Next we come to an intersection, and we have to make our second choice: gratitude. We cannot be everything we might have been, have everything that can be had, go everywhere there is to go. We can only be and do and have this. Once we have faced our disappointments with brutal honesty, we are free to move on with gratitude for what our life actually holds.
Our world is full of constant reminders of what we don't have. Ads surround us incessantly, telling us all day long about the products and services that will make life easier, or sweeter, or more successful. But joy depends not on what we have but on our disposition towards what we have. The Greek philosopher Epicurus warned, "Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not." Put another way, "Happy is the woman who wants what she has." In fact, sometimes we uncover joy by having less, by simplifying our lives -- clearing out our closets and giving things away. Every item we own gets a piece of our care and attention until we have no energy left to care for the things that really matter. It is freeing to declutter, to downsize, to keep only what we actively use.
But this intersection on the pathway to joy isn't only about what we have. It's also about where we are and who we've become. There are more possibilities in life than we have time to try, more opportunities than we can pursue. When we cultivate the habit of thankfulness, our hearts are positioned for joy. We cannot take every path, but we did take this one. To spend our time wondering about all the other paths we could have taken robs us of joy. I am not an astronaut. I am not a midwife. I am not a famous singer. I am not a jungle missionary. I am not even one of those amazing stay-at-home moms who actively volunteers at the elementary school and whose kids have really creative birthday parties every year. Saying 'yes' to one path has meant saying 'no' to others.
About a year ago we realized that I would probably never finish my doctoral degree unless I started to say 'no' to good opportunities. I resolved not to say 'yes' to anything but family until I was finished. At first it was painfully difficult. The things I was asked to do were right up my alley. They were things that would energize me. Ways to plug into my church and my community for which I was uniquely suited -- lead a small group, speak in chapel, teach a college class. But after half a dozen difficult 'no's' my schedule was completely open for the task I dreaded -- revising my dissertation. And I discovered that when I had complete focus, I did much better work and enjoyed it far more than before! I relished the gift of concentration. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we try to do it all or have it all, or spend our energy wondering what would have happened or what could have been. Those things are not. This is what is. Here is where we are. So let's embrace it and move forward with gratitude.
This is a sure way to begin to find joy. But what about the uncertainties ahead? In my next post, I'll talk about what to do when we can't see around the bend in the road.