“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” – Joseph Campbell
It was past 6:00 pm on a cold Michigan day, and Kristen Jane Anderson was trudging through the park, tugging at her knit gloves as she set out to end her own life. She was just seventeen and longed to be happy. Kristen grew up in a typical American family where she had the freedom to do what she enjoyed and had terrific siblings and supportive parents. Yet, inside, all Kristen felt was deep emptiness.
Life hadn’t been going as she hoped, especially after losing her grandmother and three other friends within the space of two years. Following that she was raped by someone she considered a friend and that experience only compounded the brokenness she already felt. She had taken to smoking, drinking, and partying with her friends, all in a bid to escape the pain and mask her mental struggles. However, she awoke to find them returning each day and felt she had lost all-purpose.
Which led her to become very discouraged and overwhelmed. Kristen decided that her only escape from all of her troubles was to lay on a train track and allow herself to be run over by the train. Evading the cops and any curious eyes, she managed to get herself on the railroad track and lie in position as the train approached. She lay still with the hopes that all her heartache and numbness would be over in a flash, but then, the unexpected happened.
She was run over by 33 freight train cars at 55 mph but somehow was still conscious and alive, however, leaving her with completely severed legs. Eventually, she was rescued by emergency workers and stabilized at the hospital, but she now had to live the rest of her life without legs. Even with a second chance at life, the next three years after the incident were extremely difficult. There were more surgeries- she was placed on different pain killers, antidepressants. She still felt major depression, and still more thoughts of suicide flooded her thoughts.
But then, she found hope primarily through her Christain faith. Kristen began taking practical steps to live every day intentionally. With renewed joy, she ended up getting off all her antidepressants and pain medications that the doctors told her she would have to take for the rest of her life.
When we navigate life with joy as our compass, it may not always guide us to the most comfortable, popular, or painless decisions. The power of Joy is more profound than that. Through joy, we are able to transcend to places where life can happen intentionally, and we become the best versions of ourselves. – John R. Miles
Kristen finished her degree, told her story of recovery on the Oprah Winfrey Show, authored a book titled ‘Life in Spite of Me’, and started the foundation ‘Reaching YOU Ministries’ to help prevent teenagers and young adults from attempting suicide. Furthermore, she got married, amazingly had kids, and became a popular speaker at colleges, churches, women’s, and youth events.
What steps did Kristen take to transition from being a suicidal teenager to taking back her life and becoming a well-accomplished woman? You will find out as you read on.
This article is adapted from an episode on did on the Passion Struck Podcast.
Taking Steps Towards Joy as Your Compass
After surviving the suicide attempt, Kristen realized that her problems were not external but rather caused by her inability to live with joy from within. Upon this realization, she took the responsibility to consciously take steps to be intentional about her growth and be guided by joy through life. She began to pay attention to everyday moments and decided to make the most of them, rather than just exist on autopilot as most people do.
Here are some of the practical steps that Kristen took to make joy the guiding Compass through her journey of recovery, which we all can effectively apply.
Have an Attitude of Gratitude
An adage goes “They who are thoughtful will be thankful”. The truth is, no matter what situation we all find ourselves in, there are still reasons – even if it’s just one – to be grateful, for as long as there is life, there is hope for better days.
So, make a list of the things you are grateful for, and you will see that gradually, joy will begin to fill your heart and guide you onto better days.
Focus on Self-Love
The need for self-love and compassion cannot be overemphasized. In fact, I talked about it in last week’s episode 104. Value and take proper care of yourself. Know that you deserve good things and celebrate your wins, no matter how small they seem. Appreciate and do something special for yourself every day. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Your self-love may be just a walk around the block or gazing up at the stars at night. You can grow into bigger ones from these small steps as things fall into place and joy begins to flow from within.
Be Compassionate and Give to Others
One potent means of securing joy is by making others joyful in whatever little ways you can. You receive more of what you give, and you should realize that you always have something to offer to make others feel joy and kindness. When you see the smile on the face of someone you’re helping, it just makes it all worth it. This will stir a good feeling in you and naturally make you a more joyful person.
