Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s is about choosing joy: recognizing the beauty in everyday life, and revelling in it.
Recently I read an article about a woman who had rediscovered joy after her marriage had fallen apart. For two years she languished in a deep depression, but one day she woke up and decided that she was going to get rid of everything in her life that caused her pain, and fill her life instead with as many things as possible that brought her joy. She was choosing joy.
She stopped listening to the radio where singers crooned about broken relationships, and turned back to instrumental jazz, which made her feel peaceful. She painted her home her favourite calming colours. Instead of staying home with all her cats, she added a dog to the mix so that she’d have incentive to take walks by the waterfront every night, which rejuvenated her. She took up a craft. She began to volunteer. She did things which invigorated her.
And then she listed one choice that really resonated with me because I did the same thing: she cancelled cable and stopped watching all the crime shows.
Fifteen years ago I was completely addicted to the show ER. I loved it. But I found that every Thursday night I’d head to bed in a funk. I vividly remember the day that I realized I was letting a TV show, with its horrible stories of family breakdown and violence, bring me down. Sure, it was entertaining, but that melancholy feeling wasn’t worth it.
Movies and TV shows have grown even more violent over the last fifteen years. The CSI type dramas are almost pornographic; you can watch the bullet tear apart flesh in slow motion graphics. The new incarnation of The Batman series is so much darker than the Michael Keaton one from the 1990s. The violence is brutal, dehumanizing, and even evil.
I don’t believe in censorship, and I certainly wouldn’t say that movie companies should be prohibited from making violent and dark movies. But that doesn’t mean that we have to go watch them, either. Often we choose to watch movies or play video games that are flashy and riveting and titillating. But I wonder how many of these things actually bring any lasting joy, and how many instead rob us of happiness?
Perhaps one of the reasons that so many of us feel perennially dissatisfied and out of sorts is that we have failed to learn the lesson that this woman embraced: we aren’t choosing joy.
We need to make choices to fill our lives with good things, rather than bad things. And why don’t we do that? Because we’re essentially lazy. I feel so much better when I cook a good meal than when we order take out. We eat better. We sit around the table. And I get to cook—which I actually enjoy doing. But when I’m busy, and I don’t have time to grocery shop, I take the lazy way out. And I never feel good about it.
When I knit everyday for at least half an hour, and have a creative outlet, I feel better. When I veg in front of movies because I’m tired and don’t have time to hunt around for needles, I don’t.
The things that bring us a sense of accomplishment, purpose and joy tend not to be the easy things in life.
They’re not the flashy things, or the trendy things, or the default things. They’re things that require effort and planning. And that’s why we often avoid them.
Everyday we make little choices of what we will do and how we will spend our time. Those choices define who we are and what our priorities are. That once- spurned woman chose joy, and it changed her perspective on everything. I wonder if we, as a culture, will ever turn our backs on the things that rob us of purpose and even humanity, and again choose the things that feed our souls. Perhaps then we’d stop feeling so melancholy, and start feeling alive again.
Don’t miss a Reality Check! Sign up to receive it FREE in your inbox every week!