“Are you really sure you’re happy? Most people would be angry, you know.” This question has been posed countless times in the past 14 months. Most recently it came up in a neurology meeting (it is their job to figure out exactly why my brain does what is does, after all). My answer – yes I am actually happy – surprises almost everyone. Before you read any further though, I do owe one contextual clarification: For me, “happy” means “joyful”. It doesn’t have to be a 24/7 elated feeling, but it is an outlook that’s available to me every day. It’s based on my belief in God. The past few weeks have been pretty rough on all of us (if you need a recap, check out Ivan’s post), but I would still call joy – happiness, if you will – my chosen outlook. Even after I explain this, though, it can be difficult to believe I’m actually telling the truth. Here’s why I am.
Any outlook is a choice. I don’t operate the way I do just by accident, and I can’t stay on track without a whole lot of effort. I’m required to look beyond how I feel to something larger than myself. But before we get to that big picture, here’s how I explain my life to myself on a daily basis: I could have…but didn’t. This sounds vague at best and possibly negative at worst, so here are a few specific examples:
- I should have died, but didn’t
- I could be unable to use my left hand, but it works surprisingly well
- I should have giant mental deficits, but I don’t
- My family could have been unwilling or unable (then and now) to invest so much toward helping me get better, but they weren’t
- Ivan could still be job hunting, but he’s not
- I could still be stuck on the waiting list for a seizure specialist, but I’m not
- I could still be in several therapy regimens, but I graduated from every single one of them
It’s hard to be angry when I count all the terrible things that didn’t happen to me. So many people don’t beat the debilitating odds against them at all. So many people beat them far better than I have but receive far less attention and support. I’ve been given so very much.
Notwithstanding, I’m sure some of you did spot a pitfall in my outlook strategy: it works fantastically well the opposite way, too. “I could be almost done with grad school, but I’m not”; “I could be out making friends and having fun in our new city, but I’m not”; “I could be teaching violin and freelancing, but I’m not”…
This is where the choice part comes in. I simply cannot afford to choose the dark side. True, I’ve had moments when anger and bitterness would have felt so much better than fighting for happiness. I’ve had moments when I just wanted to give in. BUT I knew if I made a habit of going there I’d eventually lose everything: my will to get better, my beautiful relationship with my husband, my appreciation for my family … Most of all, I would risk losing my reverence for God. If I didn’t appreciate life as only His to give or take away, it would be easy to forget that my life is a gift. It would be easy to complain that living takes too much work. It would be easy to say that any type of painful life is a mistake. But if life is truly from God, I would hate to see Him face-to-face at the end if I’d called His gift a mistake. A present is meant to be used, not thrown away. God gives gifts, and He never gives them poorly.
So yes. I am actually happy.