Exercising is one underrated activity that can help one become happier. Several studies have shown that exercise increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline, and endocannabinoid – brain chemicals associated with feeling happy, feeling confident, feeling capable, and improving one’s body’s overall wellbeing.
Recognize the value of this beneficial physical activity and participate in it to improve your mood and infuse joy into your life.
Get Out in Nature
By stepping out into nature and appreciating all the beautiful things that exist, you get to see life from a much bigger and broader perspective. Activities such as taking a walk through the park, sitting and watching birds fly hiking mountains, and visiting the beach can be very relaxing and contribute to you becoming a joyful person. Engage in them and see just how valuable they can be to your growth.
Build New Habits Around Things You Enjoy
Whether it’s painting, playing an instrument, listening to music, playing games, or dancing, spend some quality time on activities that you enjoy and that make you happy. By doing so, your mood will constantly improve and you will begin to express joy from within.
Get out of Your Comfort Zone
Comfort is a major roadblock that stops people from experiencing real joy is holding them back from reaching for more in life and remaining where they are.
You need to step outside of the status quo and aim for great things. By doing so, you will gain new experiences and become better. Even if things don’t work out as you picture them to, you will get the joy that comes from trying, knowing you did your best and dared to reach for more.
Surround Yourself with Optimistic People
Whether we like it or not, we are naturally influenced by the friends we keep and the people we constantly interact with. Therefore, you must spend your time only with people who have a positive mindset and outlook on life in seeking joy. These are the people who will encourage you and keep you accountable through your journey towards having a joyful life.
Overcoming Obstacles Through Joy as Your Compass
The journey towards letting go of past trauma and becoming a joyful person can be an arduous task, especially when the hurt has been continually recalled in one’s memory, which leads to the thought sinking into the subconscious. In getting over your hurtful past, you need to focus entirely on the little steps forward, and build successively on each, while trying your best not to keep looking back at the past – you’re not going that way after all.
Oprah Winfrey, who was molested during her childhood, once said, “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” Born in rural poverty and raised by a mother dependent on government welfare payments in a poor urban neighborhood, Winfrey learned to rise above her past and grow to become a well-accomplished woman and the greatest black philanthropist in U.S. history.
You need to realize that your hurt can make you stronger and better if you learn the lessons from them and use them to help yourself and others avoid whatever led to the situation or encourage others in similar conditions and circumstances. One important thing you also need is support from others. Healing cannot be done in isolation. Expose your challenges to someone you can confide in, who will encourage you and keep you accountable through your journey towards healing.
Notably, the place of your spirituality and faith goes a long way, just as it did for Kristen Anderson, whose Christian faith helped her find meaning and purpose after her attempted suicide. Believing in a higher power whose knowledge and power surpasses every earthly possibility helps us tap into the divine, giving us the much-needed strength and grace to overcome challenges. Find your spirituality and stand firm in it.
Remember, it is up to you to see that your healing is complete. Build up your mind with positive thoughts by reading encouraging books such as The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren (pivotal in Kristen’s healing), listening to positive messages, and interacting with people who will help contribute positively to your growth. Focus on becoming a joyful person, which will eventually become your reality.
Living a Joyful Life
There are so many rewards and benefits attached to reaching your desired goal of becoming a person who is led through life by Joy. You become a much better, livelier, and healthier person, not just for yourself but for those around you as well. You will better maximize your potential and reach as high as you can dare to dream.
There is hope for suffering and hardship to offer growth and understanding in choosing joy. From the experience of suffering, wisdom emerges. When things are going well, we rarely step back and face the brutal reality of what is taking place in our lives. A difficult situation, however, often forces us out of our externally focused state, causing us to reflect inwardly on our experiences. It allows us to see deeply. With joy comes self-esteem and self-respect which can guide you through difficult situations.
A life driven and guided by Joy is genuinely fulfilling. When you’ve started living this life, things will fall into place, and every day becomes one to look forward to. You become strengthened to rise above challenges, and life becomes more meaningful. In all, you will be able to help others, be there for friends and family, and be of immense value to the world at large.
As Dutch Catholic priest Henri Nouwen said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
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