Beyond Pessimism: The Gift of Thanksgiving

“Hi my name is Kent and I’m a recovering pessimist.” If there were a recovery group for pessimists I’d be there. I grew up in a family that was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always ready for the ‘sh*t to hit the fan’. Perhaps this type of doomsday thinking came from my parent’s growing up as children in the Great Depression.

Regardless of its source this type of pessimistic thinking was part of my childhood. I remember however as a child in later elementary school thinking that this was no way to live. I intentionally sought refuge in the homes of friends whose parents had a more sunny disposition and hopeful way of looking at the world.

As I grew older I came to realize that being optimistic, hopeful was a choice. Later as a recovering pessimist I read a book by Tim Hansel entitled ‘You Gotta Keep Dancing’. The book is Hansel’s story of living with chronic pain after shattering his back in a mountaineering accident.

Some years ago I met Hansel and heard him speak about his journey with pain. As he spoke spasms of pain washed over him. This is what he said: “Joy is a choice. It is based upon the deep seated belief that whatever happens in life, good or bad, that I’m not alone. It is the belief that whatever happens that I am loved and cherished by God. And my joy comes in knowing that this love is always with me.”

He went on to say: “Joy is different than happiness. Happiness is based on the root word happening. Happiness comes when good things are happening to us. But joy is a choice. Joy transcends circumstances.”

I want that joy that Hansel speaks of. As an adult I’ve had my share of challenges and heartache but I’ve learned to lean into my faith and place my trust in the God that Tim Hansel speaks of and in that relationship I’ve been graced at times with joy.

But I know myself pretty well. I understand my capacity to look at the world as a glass half empty. And so I say: “Hi, my name is Kent I’m a recovering pessimist.” In doing so that pessimistic part of me loses much of its power and I can once again make that choice to be hopeful, even joyful.

I write this on the eve of Thanksgiving. This day invites us to focus on what we have rather than what we don’t. Thanksgiving invites us to count our blessings. For pessimists this day is like oxygen, inviting us to reorient our way of thinking and being.

Whether you be an optimist or a recovering pessimist, I wishphoto of charlie brown and thanksgiving you a Thanksgiving where your glass is half full even to overflowing. May joy be yours.

When Joy is a Choice

Photo of Joy

This morning I drove by a park. I pulled to the curb to savor the pure joy of several adults celebrating life. They were a mix of disabled and able bodied adults enjoying a day of warm weather and blue skies.  The parachute accentuated their joyful whoops and laughter.

Their witness was in contrast to the news on my car radio that morning (the expanding war on terrorism, the 13th anniversary of 9/11 etc.) along with the worries I carry with me.

Tim Hansel in his book ‘You Gotta Keep Dancing’, speaks of his journey with chronic pain.  He writes that joy is different than happiness.  Happiness is circumstancial.  It is dependent upon ‘good things’ happening to us. If like sucks (such as chronic pain) we are unhappy, if things are good we are happy.

Joy he offers is different, it is a choice.  It is based on the deep seated belief ‘that whatever happens, God is with us.’ ‘Joy is a gift’ says Hansel, that comes as we choose to be hopeful.

As I watched these adults ‘play’ in the park.  I found that my own perspective began to  change.  I began to feel and embrace their joy in that park.  I was reminded that while life can be difficul,t that I too can choose to be joyful. 

As a person of faith, I can choose to believe ‘that whatever happens, God is with me.’Who knows, if I truly believe this… you may find me tossing a colored parachute into the air!