Three thieves of joy

Some days I would give just about anything to be five again.  When joy was simple.  If I liked something and we got to do it, I was happy.  If I ate something and I liked it, I was happy.  If my mom gave me a hug or brought me home one of the silly decorative soaps in the shape of a heart or a duck, I was happy.  Life was simpler and joy was just an emotion that I went with, without overthinking it, missing it or twisting it into something else.

So why is it that joy as an adult is so much harder to find and hang onto? For me, I’ve discovered three joy thieves.  If I’m having a crappy day, I can almost always look back and see where I’ve let one of these three get in the way and steal my joy.  See if these hold true for you and what we might be able to do to protect ourselves:

  • Ridiculous expectations

When we spend our lives waiting for our children to skip in from school, with a backpack full of A+ papers and no spaghetti sauce stains on their clothes, we’re going to be disappointed when life looks a lot more like a whiny kid with crumpled papers, God knows what else in addition to spaghetti stains on their white polo shirt (why did I buy THAT??!) and monosyllables answers.

Reality doesn’t typically look like the Disney movie that we all grew up on.  Even if no one in your life was telling you that life was supposed to look like the happy ending to The Princess Bride, there is something inside all of us that thinks that unless things turn out the way exactly the way we planned, we did something wrong.

Being excited about and looking forward to something is fine, but the minute we close ourselves off to new possibilities or experiences because we have decided there is only way something can be for happiness to be achieved, that’s where we get into trouble.  Because life happens.  Right?

In hindsight, some of my absolute favorite memories are those where things went horribly wrong.  We took the bus an hour in the wrong direction in Italy and had to sprint through back alleys and up steep, steep steps, to make our non-refundable tour.  The car broke down and we were stranded at a smelly garage hours from home.  We overslept and missed appointments.  We argued. Someone got sick (again) and we had to stay home.  Our youngest left the house with no shoes (pants, shirt, underwear, you name it) and we didn’t notice until we got where we were going.

Those moments at times have been the source of fights and annoyances, but sometimes, we are smart enough to realize that some of these missed expectations are pretty funny.  And some of this stuff where things go nothing like they were planned are moments that we saw incredible growth in ourselves and in our kids.  Or we discovered that sometimes snuggle time with a sick kid is better than a fancy dinner out in uncomfortable shoes.  Because the things that matter in life aren’t perfect moments, they are the little, imperfect moments that add up to a story that no one else can have because it’s YOUR story.

Which leads me to number two:

  •  Constant Comparison

AKA: the I want that syndrome.  Now, maybe you’re more mature than I am, and maybe you say, “I don’t want to be anyone but me.”  Good for you! However, I’m willing to bet that every once in a while there is a “but” in there.  “I love my body, BUT wouldn’t it be great if I had long athletic legs like so and so” OR  “I love our house, BUT, have you seen the acreage that the smith’s got when they moved?” OR “my car is nice, but the new model has so many more bells and whistles.”

As women, we do this for literally anything and everything.  We compare ourselves and our accomplishments to other professionals, other moms, other wives, other women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, other strangers in the store, other everythings. And if we manage to stop ourselves from doing that, then we have to be careful to not get sucked into the marketing or the shiny object that promises a life just a little bit better than ours IF we go out and buy it.  Our family fell victim to this and it landed us in a boatload of debt with a boatload of things that really didn’t bring us joy the way we thought they would, but that’s a story for another day.

Galatians 6:4-5 “Each one should test their own actions.  Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else; for each one should carry their own load.”

Why would God give us all such unique interests, talents, shapes, sizes, desires, number of hairs on our heads, if all he wanted was a world full of copy-cats?

  • Out of control schedules

We were running late, yet again.  Not because we couldn’t get out the door on time, although that happens, but because we had committed to bringing dinner for the soccer team and I had a meeting that ended roughly 15 minutes before I was supposed to be at school with food 20 minutes away.

Each decision alone didn’t seem like too much, but I had over-committed us and we were just plain out of time.  These are the moments when I inevitably lose it and the voice of Shrek the Ogre comes out of my mouth, or the voice of some crazy person I don’t recognize, but who is in fact me, shrieks loudly for a kid to “sit down,” “stop bothering your sister” or “just shut your pie holes” while sitting in traffic and trying to look like a person who just hasn’t lost her mind.

What’s funny about this phenomenon of losing your mind from over-scheduling is that it stems from feeling like you aren’t in control when it was you who first said yes to too many things.   So often I try to remember to take Lysa Terkeurst’s advice, that the “Best Yes is sometimes a No” but I still find myself saying yes to something else.  There are so many incredible options for hanging with friends, clubs, classes, events, activities, etc. that hit us every single day and we just can’t say yes to them all.   When we do,  we’ve lost control of the whole thing and we’re just being pulled along for the ride.

According to a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology the number one indicator of happiness is autonomy- or the feeling that a person has control over his or her life.  For me, the number one way to feel out of control is to let my schedule take over.  To let the activities and the dinners and the meetings and the errands and the practices run our lives so that there is no margin for quiet time, for study, for reflection, for rest.

We’re do-ers, achievers, conquerors.  We’re driven.  Great.   I’m just finding that if I’m not intentional about what I’m saying yes to that I can be terribly busy, yet never really get anything accomplished. Except maybe a better Shrek impression than the week before.


So what about you? When you look back on your own Shrek moments, which thief was it? One of these or something else?  Here’s to more joy in the days to come for our family, and yours.

5 thoughts on “Three thieves of joy

  1. I think I told you I’m slightly addicted to podcasts… In Chip Ingram’s Friday episode, he talked about that beast of comparison. He said that a great way to gauge ourselves in it, is to notice our immediate response when something amazing happens to a friend, family, co-worker — Do we immediately thank God for that blessing for them? Or, do we slink back a bit, wondering where we went wrong, why God’s not blessing us in a similar way? I LOVE the reminder to be authentic — both with our walk with God, and ourselves — about Biblical expectations and our heart conditions for others. Great post! <3

    1. Oh wow- that’s one way to check your heart! Love that. Our “measuring stick” is off so often for us; it’s not us versus the world, it’s us versus the best version of ourselves that God has in store for us. The worldly measuring stick just so easily entangles and distracts us! ❤️ you friend!

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