Today I was speaking with a friend about happiness amidst our boisterous laughter.
You might think of happiness as a characteristic that's borne of an Ozzie and Harriet-style upbringing, but I think happiness is more of a decision borne of the horror of tragedy. Ofttimes we don't appreciate something until we lose it for an extended period of time--money, joy, love, a good job, a dog. Then, when we finally regain it again, we're perhaps more careful to keep it, tend to it, savor it.
I didn't have happiness as a child. And when I reached adulthood, I decided that being happy would be a worthy goal. Well, that backfired, and I'm not going to get into all the gruesome details, but happiness is not a product, it's a byproduct. You've got to have loftier, more altruistic goals, and upon reaching them, a peace settles in that can lead you to happiness.
So I changed my goals around; stopped reaching for happiness and instead began reaching for knowledge, charity, self-improvement, caretaking and community. Finally, I achieved happiness.
Then one day, I was arrested by the local Sheriff Department. And as I stood on my front porch, surrounded by officers and not knowing what was going on, who'd accused me of a crime, and what exactly the accusation was, you would think that I would have been panicked about being set up and going to jail. But no, even though I knew I'd been set up to be arrested, I still had an inherent trust in the officers that they were not going to harm me. (Okay, maybe that was naive, but that was my state of mind at the time.)
The horror entered the picture as, standing on my porch with the dawning realization that I was truly about to be arrested, a dreaded thought crossed my mind, "There goes my joy." I can't begin to explain the finality of that thought. How did I instinctively know the extent that I would be terrorized for the next two years? Why did I focus on the impending loss of joy -- as opposed to focusing on the legalities, the financial cost, my children, my reputation, my loss of freedom?
And sure enough, my constant friendliness and laughter disappeared as if accidentally dropped down the garbage disposal and demolished. Oh, come back! Please!
It was gone. And I was left to despair.
The next two years were a complete waste of a formerly productive life. But I lived. My old life is gone; sent through the wood chipper. The only thing to do was to forge ahead in prayer and hope that whatever came next would somehow fill my days. The Lord was kind enough to send some interesting projects my way--nothing that I could have anticipated, but fulfilling nonetheless.
Now that I have my happiness back, I fight harder to keep it. People wonder about my intensity, but I'll tell you, I know what I had and I know what I lost and I know that it could happen to my neighbor tomorrow. As far as it's within my power, I will jealously guard my neighbor's happiness and defend him against any forces that would steal it from him.
You are my neighbor.