What’s your New Year’s resolution? There’s plenty of great ones out there: lose weight, eat better, exercise more, spend more time with family, master a new hobby… Or maybe you’re like me and didn’t make one. My ability to uphold New Year’s resolutions has been less than successful in the past, so I prefer to count the accomplishments I’m able to make throughout the year, rather than my ability to successfully achieve a set list of them.
According to polls, the #1 resolution for 2016 is to “enjoy life to its fullest.” Essentially, people feel that they aren’t getting the most out of life. That may be due to a number of things—lack of stimulation, fear of failure, boredom, social or economic restraints, etc. But I chalk most of it up to general unhappiness.
I’m a contradiction of balance—optimist in one hand and realist in the other. Often, the realist wins out. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I sometimes find myself more focused on my circumstances than on my attitude towards them as a result. I don’t mean to become sullen, but occasionally I find it much easier to look at the practicality of a situation than to consider how my attitude or outlook can shape its outcome.
That’s why people like Sora (from Kingdom Hearts) fascinate me. He seems to be on a “happy high” almost 24/7, like many typical shonen heroes. Whether he’s facing betrayal, danger, or loss, Sora doesn’t stay in the dumps for long, and is just as likely to flash a big, gleaming grin at his troubles.
From a realist’s perspective, this seems a bit naïve. After all, it’s unrealistic to think that happiness is always the answer. That’s a truth the Bible emphasizes, as well (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Joy has its place, but so does sorrow. There’s a time for all things.
But looking back over Sora’s adventures, it’s easy for me to forget that he hasn’t always been a happy kid. Sure, he’s a bit predisposed that way, and he seems pretty satisfied with his life overall, but there’s a point early on where he almost breaks—a point, I will argue, where many a villain’s origin story could have begun. While the original video game series captures this brief, albeit game-changing, moment, I especially like the manga’s re-telling—if, for no other reason, than because Sora’s face looks utterly ridiculous.
Sora loses his homeland to the darkness. His childhood friends both go missing, with one turning to the proverbial “dark side.” His parents’ whereabouts are unknown. He finds himself in an unfamiliar world, surrounded by strangers. Having literally lost everything and been told about the dismal state that the worlds are in, Sora, understandably, gets a bit depressed. In the manga, he even cries a little.
Donald and Goofy (…yeah… it’s a Kingdom Hearts thing) invite Sora to go along with them on their ship, telling him the only requirement is that he smiles. “Our ship runs on happy faces,” Donald tells Sora, in what is equal parts the most cringe-inducing and Disney-patented line in the franchise.
With a heavy sigh, Sora forces a goofy grin on his face, causing all three of them to erupt in laughter. By the end of the shenanigans, Sora’s problems aren’t solved—his friends are still missing and his homeland is still in shambles—but he feels a bit better inside for his efforts. I’d argue that it’s this game-changing moment that sets the stage for Sora’s modus operandi in the future—facing trials with a smile, no matter how bad things get.
In that regard, Sora isn’t necessarily on a “happy high” 24/7, but he does choose to see the good in things and find unique ways—even tiny ones—to hold onto his inner joy. That’s a lesson I’ve been slowly teaching myself over the course of my life. It’s not easy. Sometimes life hits, and it hits hard. When that happens, it can be hard to hang onto the already fragile grasp we have on our joy.
Everyone’s situation is different. Some people are genetically wired to be happier than others. Others struggle with intense feelings of depression—biological predispositions beyond their control. Sometimes it’s not as simple as “cheering up,” not because it’s beyond desire, but because it’s beyond comprehension. Sadness can be much like a blinder—blocking our vision of the future beyond the present moment—or much like tunnel vision—so fixated on the sadness that it can envision no alternative to it.
In these circumstances, it can seem impossible to find joy, but joy is there none-the-less. We haven’t forgotten how to feel it. We merely feel numb to it in the moment. In these situations, I like to recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Holding onto joy is a lot like that. It’s a conscious effort—one that forces us to keep moving, regardless of the trials we face. When I don’t feel at my peak, I force myself to find some way to reawaken my inner joy. Maybe that’s finding one small thing to be grateful for. Maybe it’s trying a smile, even when I’m alone, just to remember what the sensation feels like. Maybe it’s indulging in a hobby I greatly enjoy, even if I don’t fully feel the same resonance with it at the moment.
Happiness is a choice, yes, but it’s also not something that can be measured, only compared based on past experience. That’s why it’s OK to not always feel that my joy meter is 100% full. Either I experience joy, or I don’t. The amount is not as relevant as the experience itself, especially when life’s trials are difficult. If I can do as much as give a small smile at my circumstances, then I have succeeded.
Most importantly, joy is an innate part of the Christian faith—found organically in Christ. He is a constant confidant and helper in a time of trouble, and even when all seems lost around us—when we’ve lost those things which are most important to us, including our joy—He is there. And He can restore it to us beyond anything else. Just ask Job.
…the joy of the Lord is your strength. ~Nehemiah 8:10
This year, as I strive to “enjoy life to its fullest,” I’m actually challenging myself to find more ways to be happy organically—no matter my circumstances. That means more reliance on God—more immersion in Him, His Word, and His fellowship—and a greater focus on the good things around me that He has provided.
At least as far as I’m concerned, 2016 will be a year that “runs on happy faces.”