Living Joyfully Helped Me Overcome Fear, Anger, and Sadness

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by Hawken Miller |

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Joy is one of the best tools we have to combat the progressive loss of our physical abilities. It’s an emotion that helps us triumph over our negative feelings. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t live a life of joy.

What exactly is joy? The emotion is easily confused with happiness, and while they are similar, they aren’t the same. Psychologists, theologians, and philosophers participating in a Yale Center for Faith and Culture project referred to joy as “a positive affective response to an objective external good.”

Affective (not effective) is another word psychologists use for anything dealing with moods, feelings, and attitudes. “The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences” refers to joy as a “pleasant state.” While joy is generally experienced with outside forces like watching a sunrise, getting a good grade on an assignment, or observing children playing, it can come from inside, too.

The idea that we can have joy without an external push is a central theme in “The Book of Joy,” which features a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I started reading it the other day, and it is partly an inspiration for this column.

“While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not,” the Dalai Lama said in the interview.

That statement resonated with me. As I can attest, there often aren’t many outside forces that make me feel joy. It’s not so easy to see my friends right now. I’m afraid of what the future might hold. People around me are suffering financially and physically.

It takes effort to look on the bright side and stay positive, but doing so helps me stay ahead of negativity. Joy is my shield from the flaming arrows of fear, anger, and sadness in this world.

Willie Jennings, a theologian from Duke Divinity School, calls joy an “act of resistance against despair and its forces.”

With Duchenne muscular dystrophy, there’s plenty of despair. Every year, I’m unable to complete a new task because my muscles are weaker. A lot of suffering in my life is inevitable, but fighting it with joy instead of negative emotions changes my perspective.

“As we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters,” Tutu said in “The Book of Joy.”

I’m not advocating to pretend to be joyful in whatever circumstance you are in. What I am saying is that finding joy in the things around you and in yourself makes you healthier, happier, and mentally strong.

Fighting a progressive, muscle-wasting disease is not easy. Finding joy and latching on to it prevents us from being beaten. It forces us to count our blessings and take advantage of the opportunities around us.


Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.


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