Choosing Relentless Joy

First Published: December 19, 2016
Last Updated: May 22, 2017

So we're coming up to the end of 2016, which, I think, comes as a relief for a lot of people out there. Outside of the craziness of this year on a macro scale, I've been spending 2016 trying out a lot of new things and writing about them from time to time. I've started learning woodworking, welding, blacksmithing, and a bunch of outdoorsy skills. I got back into yoga and martial arts. This year - the year in which I turned thirty - has been about reforming myself and trying to figure out what I want my legacy to be.

The thing is, I've got a long way to go. I currently have no idea what I want my legacy to be, what mark I want to leave, other than to somehow help people. And more often than not that is an overwhelming prospect, and one for which I feel wholly inadequate amidst all of my mistakes and loss of direction.

I'm realizing that's okay, though. It's okay to not know. And it's often most interesting to people to hear the story of the journey. So that's what I'm going to keep doing.

I'm not here to tell you how to live or what to think, or to bestow some pearls of wisdom as someone who has "made it" (as I obviously have not). I'm here to document my own journey into finding meaning, and to do so with gratitude and joy. And along the way I hope to find ways of encouraging you, of helping you find joy in your own way.

For me, joy is a choice, and it's not a one-time choice. It's a daily choice.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that's not something I say flippantly or blindly. I've known loss, I've known years of depression, I have many regrets. I know there is deep suffering happening throughout the world for so many. I choose joy anyway. I choose gratitude anyway. I choose to find beauty anyway. That is what keeps me going in the face of the painful and terrifying parts of life. It is deliberate and it is difficult, but it is necessary for my sanity. Consider relentless joy a survival mechanism.

I don't choose joy as a means to an end. It's not, "If I am joyful, then." Nor is it some magical incantation that I hope will bring me prosperity or peace. It's simply a recognition of what is, of the beauty that's around us. Yes, there's pain. Yes, there's suffering. Yes, there's death. Focusing on beauty does not in any way diminish or invalidate those very real and very traumatic experiences, and we have to meet them with respect and awe. I find, though, that the more I practice gratitude and look for beauty in my daily life, the better equipped I am to handle those times.

I am not here to sell you glib, chipper, tone-deaf happiness in the form of a catch phrase or a best-selling book. There is no amount of that in the world that can make up for the despair or disillusionment we all experience. Vapid platitudes are no comfort in the face of suffering. Instead, what I am commending to you is to recognize with childlike awe how the rain collects on the needles of the hemlock tree, or the way the sun reflects on the puddles on your street to make them look like windows into a tiny world. I'm tapping you on the shoulder and pointing out the curvature of the smile of the one you love or how the smell of sea water assaults you when you get out of the car after arriving at the beach. I'm marveling with you at just how little of human history has been lucky enough to have clean, running water and readily available food, let alone the ability to watch videos of cats knocking things over at any given time of day.

This sounds hokey or overly sentimental or too simplistic. It's not. It's all we have, and yet it is everything we need. It's not posturing or trying to paint some glossy picture of a perfect, pain-free life, either. You can find joy when you're broke. You can find joy when you're in a job you hate or a city you don't like. You can find joy after loss, and maybe even in the middle of it. It might be expressed differently for you. Maybe it's based in faith, or art, or something else. I'm not here to tell you what it has to look like for you.

I'm only here to encourage you to hold onto it.

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