I’ve been doing quite a bit of soul searching these past few months. You know how every now and then you can enjoy a season of minimal trials and just overall happy times? Well, that hasn’t really been my current season for a while. But these past few weeks, I’ve started asking why. Why are my days less joyful? Why am I unhappier than usual? Why does every day seem so filled with challenges? Why can’t I ever catch a BREAK?!?!

While asking myself these questions during my many hours of driving alone this past weekend, I had a realization. A revelation more like. I tried to pinpoint the moment when things started getting tough. Was it the start of wedding season? The beginning of the summer?? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there wasn’t a clear cut moment or day that things “got harder.” Then I tried to think about what is so “trying” about this season. “Well, I always have so much work to do,” was my first thought. And then I said to myself, “When have you NOT had so much work to do?”

Overlooking the fact that I apparently I have conversations with myself inside of my head, you have to admit I had a point. Life has ALWAYS been busy… as a teenager, it was a rare day when I didn’t have hours of homework to do, tests to study for, sports to practice, and a list of chores to check off. And since I picked up my first ever digital camera, I’ve had photos to “cull” and edit, long before I knew that those actions had those names. Right now, a lot of what I do is photography-related. And that’s the DREAM!!! I’m living what I’ve wanted to do since I was fourteen years old, and yet… I’m sitting here asking myself, “Why am I not happy?”

The answer, my friends, is that I’m not choosing to be joyful. When I was in eighth grade, we spent an entire month on the book of James. In one class, we talked about the difference between happiness and joy. It turns out that happiness is affected by what happens around you, to you, and because of you. You rarely have control over all of these elements, so happiness is actually pretty dang complicated. You can spend your entire life chasing happiness and have it stolen away from you the second you feel like you’ve got it locked down because happiness is, to put it simply, conditional. It’s dependent upon factors that are completely out of your control.

But joy, you see… joy is not that way at all. Joy is Unconditional. Joy is unaffected and unfazed. Joy is ever-present and independent of your conditions and even your happiness. Joy is lasting and joy is powerful. But it’s only these things if you allow it to be.

What I came to realize this weekend is that the reason I’m UNHAPPY is actually because I’m not JOYFUL. Because in reality, you actually can contribute to your own happiness…even as it’s tossed and turned about like a wave on a violent and stormy ocean. You can be sad, angry, negative, depressed, and all around unhappy… but if you have joy, you have hope not only in a better tomorrow but in your ability to make the best out of today.

So here’s how it goes. I can wake up to 5 panicky client emails, check the weather forecast to see it will be pouring rain for my next wedding, lose two brides who decided to go with another photographer, and send off a check for thousands of dollars to the government for my quarterly income taxes all in the same day… and I can either 1) freak out and question my sanity as I have an anxiety attack about my career and life choices, or 2) choose to be joyful because I’m doing what I love and making a living from it.

Oh my. Isn’t the second option much better?! You could remove all of the photography-related lingo in those sentences and put your own details in. Maybe you’re waking up at the crack of dawn only to go get yelled at by your boss whom you’re pretty sure hates your guts, getting a flat tire on your way home after a long week, and walking in to find your heat is broken and you’ve got hundreds of dollars worth of repairs to pay for… and are you 1) cursing your entire existence and wishing you could move to a tropical island for the rest of your days, or 2) choosing to be joyful because you have a job, you have a home, and you have people who love you…?

Life is ALWAYS going to be hard. It’s always going to be busy and you’re rarely going to get as much sleep as you’d like. You probably won’t make a million dollars and you’ll probably never move to a tropical island. (I say probably because really, shoot for the moon. You go move to that tropical island girl. Do your thang.) But the truth is, no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what day it is… you have to wake up every morning of your life and CHOOSE JOY despite all of the mess you know you’re going to face that day. So choose it. I’m starting right now. I’m choosing to focus on the good and learn what I can from all the bad. I’m going to live each day like I’ve intentionally come back to live it over again… because we only get one beautifully chaotic life. And I don’t want to regret not living mine because I was always wishing I had someone else’s.

I leave you with this:

Now go choose joy.

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