Joy is always a choice, no matter what

March 31, 2010 at midnight
Updated March 30, 2010 at 10:31 p.m.

I don't know if you have noticed or not, but there is a lot a bad stuff going on. Natural disasters. Man-made disasters. Tragedies of unlimited proportions. Violence. Loss. Immense sadness.

I can't even get away from it if I stop reading or watching the news.

In my own front yard and among my own friends and colleagues, there is loss, sadness, and grief. I seem to be spending more and more time cradling the wounded and encouraging the frightened. Not because I'm a counselor who is trained to do this sort of thing.

I'm not talking about work. Some of these people are my friends and neighbors. Just today, I helped some folks say goodbye over the tragic passing of a trusted friend.

Is there anyone right now who is not personally touched by something awful going on?

Then my son called from Los Angeles. He was sitting on his patio, unwinding from the day as he watched the sun go down. His comments, however, were not about his stressful or frustrating day, but about the beautiful sunset. Although, it wasn't his appreciation of this inspiring twilight painting that caught my attention.

My son, much like my father and I used to do, often enjoys sharing his experiences with the beauty of nature. What struck me was how he explained this particular sunset.

"You know, Dad?" he said. "While this smog has become increasingly worrisome in Los Angeles, you can't help but appreciate how the particles of pollutants in the air refract the evening sun into some of the most beautiful arrays of color I have ever seen in a sunset."

I had to smile. His perspective turned my thoughts away from the heaviness of the day and toward an appreciation of the pleasure that can be found even in the worst of times.

I was reminded that no matter how ugly life may become beauty manages to find a canvas. This gave me joy.

Interesting word, "joy." If you look it up in a dictionary you will find it described as "a pleasurable aspect of something." This means that joy does not exist in and of itself. Rather, joy is a perspective we have.

That perspective is fed by a belief that pleasure is an option in any circumstance, whether good or bad, if we are willing to search it out.

In other words, joy is a choice no matter what. This choice is easy when times are good. Anyone can feel joy in the midst of joyful times.

In difficult times, however, it takes real discipline to hang onto the pleasurable aspects of our lives. But, to do so helps us endure those times.

Joy is not something we experience when all is well. It is a strategy we use to help us cope when we are burdened the most.

Strategies take practice. We get better at it with time. So I encourage you to practice your discipline of joy. Never lose sight of what gives you pleasure. Especially when times are at their worst.

It's never wrong, inappropriate, or impossible to find joy in the midst of pain and sorrow. We might have to work at it a little. But that's all right. We have time, and we can learn.

In the words of William Yeats, "Joy is wisdom, and time an endless song."

Lane Johnson, M.Div., LPC, is a licensed counselor. He welcomes your comments. You can contact him by e-mail at



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