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Has anyone ever said to you, "You're such a positive person" or questioned, "Why are you always so happy?" Maybe you've even been called weird or different for being a happy person. I know I have. At a job I worked in college, I got quite a few remarks from co-workers telling me that I was unrealistically happy all the time and that must mean I'm very naive or that I must have had an easy life because a person who knew the true sadness of the world would not be as happy as I am. At the time, these comments made me upset. Why shouldn't I be happy? I thought. Living in a first world country, I have had an easier life than most, but that doesn't mean I haven't experienced sadness, grief, trouble, pain, and sorrow of my own. As a matter of fact, by the end of college, I had experienced quite a lot of pain. So what made me different?
I am definitely not an expert, but these comments over the years have made me realize three things - 1) Being positive is a gift 2) It is a gift we all decide to cultivate or put aside no matter what your circumstances 3) There are a few tricks I've learned to cultivating joy.
1. BEING POSITIVE IS A GIFT
Some might argue that being a positive person is a personality trait. I don't disagree with them - but I do think that everyone can choose (or more correctly learn) and experience the gift of being positive. Learning to be thankful is, like anything else, a process that takes time. I'm not saying that we come out of the womb ungrateful, but when the world is constantly telling us to focus on ourselves and victimize ourselves from our problems, it can become difficult to be truly thankful or positive. To look at the world positively not only takes discipline, it takes courage. You must go against everything you are being told and choose a different path - one of joy.
2. YOU CHOOSE TO CULTIVATE IT OR PUT IT ASIDE
There are multiple times in everyone's day that you decide a path of joy or a path of self-pity. Let me be clear before moving forward: choosing a path of joy does not mean forgetting your bad circumstances, or disregarding the importance of them, or completely bypassing any stages of learning or grieving. What I think it does mean is that, once you realize that something is wrong emotionally or within yourself and are able to pinpoint the source of the problem, you choose not to focus on the source, but instead you choose to grow from the experience and move forward with joy.
In high school, I constantly struggled with a fear of "not being enough." I often thought that the people I loved in my life were going to leave me because I wasn't good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, etc. Upon realizing this, I started to backtrack to the root of this fear and I realized that I felt disrespected and rejected at many points in my life. In high school, this is where I made my mistake: I stopped at the source. I focused on the fact that I had been disrespected and rejected and claimed that as a label over my head. I was a victim of rejection - and instead of actually learning from my past, I used it to justify my behavior and my fears. I would say to myself "You were left. You were hurt. It's okay to feel not good enough for other people now." In college, I noticed that my fear was getting worse. Finally, after a bad breakup, I revisited the issue and realized that I was stuck in the role of a victim. A role that I had placed myself in. So, I went back through my past, but instead of stopping at the root of my fear, I moved past it. I realized that yes, I was hurt. Yes, I felt disrespected. But that I could choose to learn from it instead of it defining who I was.
Think about this: There was once a chef whose dream was to open his own restaurant. One day, he placed his hand on a hot stove while cooking. His brain immediately sent him a message that "Hey!!! Your hand is burning. It's hurting you. You should make it stop." At this point, the chef realized he had a choice to ignore these warnings or figure out what it was that was burning him. Thankfully, he heeded the warnings his body was sending him and decided to figure out what the source of his pain was. That's when he saw the hot stove his hand was sitting on. He started crying. He screamed at the stove. He blamed it for burning him. But he never removed his hand. So it kept burning him. And he kept screaming at it. All the while, he couldn't actually accomplish his dream of opening his own restaurant because he never removed his hand from the source of his pain.
Many times, we make the effort to figure out the source of our pain and emotions, but we stop there. We are like the chef crying over the fact that he is being burned by the hot stove. Instead of removing our hand from the source of our pain, we focus on it. We glorify it. And we become a victim of it. If we could learn to remove our hand from the stove once we realize it's the thing that's burning us, we would be able to accomplish so much more!
All of this is my own perspective. I know everyone has different sources of pain and that most of those are extremely difficult to overcome. I'm not saying that this is easy. In fact, it's probably one of the most difficult things we can do. But my desire is that everyone accomplishes their dreams in life. One of the saddest things to me is when someone with so much potential and so many dreams is stuck in a place where they can't accomplish their dreams or live up to that potential. But we can do this together! Let's not get stuck in the source of our pain.
3. TIPS & TRICKS I'VE LEARNED FOR CULTIVATING JOY
Let me reiterate that I am definitely not an expert in any of these areas. I just want to share what I've learned and my heart for this subject. My desire is that everyone live with joy -- completely free to pursue their passions. Not held back by the pain that comes from this life, but instead stronger from having learned from it. So here are a few things I've learned while trying to cultivate joy:
- Keep a list or journal dedicated to celebrating the good things in your life. Write them down daily if possible. Remind yourself of what good is happening in your life - no matter how small.
- If you've never written out your dreams, do it! You may know what they are in your head, but writing them down has a certain power to it that helps you to focus, keeps you motivated, and actualizes them. Sometimes when I'm discouraged, I pull out my purpose and dreams I've written down and it gives me newfound courage and strength. It reminds me why I keep working hard, why I'm trying to grow to be a better person, why I need to take a certain risk, and gives me joy.
- Be more aware of your thoughts. Maybe you don't even realize what you're thinking and suddenly you're in a bad or negative place. Try to be more aware of what you're thinking so you can "catch" those negative thoughts before they snowball into something bigger. Realizing your thoughts will also help you if you're trying to find the source of your pain or emotion.
- Write down positive things about yourself. Things others have said to you that encouraged you, things you love about yourself, things that make you YOU.
- Talk positively to yourself. Once you become more aware of your thoughts, replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. Tell yourself the things you love about yourself. Maybe even write encouraging notes to yourself and put them in a box. When you have a negative thought, pull a note out of that box to read. Personally, I have written down verses from the Bible that I read. For example when I'm thinking poorly of my body image, I often read Psalm 139:13 "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
I hope this inspires you to come up with some of your own tips & tricks. Please share any ideas you have for cultivating a positive and joyful spirit in the comments below! I would love to hear any advice you have or your personal story.