When Choosing Happiness Seems Impossible

We’ve all heard the statement that happiness is a choice… that the ball is always in our court. We truly get to “pick” how we feel. I never realized how true this statement was until my personal joy…my own personal happiness was threatened beyond a level I could have ever imagined.

Nearly five years ago, I went through a personal low…a time when happiness didn’t even seem like an option, let alone something I could choose.

 

Nearly five years ago, I went through a personal low…a time when happiness didn’t even seem like an option, let alone something I could choose. My beautiful father had undergone a radical, fourteen-hour surgery to literally stop him from folding in half. Allow me to explain. In the 1950’s the polio virus was rampant and claimed many lives including that of my father’s sister. He was scathed by the disease, but despite a grim prognosis stating that he wouldn’t make it to his first birthday; my father surmounted the illness and was able to live a normal, productive, and really quite amazing life. He attained both master and doctoral degrees, and at the time of his death was working on curriculum to teach missionaries how to communicate the Christian message to remote tribes who didn’t even have written word. Not really your average day job. Needless to say, he was a man who wholly committed himself to his passion and life purpose. A man who went to great lengths for what he believed in. A man who rarely chose anything but happiness.

Medical personnel tend to polio victims in an iron lung ward during a 1950s epidemic in Boston.

Due to effects from the polio, which intensely affects the muscular system, the muscles along his spine were incredibly weak. Over time, due to the weak musculature, his spine was folding in half, and was nearly touching his rib cage which was, quite literally, crushing his lung function. Without a corrective surgery to stop the spine from further collapse, my father was looking at about five years of gradual and painful suffocation. On May 14, 2007, we said our good-byes as he entered the surgery center to prep for the lengthy and risky procedure. My parents had just celebrated thirty-one years of marriage and had planned on working through about 9 months to a year of recovery after he was released. Unfortunately, that day didn’t come. After four days in the ICU, his frail lungs couldn’t adapt to having more space in the chest cavity and instead of weaning him off of the respirator that was helping him to breathe, his was eventually 100% dependant on it for survival. Not long after, his blood pressure began to fail, followed soon after by cardiac arrest.

This is it…I’m losing my daddy.

 

I distinctly remember looking at his precious and frail body, attached to so many gadgets and instruments, all beeping and blinking loudly, and feeling like, “this is it…I’m losing my daddy”. I let out a loud and ominous wail…the kind that makes you want to vomit. I could feel in my entire body the effects of sorrow, agony, and grief. I remember being overwhelmed with an intense feeling of intimacy…what an intimate thing to experience a soul leave a body. The next few days were the darkest, the most challenging. Trying to get through all of the planning and organizing while in the middle of the most painful experience I have ever known.

It’s not so easy to choose happiness, or even remember that it’s a choice when we are in the middle of hardship or challenge.

 

So, how on earth does this relate to choosing happiness? Great question. So, here’s the deal: It’s easy to choose happiness when we are in the middle of a euphoric experience: a party, with loved ones, when we get a promotion, at the birth of a child, etc. It’s not so easy to choose happiness, or even remember that it’s a choice when we are in the middle of hardship or challenge. Some of the greatest lessons I have ever received happened during this dark and trying time. Instead of asking, “Why did this happen to me?” or “Why did God take such an incredible man?” I asked myself, “What is this meant to teach me? What do I need to learn from this experience?” That single, small step of inner talk radically changed how I dealt with this loss. I realized that I had lived the better part of my life with little to no major hardship. I realized, in those precious moments surrounding my father’s death, that I was meant to learn gratitude. I had so much, so very much to be thankful for. I was there with him when he passed and didn’t get a random call asking me if I was sitting down. I had no regrets…we had a fabulous relationship and to this day, there isn’t anything I wished I would have said. Being an ordained minister, my father was able to officiate my wedding to my husband…such a gift in itself and something my brothers won’t have to good fortune of experiencing. Finally, I was so thankful, so very very thankful, for the experience of death. Of seeing a body alive one minute and then without life in the next. I still believe this is one of the greatest experiences of my life. I have never felt more alive…never richer in my humanity.

I was so thankful, so very very thankful, for the experience of death.

Although this time of my life was fraught with emotion, many of them extreme, I knew that my view of the ordeal would radically affect my well-being and in turn, my happiness. I certainly allowed myself to feel what I was feeling, but I chose, consciously chose, how I was going to view this experience. It was going to be a magical and intimate event that I would carry with me always. Happiness isn’t always about laughing and frivolity. It can be a way of being…how you choose to deal with obstacles and how you want to show up in the world…it can be your DNA.  I know now that I really do have the power to choose happiness, whether I think my circumstance warrants it or not. And that, makes me very happy.