“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

-Abraham Lincoln

While shopping with my mom today, I met a woman that put more substance to something I’ve been mulling over for awhile: a person’s happiness is largely a product of that person’s mind. I decide if I am going to meet life with bitterness, self-pity, anger, or something else. As a believer in Christ, I know that peace, patience, kindness, self-control (and all those other spiritual fruit) come from God only…. we can muster up a shadow of patience on our own, but the only deep and abiding patience has to come from Him. Even though I’m a believer, I have to make a choice daily about my outlook. And I’m choosing to be happy.

The woman who checked us out at Dillard’s was not making that same choice. We asked her the discount price on hand towels and the next thing I know, she was telling us everything that was wrong with the educational system, how the government is hopelessly stupid, how women who have gone to war are messed up for life, how the Mexican and black students in her former classroom were all gangsters who didn’t care about learning, how no school administration anywhere has it together, how women can never have positions of power or authority, how poor students never care about learning but are only there for the free lunch, and how she quit and came to work at Dillard’s for the holidays. (Before I go on, please know that I don’t share any of her opinions. If you want to know my opinions on these topics, you’ll have to wait for another post.) On both sides of the ocean, I’ve met women and men like this. Some days I am a woman like this. We choose to see the bad and the ugly. We choose bitterness. We choose self-pity. We choose anger. We choose self-righteous legalism. We choose unhappiness.

Many people wonder how I can live overseas. How can I make it without all of the conveniences of the States? How can I live without a clothes dryer? How can I handle being away from my family? And while I’m pregnant with my first child? It’s never easy to be in another culture or another place. It’s certainly not ever easy to be away from family and friends who live in the States. And, it’s not easy to suffer from crunchy underwear and socks. (No dryer, remember?) But, each day I’m overseas or here in the States, I have a decision: will I be happy? Will I see the good? Will I look for what God is doing in this?

Here’s a confession: I never liked reading Paul’s letters in the New Testament. They were hard to understand and boring. I liked the stories – especially those in the book of Judges in the Old Testament. (Yes, I know: weird.) For the past few weeks I’ve been reading Paul’s letters in the modern paraphrase called the Message and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s made the text seem relevant and important. I took my time, sometimes reading only a short chapter a day, so I could really absorb what he was saying. Two things stuck out:

1) He was very thankful for the joyous faith of his friends and fellow workers and told God that all the time.

2) He says over and over that anyone who wants to follow Christ will suffer.

Maybe what I’m talking about here isn’t really happiness. Maybe it’s joy. Either way (regardless of the term), it has to be my choice. Everyone will suffer in one way or another. Maybe it’s a difficult job situation, a classroom of unruly kids, a beloved child with cancer, the death of a loved one, feeling lonely, moving to a new place, or being far from the familiar. Still, in the midst of that, we choose. And I choose happy.