Throughout my illness, a number of people have asked me how I can have--or how I've been able to maintain--joy. My answer is always the same--specifically, that it's a choice. But choosing joy didn't happen overnight. It was a process. Until I could own it, I tried it on for size from time to time. That means that when I faced a challenge, instead of defaulting to feeling sorry for myself, I looked for the lesson and/or blessing. Sometimes, there was neither, so I had to make a conscious decision to live beyond the circumstance rather than establish residency in it. I wasn't always successful. It takes time to change life's default settings. But like many things in life, I found that the more I tried, the easier it became. And then one day I felt joy in the midst of a difficult circumstance, and realized I had finally established a new default setting for my life.

Many people struggle with issues of low self esteem, fear of failure, negativity, an absence of joy, etc., and have difficulty changing the trajectory of their lives. As I always say, just take a step in the direction in which you'd like to go. Try it on for size. You can do it. Surround yourself with people who are already on the path you seek; go to counseling; join a support group; find a mentor. There are blessings in that new direction. There can be joy in that new direction. You may have setbacks, you may experience pain. But refuse to allow anything or anyone to discourage you from moving in a new direction. Commit to a new lease on life. Be patient, and be kind to yourself. And remember that it's okay if you have to rent it (keep trying) until you can own it.
 
 
I have a pet peeve. Well, actually, I have a few (remember, I'm still under construction), but one that has always stuck in my craw is when people don't say "thank you" in response to thoughtfulness, kindness, etc. Many years ago, a friend told me that whenever one does something from their heart, a thank you from the recipient should not be necessary. Deep down inside, I think that may be the right approach. But I'm not there yet. Clearly, there are some circumstances when a thank you isn't expected--for example, in the case of an anonymous gift to a known or unknown recipient. But when someone takes the time and/or makes an effort to show consideration to someone--and both the giver and recipient are known--I think a "thank you" should be given. Nothing extravagant is necessary, but at least an acknowledgement and expression of appreciation. For example, "thanks for opening or holding the door for me; thanks for letting me go before you in line at the grocery store; thanks for bringing me coffee; thanks for the thoughtful card and/or gift"; or waving to someone who allows you to move ahead of them in traffic, etc. Just common courtesy. Living abroad has made me more open-minded about many things, and I've learned a great deal about different cultures. But no matter where I've traveled or who I've met, a simple "thank you" in response to a gesture of kindness seems to be universal. Common courtesy. . . is it really too much to expect? Maybe. But I still have a ways to go on this one.
 
 
Today, on my daily walk, I met a woman who complimented my colorful dress and fuchsia lipstick. Rarely do I wear lipstick brighter than neutral, but decided to do so to add a little spark to my challenging day. The woman told me she had purchased bright lipstick but never wore it; and seeing me in mine made her happy. As we continued to talk, she shared things she said made her grumpy and sad, namely a difficult divorce some years ago. We discussed how dwelling on her past was dictating her future, and that she could choose to journey on a new path. Since she said my lipstick helped to brighten her day, I suggested she go home and put on her own. It's not monumental, but a small step in a different direction. I also shared how I sometimes leave post-it notes on my bathroom mirror and refrigerator containing messages of encouragement and empowerment. And often on my daily walks, I look for opportunities to brighten others' days--such as smiling and saying hello; paying someone a compliment; holding open a door, etc. They're small things, but sometimes it's les petites choses (the little things) that can make a difference in someone's day or life--including our own.