Friday, April 12, 2013

The Capacity for Joy

I was going to write about fear and guilt but I'll get back to that topic in a later post. Instead I want to talk about the flip side of that coin:  joy. 

One of the things that cancer -- or any serious disease -- threatens to steal is not just happiness, but the capacity for joy. Mired in the day-to-day struggle of symptom or side-effect management, the disease becomes not just the oft-cited "new normal" but it becomes the new routine. Instead of a daily dose of happiness, we look for a serving of "am I okay today?" 

At best, our answer is yes. At worst, it's answered by uncertainty, ambiguity, and a day of obsession (or worse, Internet searches.)

In the process, the constant thinking about the question adds layers of clouds to your emotional weather that become harder to penetrate.The little things that once gave us joy can't make it through and even the larger bursts of sunshine are muted by the time they reach us.

That's the danger. But it doesn't have to be the reality. While the events that occupy our days and lives help shape how we feel, it's often true that the emotion you find is the one you're looking for. Looking for an argument? I'm sure you'll find one in pretty short order. Want to get mad? Good bet, you'll be able to find something in your day to sate that appetite for anger. 

I often look back at moments in my day and wonder why I deprived myself of joy. Was that offense really so egregious? Where was the harm? Why instead of laughing it off, did I pile on another layer? 

If you want moments of happiness to visit, then you have to have the capacity for joy. You have to be able to put aside the worries and obsessions, and decide that you're going to receive the joy that surrounds you. It becomes self-fulfilling - clouds beget more clouds; sunshine produces more sunshine.

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There's a great little article that's circulating around social media and blogs from the LA Times. It's somewhat on topic here, but probably more related to item # 6 in my list of 10 Things I've Learned, and the impact that cancer has on those near the center of the storm. A short, but well-worth it read.