How would you fill in the blank to this question, I wonder? To…. be rich? Be famous? Be successful? To be a doctor, lawyer, dentist, or accountant? Make a difference in someone’s life? Become a president of a country some day? Be a billionaire? Get married and have kids? Have a successful career? Lead a meaningful / fulfilling life? Achieve work-life balance? Stay healthy?
The possibilities are endless. I can think of so many things I want to accomplish in life! But how about The Accomplishment of all accomplishments?
This question first appeared in one of the early bible study materials I covered as a young Christian in church. Brimming with extreme hope and idealism then, I had written something especially ambitious like “My greatest aim in life is to make a difference in the world!” I took a peek at my friend’s booklet, where she had written “My greatest aim in life is to be happy”, and winced inwardly at such an apparent lack of ambition. To me then, happiness and joy were merely a by-product of leading a rich, meaningful, and successful life, rather than an end goal in itself.
A few years later while struggling in the throes of my depression, I remembered my friend’s answer and suddenly the goal of being happy didn’t seem too frivolous or unimportant anymore. I realised first-hand how difficult it was to get anything done when you were feeling just so unhappy. There were so many days when I simply wanted to feel happy, because without even a minutest sense of happiness or contentment in my heart, I couldn’t be motivated to do anything else. In fact during that period of time, work seemed like an almost pleasant distraction for me – the deadlines at work kept me purposeful and gave me a mild sense of accomplishment, work matters distracted me from otherwise sinking deeper into ruminative and hopeless thoughts that would eventually lead me down a vicious cycle of negativity.
Even then, my work hours were frequently interrupted with brief episodes of tearing or crying. Halfway through work, some naughty tears would escape through the rims of my eyelids and trickle down my cheeks, sometimes almost without warning. My mind would be invaded with negative thought after negative thought. I had to resolve to make time to cry every day (say, by giving myself 5 minutes of solace in the bathroom), just so that I could concentrate on work the rest of the day.
I realised then, that I shouldn’t take something seemingly simple like JOY for granted at all. The bible calls joy a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), in other words something I need to cultivate deliberately.
Our outward circumstances are unpredictable and often uncontrollable – the family I’m born into, how people behave towards me, who my bosses and colleagues are, sometimes the kind of work I’m given and the deadlines I have to deal with (or heck, whether I have a job or not), whether I stay safe when crossing the road or driving a car, and on a more personal note, whether I meet someone I can fall in love with and marry in future, etc. But my inward world can be cultivated carefully, to become a garden of joy and happiness, to be a safe haven to keep me anchored to the Solid Rock, even as I journey through the storms of life.
So… my answer to the question in the title? I believe at this point in time, to take joy in every circumstance, every day, wherever I am, in whatever I do.