce joy.
Besides these things, I have to say that being creative and fitting art into my life, even though I’m not very good at it. It gives freedom to many of my emotions and causes me great happiness. I like to call it “getting the inside out.” You don’t have to be good at art to make it. You just have to be brave enough to try.
Joy seems like the great elusive emotion. Society, the world, even the Dictionary makes it seem like it is out of reach. For a time in my life, I thought perhaps it was slipping out of my grip as well. But, my life experiences and the education I have received have taught me that joy and happiness are within the reach of all of us. Instead of being a quality that requires a checklist of milestones, it is a daily choice we can make to have. How wonderful! So, let’s decide to have it. And to take the steps to not let a single day go by without experiencing the unique human right of joy.
See you guys next week! Until then, stay sassy!
How do you find joy?
Please share your thoughts below!