This past weekend I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote speech at a local Toastmasters conference. I opened by reciting the opening to Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken. I believe this poem is a great visual for analyzing the choices we make and how they affect our lives. The older I get, the more I believe that most of life is a choice. At the very least, I believe that our attitude and our response to the “good” and “bad” events of life is a choice.
(I put the quotation marks around good and bad because I don’t truly believe in good or bad. As stated by Shakespeare “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” John Milton says that “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”)
There is a wonderful story in Zig Ziglar’s See You At The Top that brings this visual home. A man died and St. Peter gave him the opportunity to see both heaven and hell. The man traveled to hell first. He was surprised to find that there was a beautiful banquet table laden with food and drink, and yet, everyone was starving. Upon closer inspection, the man saw that each of the individuals had a four-foot fork fastened to one hand, and a four-foot knife fastened to the other. At that length, not one person could feed himself. So, in the midst of abundance, they were starving. When the man was taken to heaven he saw that each person was sitting at the same banquet table AND had the same silverware strapped to each arm, yet each was laughing and eating because each person was feeding the person opposite.
We can be surrounding by a banquet table and yet, when we are focused solely on ourselves, be spiritually starving.
Joy can be contagious, certainly, and it should be shared. But I think if we take a close look at the things that bring us joy, they are most likely associated with the people we love. I find it hard to think of joy and not think of laughter. And when I think of laughter, I think of those with whom I love to laugh.
When I think of joy, I think of my husband laughing when he’s just made a funny joke. This is one of the occasions when his mirth seems to reach his eyes. My heart is happier when I experience his happiness.
I feel joy when I think of the students that I’ve taught over the years and their happiness when they achieve their goals, or the speakers and leaders I’ve mentored in Toastmasters and how their growth and delight in their accomplishments seems to fill my heart and my “cup overfloweth”.
Zig Ziglar says, “you can have anything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want”. Joy doesn’t happen in a bubble (although a bottle of bubbles can bring me joy, especially when I watch my nephews get ahold of them).
I also believe that joy changes over time. Joy is different for each person, at least in the details. But the meta, the big picture, the human experience, it is all the same.
Joy, peace, faith, hope are all interconnected.
If joy, peace, faith, and hope are all interconnected, then the opposite is what we let steal our joy. Stress, frustration, despair steal our joy.
Gratitude is the antidote. It is hard to be sad or stressed or frustrated or in despair when focused on all we have to be grateful for. I’ve even seen it said that “it is not joy that makes us grateful. It is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
Perspective can also keep the joy-stealers at bay and aid in gratitude. I know a mom who jokes with her kids, “but did you die?” Maybe it’s not what you would say to your kids (I find it pretty funny myself), but I do believe there’s validity in it. Is what you are letting steal your joy permanent? Did it kill you? If it did kill you, you wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. You’re worried about it because you are still alive, and if you are still alive, you have something to be grateful for. You have the opportunity to choose joy.
Joy is an attitude and a choice. Choose gratitude, choose to keep life’s challenges in perspective, and most importantly, choose to find joy by connecting with and giving to community.
If it is a choice, then it can become a habit. A woman who has made joy a habit is truly an empowered woman.
“Joy is a power, cultivate it.” – Anonymous