How Choosing Happiness Can Change Your Life

Monday, May 1, 2017

"If you want to be happy, you have to be happy on purpose.  When you wake up, you can't just wait to see what kind of day you'll have. You have to decide what kind of day you'll have." 
                                                                                    -  Joel Osteen
This quote, posted by Hoda Kotb on Instagram today, really captured my attention.  Sometimes something just strikes you, I'm sure you've had things like that, things that resonate with you and make you think.  I've long thought Joel Osteen was a pretty insightful preacher, I love his positivity, his encouraging messages.  Although some view him in a negative light, it seems to me from his popularity that someone is getting something out of his messages.  This quote is no exception. And while it might seem a bit...simple and maybe unrealistic to some, I believe it has some merit.

I've long believed that happiness is partly a choice, that life is what we make it.  I think the first time I chose to 'decide' how to handle a blow that life dealt was when our ten-month old daughter was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes.  I call it that, knowing it's referred to as Type I, juvenile diabetes, because I want to insure readers realize that it meant that from this point on, Katie would require insulin injections twice a day; her body no longer produced insulin.  She would also require several finger stick blood tests a day, have to have her food regulated to balance with her exercise, eat at regular times everyday and even with diligent management of every aspect of her life, would still experience low blood sugar reactions and sometimes seizures.  Diabetes was different 36 years ago.  At first we had to ring her diapers to test her urine for sugar.  Our first blood test machine was huge and needed to be plugged in. Instead of taking seconds to display results, we had to wait minutes- sometimes agonizing minutes to find out how low a low was while she was seizing. The insulin pump wasn't available yet and even if it were, using it on a ten month old would have seemed daunting.  This diagnosis could have been a fatal blow - both literally and figuratively, but instead of letting it destroy us or her spirit, we made the decision to be grateful that her diagnosis was not cancer, or leukemia or spinal meningitis which took my brother's life at the same age as Katie was then.  We decided that diabetes would be a fact of life but not a way of life, although it definitely did have a way of regulating many aspects of our life. We made a choice to choose a happy life not a devastated life.  This decision did not shelter us from challenging days or scary lows, but it did make the days in between happy and somewhat normal.

When Katie announced her pregnancy eight months ago, my first gut reaction was fear.  Although I knew Katie had always wanted to be a mom and had worked incredibly hard to get her blood sugars at a perfect level in order to get pregnant, my first thoughts were not of joy (mine or hers) but of the complications that might arise - for her during the pregnancy, and then for a healthy baby.  My heart and my head were focused on 'MY' baby, but I quickly realized that my fears should not overwhelm me these next months.  I needed to focus on the joy, and the new life that God had blessed her with, even at her age and after a life with diabetes.  I'd long believed that if it were in His plan, it would happen and I had to let go of my concerns and what-if's and choose joy and faith over worry.  I made that choice and as we count down our final weeks waiting for baby Goot's arrival, my worries haven't completely left, but I am choosing to dwell on the things every grandma thinks about...what he'll look like, who he'll look like, what kind of personality he'll have.

Everyday that we wake up and are able to open our eyes, we are faced with joys and we are faced with challenges.  Those challenges might be health related, job related, financial worries, grief, and a multitude of other blows life deals.  Some of them are so difficult, we find it impossible to overcome them. That is reality.  There is no way to sugar coat them or ignore them.  Their effects may last days, weeks or months and sometimes no matter how hard we try, we cannot get past them.  But, there are days when we wake up to frustrating trouble, bad weather, a grumpy boss, a difficult child....none of which you can control, all of which you can survive.  Each roadblock can be a little easier to navigate with a good attitude and a reminder that life probably won't end even if it feels imminent.  Attitude is especially important when it comes to a bad health diagnosis.  Anyone who's survived cancer will tell you that what got them through was positive thinking and not giving up.  I'm sure that isn't an easy task, that there are plenty of sleepless nights and hopeless moments but hope and optimism (and a great medical team) are what got them through it.

Life is a gift, but it also has a way of testing us, sometimes over and over and over again.  It's up to us how we'll react to those tests.  Our attitude may not change an outcome, but it can sure make the journey more pleasant.  In our current sermon series, Pastor Lee is talking about Building Relationships That Last.  All of his sermons are enlightening and relevant, but a couple of the things he's mentioned so far in this series really stood out for me.  One was this....(Pastor Lee, forgive me if I don't paraphrase this perfectly)...God gives us tools.  One is a magnifying glass.  We can use that magnifying glass to focus on the negative in people (or in the case of this post - the negative in life).  If we focus on the negative, the results won't be very good.  We'll be too focused on the things that we dislike to focus on the good things that a person (or life) has to offer.  It's much harder to love something we only see negative in.  In other words (mine), if we go through life always focused on the bad stuff, the imperfections, we'll never be able to truly see all the good our spouse, our children, our circumstances.  But....if we use that magnifying glass to focus on the positives....we will train ourselves to focus on the joy more than we focus on the negative.  Think about that for a moment.  Have you ever found yourself always focused on someone's flaws?  Are there days when your kids just challenged you all day so that at bedtime you realize that all you've done all day is correct them or scold them?  We all have those days when it seems the whole day is filled with frustration.  Maybe next time you find yourself stuck in one of those days, turn your magnifying glass around and let it focus on the good stuff.  Because no matter how dismal life seems, there is always something to love.

Another wise piece of advice from Pastor Lee... another tool we need to use is a mirror.  Sometimes in life we need to look in the mirror.  We need to look at ourselves and examine our own flaws. Sometimes we're so busy focusing on the imperfections in others, we forget that we too are imperfect. We have a responsibility for our circumstances but sometimes we blame everyone else for the trouble we are in.  I can give great advice, but I am also guilty of getting lost in negativity at times and sometimes I too focus on people's shortcomings more than their assets.  I too can wake up feeling annoyed wishing a circumstance weren't happening.  If I'm not careful I can allow that to ruin my day or my tolerance for people and sometimes my best intentions fail and I'm miserable.  Thankfully, most days I succeed and consequently look through my magnifying glass and see the many blessings in my life.

Life is filled with ups and downs, people we like and some we like a little less.  But in the end, happiness is up to us.  Depending on others to fix things and make us happy is a surefire road to misery.

I hope you'll think about this post and perhaps share it with someone you know that is already really good at choosing happiness and maybe with someone who might need a little encouragement in that department.  Life is short, as we all learn, and filled with obstacles and roadblocks that have the ability to get in the way of our joy.  The next time you come to one of them, take out your magnifying glass and look for the persistent flowers springing up next to that boulder in the road.  Then take out your mirror and remind yourself that you are stronger than your circumstances despite your imperfections.  Life will never be perfect.  Waiting for it to be will lead you down the road to disappointment.  Love where you are now and above all else - choose happiness!
If you're interested in hearing more of Pastor Lee's series on Building Relationships That Last, you can hear him every Sunday at Shenendehowa United Methodist Church on Route 146 in Clifton Park, NY at 9:00 and 10:45.  You can also watch the service live on podcast.. or listen using links on their Facebook page:

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