I think we can all agree that life is mostly good. Most days, we have everything we need and more. Most days, more people are kind to us than are rude to us. Most days, we find opportunities to take pleasure in what we enjoy: the outdoors, entertainment, time with loved ones. Most nights, we go to bed and know that the people we love are still alive, and we wake up the next morning to have them still there with us.
But it’s those scarce small bad things, the things that take up such a small part of our days, that consume our emotions. Someone is rude at us at the grocery store, and it irritates us for hours. We have a bad day at work, and we don’t even enjoy the rest of our evening. An unexpected financial need comes up and we need to cancel a vacation.
Sometimes the bad stuff is BIG bad, but most of what we allow to ruin our days are those small things we’re not supposed to sweat, but we do.
Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” I don’t think there’s a better description of the effect our attitude can have on our bodies. Next time you’re upset, focus on what you are physically feeling. Most likely, you will feel a fatigue in your arms, a tenseness in your chest, an ache in your gut. You will feel something somewhere on your physical self. Anger, sadness, and irritation are thought to be causes for headaches, stomach issues, and blood pressure. When we feel cheerful, there’s a lightness to our chest, a physical energy that invigorates us. We feel our best.
We can’t help the fact that negative things come into our lives, but we can stop feeding the bad feelings and replace them with joy. Think of joy the way it’s talked about in Proverbs 17:22—as a medicine to heal our broken spirits. Choosing joy is like choosing to take a prescription. And just like medicine takes time to get into our system and start working, we may not notice the difference joy has on us at first, but if we keep the regimen going, we’ll feel a difference.
One of my favorite ways to put this theory to the test is with social media. If your newsfeed is like mine, you daily see negativity, sarcasm, and a sprinkling of cat videos. Recently, after a bad day, I decided to choose only joy in my social media. I went through my timeline, and I commented something kind and sincere on different posts. “Congratulations on your job!” “You look so pretty here!” “What a sweet baby!” For those who posted about needs or painful aspects of life, I prayed for them, and commented that I had. I made sure they knew I cared about them. Choosing joy and spreading some of that joy changed the way I felt on the inside. I hope I spread a little bit of that joy to others.
I want to add that this isn’t about “being happy.” We aren’t supposed to fake it ‘til we make it. The shortest verse in the Bible is also one of the most telling: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). And we know from other areas of the Scriptures that pain is a part of life. Ecclesiastes assures us that there is certainly a time to mourn and a time to weep. Isaiah tells us that the Lord was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. So clearly, it is not sinful to be sad.
But on days when life is heavy or hard, whether in small ways or big ways, we have an opportunity to make a choice. We can’t control much about life except our attitudes. Choosing joy is our most powerful weapon, our secret ingredient, our breakthrough medical strategy. We can see kindness in the midst of sorrow. We can focus on the overwhelming number of blessings in our lives, as well as our opportunities to bless others. The more you try it, you may be surprised to find that, over time, your joy has been a healing balm, as good as any medicine. Just give it a try.