joy

choose joy

How much of our lives are up to us? What truly falls within the domain of our control? It’s a much-debated subject. 

Is it simply mind over matter? Do we cause things to happen by our own force of will? Or are we leaves on the wind, dipping and twirling wherever the unseen forces take us?

I’m still figuring that out myself (and, I suppose, always will be), but lately I have been learning about surrendering control, or rather accepting my lack of control.

Whatever outside circumstances I’m faced with, I do believe my attitude toward them is something that falls within my responsibility. 

This quote comes to mind.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” 

― Charles R. Swindoll

Despite some popular quotes saying otherwise, I don’t fully agree that I’m the captain of my own destiny. But I can be at the helm of my emotions, steering them where I wish through both clear and stormy weather.

Still, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes that ship’s wheel goes flying from my hands and spinning wildly.

Maybe the whole thing is more like flying the Millennium Falcon, with complicated panels of levers and flashing buttons. Maybe I need a big, hairy co-polot to help me. Maybe I’m taking this analogy a bit too far.

Anyhow, I do believe we have a choice in how we feel, which leads to how we act. For this reason I believe that:

Creativity is a choice

Love is a choice

Joy is a choice

There are some strong connections between creativity and love. I write a lot about it in my upcoming book, The Endless Creative, but for now I want to talk about joy.

In this Christmas season (or whatever holiday you might celebrate around year’s end), joy is one of the main sentiments. I’ve often heard joy described as something even deeper than happiness, an inner contentment not based on circumstances.

C. S. Lewis talks about being surprised by joy and how it was a feeling he could not fabricate. He claims it is a by-product of something else, the source of joy.

The two words, “choose joy” have been circulating in my thoughts these days. Can I really find joy in every circumstance? When work is challenging? When I’m not feeling creative? When I’m discouraged? When I’m sick? When my kids wake up crying their eyes out in the dead of night?

Yes, I believe so. In all circumstance, joy remains within reach. 

Joy can be felt alongside emotions like sorrow, fear, and even anger. Joy is a big, weighty feeling and, once captured, it presses upon all the others, giving them depth. But that doesn’t always make it easy to find.

I don’t know if it was part of the plan, but it makes sense that Thanksgiving comes before Christmas. I’ve found that thankfulness is a natural path to joyfulness. When I stop and think about all the things I have to be thankful for—my job, my family, and the many opportunities I have to exercise my creativity—it leads me to joy.

If joy is a by-product then the objects of our gratitude may be some of the best fuel to feed its flames. If that’s the case, there are also ways we can stamp out the glowing embers of joy.

When I set my mind on reasons for self-doubt or worry, I’m led to darker, joyless places. For me, I find joy in dwelling on Christ’s coming and how he has changed my life.

I hope, good reader, that whatever way you celebrate this season, you find creative new things to be thankful for—things that set your joy ablaze. Whether joy sneaks up on you or you must spend long, quiet moments slowly stoking it to life from the ashes, I hope its warmth remains very near to you.

the life fantastic

This post is too big for me to write.

But it’s also one I need to write, so I’ll just do my best, maybe I’ll make a book about it someday. No promises.

 

I write to you of The Life Fantastic.

It’s a term I’ve coined for something I’ve thought about much, but which is also still forming in my head. However, I’ve found writing is often the best way of getting things out of my nebulous head-space and into more concrete, understandable terms. 

The idea comes from a coworker, one I’ve mentioned briefly in a previous post. Every time anyone asks him how he’s doing, without fail he will answer, “fantastic, as always.” 

This response has baffled me. How can one always be fantastic (and not be a fox in a Wes Anderson movie)? In general, I’m a pretty positive guy, especially when I’m around others, but there are many days when life does not seem so fantastic to me. I mean, every day can’t be sunflowers and birdsong, right? Some days are hard, sometimes the world feels heavy.

What exactly does it mean to live the life fantastic? It’s a way of viewing the world along with your own life and circumstances. It’s finding contentment, fulfillment, goodness in (even in spite of) everything. Some may call this the abundant life.

