choose joy

Every once in a while a neat little catch phrase will come into the common vernacular and it seems to be all inclusive. It gets tossed around like a beach ball at a concert and is much the same; full of air and of little weight. It can give the user or hearer a little rush, but as the beach ball moves over the crowd, each person is left empty-handed.

“Choose joy” is one of these terrible beach balls. It can be helpful for some. It can be a mantra that calls them to a more patient or positive perspective. But when one really tries to apply this phrase to anything more serious than a paper cut or hearing, “MOM!” for the one thousandth time in five minutes, it doesn’t produce much fruit. In fact, it can be an added stressor and induce guilt when you don’t meet the expectation it sets forward.

For those of us with chemical imbalances, joy can feel continually out of reach. Thinking of it as a choice is quite painful. Hearing that we should just, choose joy, is like hearing that we should just choose to not be depressed or anxious or have our mental illness.

PTSD is a thief. It often steals my joy; my passion for life, my empathy for others, my will to live. I no more choose PTSD than I choose to have green eyes or lactose intolerance.

Some of my medications actually work to control my chemicals in such a way that a side effect is that I can’t feel the rush of joy at all. I can get incredible news and no matter the tone of my voice I’m not feeling very excited. It’s not that I don’t want to, it is that I can’t.

It’s as if all the knives in my house have been dulled to protect me, but now I can’t use them for anything either. I can’t cut off a pineapple rind or slice a watermelon.

I am not alone in my situation. There are lots of people who hear that they should “choose joy” and end up feeling worse. Even people without chemical imbalances. Simply, people whose circumstances seem insurmountable.

To choose joy is an easy concept to understand. Choose to see things from a place of contentment. Don’t get bogged down by small inconveniences or problems. Embrace that some people are difficult and that life doesn’t work out as planned.

Throwing the beach ball at the concert isn’t bad. But it also isn’t life changing. It’s just a nice experience. Those of us that have the inability to choose joy would do well to treat ourselves more kindly and realize that our lives will look different than other people’s, even if it’s just for a season.

But those who have joy freely available to be chosen would do well to remember that their lives also look different. If you are able, than you should. If joy is within reach, always choose it. You don’t know when a time may come when it is impossible to choose joy, even if you want to. Be gentle with those of us who are there.

Mental illness or the aftermath of trauma are not just mindsets. They can’t just be solved by slapping a smile on our faces and skipping a bit more. They aren’t shallow problems. They take choosing patience, grace, perseverance, hope, and dedication.

I don’t remember the last time I was able to simply choose joy. Maybe I haven’t ever. Perhaps that’s why it hurts so much to think of others being able to easily grasp it. I’m not asking for pity. But I am asking that we all think a little bit harder about the dangers of one-size-fits-all philosophies.

photo credit: <a href=”″>Joy</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

advice, anxiety, C-PTSD, choose joy, depression, healing, invisible illness, joy, Life, PTSD, rethink trauma, Trauma