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May 04, 2017

Too Busy For Joy [Warden]

"Like I have time to read!"

This exclamation, one I've heard about a half dozen times over the last few years, is always followed by a contemptuous sneer. It's a response to one of my social icebreakers, "Read any good books lately?"

I'm always a bit taken aback when I hear it. Truth be told, it used to make me feel a tinge of guilt--like I'm a bit of a loafer who neglects his adult responsibilities.

That's not an accident, of course. It's meant as a rebuke.

I don't feel that way anymore. These days I think to myself: Well, then you've chosen a life that doesn't make room for such things. And if you're bitter that I've chosen otherwise, then that's your problem to work through.

Americans are strangely proud of creating misery for themselves--as if running yourself so ragged that you no longer enjoy life is something to be admired.

Please don't misunderstand. I know that some people have unimaginably difficult schedules due to circumstances outside their control. An adult taking care of a sick parent, for example, may not have any time at all for leisure. I understand, respect and admire this.

But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people with options--educated, upper middle class families with healthy families. For them, how they spend at least some of their time is a choice.

I had dinner the other night with another married couple, old friends of ours. I couldn't wait for the evening to end. As my wife and I struggled to keep the conversation afloat, all I received in feedback was grouchy, stilted responses and a vague sense of judgment. Apparently we're not busy enough, tired enough, stressed out enough to relate.

They're chasing a business dream and I sincerely hope that they make it. If they do, they'll probably have a wonderful retirement. Assuming they're still alive to enjoy it, that is.

Meanwhile they're in what should be the best years of their lives--in their adult prime with a house full of children young enough to still be cute, sweet, and bursting with love and enthusiasm--and yet the primarily emotion I detect is a grim, joyless obligation.

"Like I have time to read!"

No.

No, that's not correct.

You choose not to read just as you choose not to go to the gym or take a bike ride or go fishing or visit with the neighbors or go for a walk with your kid or call your mother or meet friends out for coffee or watch the sunset from your porch.

You choose.

I choose.

And we live with it or change course.

Couching it in any other terms is not being honest with yourself. One of the most sobering things about growing up is the realization that, no, you can't have it all. Adulthood is ultimately about trade-offs and how you manage them.

It strikes me that who you are is largely just an accumulation of your daily thoughts. Surely, there's a genetic component (I've always been a moody person, for example), but one's core being is mostly a matter of self determination, even if not recognized as such.

I suspect that there's a tipping point when your accumulated thoughts overcome social and genetic factors like intelligence, health, wealth, physical attractiveness, etc... in determining your general level of happiness. This occurs somewhere around the age of 40. It's no coincidence that this also happens to be roughly the age when people experience a mid-life crisis.

I wish people were happier. Life can be a wrecking ball. Even some of the luckiest people I know are struggling in their daily lives. I don't consider myself to be an overly joyful person. I'm a brooder and a worrier by nature. But the more I look around, the more I realize that I'm nearer the top of the happiness scale than I am the bottom. Humor helps. So does finding joy in little things. It doesn't take a lot to please me, less and less as I grow older, in fact.

As a point of perspective, I attend church with a woman who survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. I think of her sometimes when I'm feeling sorry for myself. The horrors she experienced are unimaginable to those of us who were born in the United States.

But she is not that thing. She is what she thinks and has thought about that thing. Her thoughts are beautiful, loving and full of God's grace. She is an amazing human being.

She has time to read.

She has time to think.

When you talk to her there is pain, but also great hope, joy, and a relentless determination to make the world a better place.

If this person who has had such nightmarish events thrust upon her can choose happiness, then so can we. It's a choice. No one is too busy for joy.



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posted by Open Blogger at 08:50 PM

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