Much of this comes down to attitude and I believe attitude is a choice (though it often doesn’t feel like it). Some well-known people have said much the same:

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
-Winston Churchill
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” 
- Charles R. Swindoll
“The pursuit of happiness is a matter of choice...it is a positive attitude we choose to express. It is not a gift delivered to our door each morning, nor does it come through the window. And it is certain that our circumstances are not the things that make us joyful. If we wait for them to get just right, we will never laugh again.” 
- Charles R. Swindoll

 

Why, even Barbie signs off her YouTube vlogs with PACE: positive attitude changes everything.

Alright, so attitude is important, I think most people can agree on that. I even wrote a post about having the right attitude as a creative. But I also believe The Life Fantastic is more than just an attitude, it’s a state of being, if that makes any sense.

Galatians 5:22,23 comes to mind, with its list of the fruits of the Spirit:

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control

And, at the end of the list, it adds something of a side-note, “against such there is no law.” No one can keep these things from you, there is no law which prevents you from obtaining them.

I’ve heard some people teach that really the whole list is a group of subcategories under the first one: love. I think of a line from a song by Sleeping At Last, “that we may fall in love every time we open up our eyes.” A continual state of being in love.

Such a life feels right to me and, in concept, sounds so easy, yet, when put into practice, immediately appears impossible and far off. Can one ever reach it? Indeed, it seems like such a life is in contrast to the way most people live. As Louis CK said, “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.”

I read an article stating depression and an anxiety are at an all time high in America. Surveys are showing: “Mental illness is on the rise. Suicide is on the rise.” This does not bode well for us. I won’t pretend to fully understand how we’ve gotten here, but I know we can’t keep on this path. There has to be another way.

None of this is new and we’re certainly not to first generation to struggle with such things. Following his immense success as an author, Leo Tolstoy went though a stage in his later years where he faced an existential crisis and, during it, suffered from anhedonia: the inability to find pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable. He recounts the experience and his internal struggles in his memoir, “A Confession.” In his musings, he found it remarkable there were people who faced the same difficulties he did, yet somehow found hope and purpose:

“In contradistinction to the way in which people of our circle oppose fate and complain of it on account of deprivations and sufferings, these people accepted illness and sorrow without any perplexity or opposition, and with a quiet and firm conviction that all is good. In contradistinction to us, who the wiser we are the less we understand the meaning of life, and see some evil irony in the fact that we suffer and die, these folk live and suffer, and they approach death and suffering with tranquility and in most cases gladly…
In complete contrast to my ignorance, [they] knew the meaning of life and death, labored quietly, endured deprivations and sufferings, and lived and died seeing therein not vanity but good…”

 

A while ago, I heard a story from a missionary (I can’t recall which country they were in) who met a most remarkable woman. She was an elderly lady, poor and lived alone. As a result of her faith and the restrictive country where she lived, she had been sentenced to clean the sewers every day for the rest of her life. The missionary was amazed to find, despite all this, she was the happiest woman he’d ever met.

I think about people like that and wonder why I’m so quick to get bummed about stupid things like an offhanded comment someone made or my internet bill going up. I don’t have to look hard to find times when I have not embraced The Life Fantastic. But there are other times when I’ve been surprised by my response, when I’ve found joy and peace despite unfavorable circumstances.

To live this way, to have such a view requires a creative outlook because it is certainly not the norm. It means looking beyond how things are on the surface and finding beauty, hope and a deeper meaning even in the worst of times. A big part of this comes from the ability to look outside your own life—your wants and needs—to both recognize and meet the needs of others, to reach out and make a difference for someone else.

As I said, my thoughts on this aren't yet complete, I'm still discovering what it means to live such a life and how it can be done, but that's a part of it too: continual discovery, constantly learning and growing. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully get there—perhaps some splendid far-off day—but The Life Fantastic is my ever-present goal, my endless aim and I wonder if it is yours as well.

 

Creatively yours,

A. P. Lambert