The walls of my bedroom are brightening with a new day’s sun. I rub my eyes, stretch, and yawn, allowing my thoughts to travel far on memory lane. Through the twists and turns of my life, I’ve made what I like to think is a discovery—though surely many others have long found this secret. I have discovered what makes a person happy and how I can be happy too.
For many years, foremost on my criteria for joy was optimal health and freedom from physical pain. Growing up with asthma and other health problems meant that was a hard goal for me to attain! But over time, what I once believed to be the biggest enemy of my happiness has become my greatest teacher on the subject.
When I was sixteen, I underwent an emergency surgery to remove a ruptured gangrenous cyst and spent New Year’s Day in the hospital. When I was able to get out of my wheelchair and take my first post-surgery steps, I could hardly contain my joy! Those slow, shaky steps were the best New Year’s gift I could have asked for. I suddenly realized that joy can come from something as simple as being able to walk.
As silly as it may sound, I was also happy that I could use the bathroom unaided. After the surgery, I was hooked to a catheter for several days. When it was finally removed and I could use the bathroom again, I was filled with appreciation for something I had always taken for granted.
Another source of joy is being able to breathe easily. My asthma has always made recognize this as a blessing, but an experience a few years ago gave it new meaning. I underwent an abdominal CT (computerized tomography) scan at a large hospital, and halfway through I was injected with a contrast medium. Unbeknown to us, this substance can be very dangerous for asthma sufferers. As the fluid entered my bloodstream, I experienced terrible pain and immense pressure in my lungs. Within minutes, I went into toxic shock, brought on by a severe allergic reaction. I was rushed to ER, where nurses administered antidotes and hooked me to a respirator. Two intense hours later, I was finally out of danger.
I will never forget how I felt when I returned home. I stood by the window in the sunset’s rosy hue, breathing deeply and thinking, I can breathe painlessly again. I am here, I am alive! The indelible memories of that day have become a touchstone of my life. Whenever I am discouraged or weary, I relive those moments and feel anew the joy of realizing how blessed I am.
The ordeal also filled me with gratitude for my sight. At the height of the allergy, my face had swollen so tightly that I could barely open my eyes. I longed to see my father, who was standing by my bed holding my hand, but I could only dimly make out his frame through the slits of my eyelids. When I was again able to open my eyes, I couldn’t stop looking at everything around me in excitement and awe.
Being able to walk, use the bathroom, breathe, see—it’s true, my criteria for joy have changed drastically. I’m finding more to be happy about than I ever thought possible, as I learn that my happiness has little to do with my circumstances and so much to do with my perspective. My life is full of challenges and joys, equally worth celebrating!
I open my eyes again and sit up. A ray of golden sunlight is streaming through the window and over the foot of my bed. I wiggle my toes in its glow and smile. It’s a new day, and I’m going to rejoice and be glad in it!1
- See Psalm 118:24. ↩