A truly joyful, optimistic, positive person is wonderful to be around. Because they act in ways that are so contrary to how people usually handle situations, they are immediately noticeable. Others are aware that these people are different. In this way, God is glorified through your ability to exhibit joy in difficult circumstances. Your joy becomes a living testimony to others. You radiate out.
Usually when negative or pessimistic people suffer, they become incredibly inward focused. Their world shrinks and collapses in on itself, coalescing into a self-absorbed core. This core can become so dense with negativism and pain that other people get sucked in and depleted. Interacting with a pessimistic person who tends to always suffer from something can suck the joy right out of you if you’re not careful. Being around them makes you feel drained.
I have had the privilege to be around joyful, optimistic people who were undergoing hardship of incredible proportions. I have gone to visit them, fully intending to try, in some small way, to offer comfort and instead found myself receiving much more comfort. Here they are, in dire physical or circumstantial straights, and they end up doing more for me and my attitude than I ever did for them. Their complete reliance on God and the Holy Spirit to get them through the situation is crystal clear. I go to give them comfort, and they wind up giving me hope.
Their attitude is summed up for me in a passage from one of the minor prophets, Habakkuk. It’s a small book, only three chapters. Like Jeremiah, it was written at the time of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. Like Job, it contains a series of conversations with God. Habakkuk doesn’t understand why God is working the way He is (using the Babylonians to punish Judah and Jerusalem), seeming to allow evil to oppress His people. In the end, Habakkuk comes to understand that God really does have the final say and will make sure justice prevails, even though it will not come about in Habakkuk’s lifetime.
At the end of the book, Habakkuk’s final words hauntingly echo in my heart as they speak to me of today’s hope anchored in tomorrow, of joy expressed defiant of circumstance, of optimism tightly grasped in trust:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. ~Habakkuk 3:17-19
I don’t know what you personally are going through or what might have prompted you to pick up this book. If it was a time of prolonged sadness or tragedy, please know my heart goes out to you. And if it were only my heart I could give, frankly, it wouldn’t be enough. What I can offer you is to embrace the attitude of Habakkuk. Pray and ask God to empower you through His Spirit to experience joy within your situation. For God, nothing is impossible. The reality of this world is set; hardships and suffering are a given. God will not always remove the impossible situation from you, but He is always able to fill your heart with joy.
One way God can fill your heart with joy is through prayer, as you’ve read.
Being in constant communication with God, to receive His Spirit and perspective on life and what you’re going through, is integral to a life of joy. Another way to experience joy is through worship. This doesn’t necessarily mean only in a religious building or at a religious event. God is worshiped when you offer your life up to Him on a daily basis through the routine events of life. Worship focuses your attention on God and instills reverence and awe. In worship, you acknowledge God for who He is, in all of His attributes. This is the same God who loves you and has promised to care for you. When the world and its problems seem far too large for you to handle, prayer and worship to God can bring it back down to its proper size.
When the world and its negativity threaten to suck the joy right out of you, drawing near to God can cause it to flood back into your life. When the road of life gets bumpy, joy acts like spiritual shock absorbers and allows you to still enjoy the ride.
SOURCE: Chapter 12, “The Role of Joy in Being Happy,” in Happy for the Rest of Your Life by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, Inc.