Many people know me by my nickname, Sunshine. I've been told on more than one occasion that it fits me well. Most people assume the nickname is because I am upbeat and happy most of the time. It isn't why I have that nickname, but I try to live up to that "image" people have of me. I assure you that I am not always happy and upbeat. There are times that I am carrying ten pound bags under my eyes and could probably wrestle a lion in to a pretty good choke-hold, but I TRY to focus on the positive on a daily basis.
I am sharing those things about myself because recently I received an email from a friend who is really struggling right now. She asked me how I can manage to be so upbeat and optimistic when life sometimes seems so dismal. I am not sure why, but it sort of surprised me that she saw me that way. All I could do was encourage and support her -- and explain to her what worked for me. I hold no claim on knowing what is best for others. I definitely don't believe I am a "wise counsel" or an example in any way, but I was willing to share what works for me. That is simply all I know how to do.
I have not always been a "Pollyanna". I have had my fair share of negative things in my life. There were times in my life that I was miserable and unhappy. Fortunately, I had the good luck of being slapped in the head by the whispers (or screams) of the universe. If I wanted happiness, I was the person responsible for finding it. Thank the heavens that I was granted at least enough wisdom in my life to listen to the whispers. :)
Even now, my friends joke that I'm one of the only people they know that really does have a black cloud hanging over them. We laugh about it a lot. I'm the one they preface or end stories with the phrase "only you". Isn't that all in perspective tho'? Honestly, how can I complain? I haven't lost everything in my life to a Tsunami and earthquake. I don't have a life-threatening illness. I am not sleeping on the streets in the cold/heat. I am not living in fear for my life every day because of violence where I live. When I look around me or at the world at large, there are so many people that have much more difficult circumstances to deal with than I do. How selfish would I be to whine daily and dwell in constant negativty because life isn't easy? Who said it would be easy?
Some of the people who "have it worse" are also some of the very people with the most positive attitudes I know. They are a source of inspiration to me. The people of Japan have astounded me in the way they have handled tragedies of such immense proportion. For people familiar with where I live, Oklahoma City has been a role model in overcoming tragedy and building from the experience to give meaningful lessons and purpose to LIVING. I have a dear friend who lost a child three years ago, yet he has gone on to start a foundation to support and encourage other kids to be successful and happy in their lives. I have a friend in the hospital right now that just had surgery for a tumor on his brain stem. His entire life is impacted, but he is keeping everyone else in good spirits with his humor and his determination, instead of the other way around. If people in situations like those can find joy in life, why can't everyone else? My firm belief is that happiness is a CHOICE. Yes, I said it. HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE. Life might not be what we want or dream of, but why not choose to find joy while you are living? The alternative is death. Doesn't sound real appealing to me right now. ;-) Having said that, let me also add this, even if staring death in the face, wouldn't you want your last days/weeks/months/years to be filled with positive influences so you could enjoy the time you had left? What purpose would it serve to allow yourself to become so mired in negative mindset and negative behavior that you spend the time you have left without any joy or happiness?
How do you find joy or optimism when life is tough? That can be difficult sometimes, but it can be done with determination. Sometimes it takes determination. Personally, for me, it has been a lot of simple things that led me to finding contentment and joy. Every morning I find a quote that gives me purpose or focus. I post it on Facebook to encourage myself. Guess what? Other people started responding and soon I found myself taking pleasure in encouraging/inspiring other people or just initiating a thread. I surround myself with things that I love. I work in education, so there isn't a lot of money to splurge on things I love, but you don't HAVE to have money to find pleasure. I throw that in because I always hear that as an excuse or an obstacle to happiness. Water relaxes me, so I find myself walking around the lake or indulging in a hot bubble bath often. I LOVE music, so there is ALWAYS music in my life, whether that be on the radio, a CD, or somewhere else. I keep myself busy. If you don't have money, you still have opportunities. Volunteer, take turns cooking dinner or go out on occasion with friends, start a fun group activity, seek out the FREE things to do in your community, read, write, or find your inner child and play in the park again! There are countless ways to find pleasure, but you have to DESIRE to do so. Some days it may seem like an effort, but do it anyway! It will sound contrite and cheesy, but once you begin to focus on the small, positive things you have in your life, the troubles don't seem so insurmountable. Find role models, read inspirational stories, or ANYTHING that will keep you from focusing on what you find negative in your life. The following quote may seem simple and some may even laugh, but I CHALLENGE you to heed the words, live by them, and see if there is a difference in your life and your outlook soon.
Think excitement, talk excitement, act out excitement, and you are bound to become an excited person. Life will take on a new zest, deeper interest and greater meaning. You can think, talk and act yourself into dullness or into monotony or into unhappiness. By the same process you can build up inspiration, excitement and surging depth of joy. - Norman Vincent Peale
What is YOUR choice?