When Sadness Morphs Into Joy

By Sunday, January 5, 2014 8 0

Like most people, I prefer happy paths. I don’t seek out grief or sadness.

But, sometimes grief ends up spurring  joy, and making us rich in what matters.

In my 30’s, I made ruinous spending choices that led to a bankruptcy. I felt wrenching shame. Defaulting on my debts made me feel that I barely deserved to live. But that bankruptcy forced me to learn a disciplined approach to spending, saving and earning. Today my husband and I are well off, and fully prepared to retire when we choose to. Having no money problems is a joyful thing. It lets us become givers of our time and our money to things greater than ourselves. The bankruptcy hurt like hell, but taught me well.

Climate change (global warming) makes me sad. I would definitely rather avoid this topic, in both my writing and my life. I see great suffering ahead for our world (it’s already started). But when I step forward, speak up and do what I can about climate change rather than avoid it,  I find myself in a centered state of joy.

Being with my mother in the weeks before she died in 2011 was one of the saddest times in my life. She had been bedridden for years with Parkinson’s disease, and I felt her pain. I felt guilty for my own physical health, for being able to run every afternoon on nature trails (Mom loved nature, like me).

But paradoxically, the season of my mother’s passing is one of the happiest memories of my life. I got to be incredibly close to her, and to support her in going back to the light. I experienced the most loving, supportive hospitality of my life from my friends Kelly and Fred Reed. I spoke and sang at Mom’s memorial service, and reconnected with dear friends from long ago. I traveled to new depths of  soulfulness, both then and in the months of grieving that followed. An important friend from 1978 resurfaced with a condolence note. I wouldn’t change any of what happened.

We naturally prefer happy, easy paths. We instinctively shun grief and sadness. But if we let it, sadness can often morph into joy and make us rich in what matters most.

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Note: if you’d like to win a cool book called “The Beauty Experiment”, by a woman who broke through compulsive spending on clothes and cosmetics into simplicity and loving herself as she is, subscribe by email to Diamond-Cut Life on your upper right.

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  • Debra Yearwood
    January 7, 2014

    Money has got to be the single most common source of stress in our lives. Whether we have too little or too much we can allow it to influence even the most important of decisions. I can’t imagine someone who is as positive as you are letting money bring you to such a point of desperation. Speaks volumes for why we need to reassess how we determine value.

    • Alison
      January 8, 2014

      Debra, I agree. I like your phrase “Reassessing how we determine value”. Feels to me like another pathway toward being rich in what matters.

  • Joyce
    January 7, 2014

    I, too, went through similar experiences with my mother (ALS) and mother-in-law at their passing. Even though for my MIL, I stayed home with the little ones, allowing my husband to be with his mom, I know that was my gift to him. I love your blog.

    • Alison
      January 8, 2014

      Thanks for sharing this, Joyce. I love your presence here, and I was also happy to hear that you liked my novel Revelle.

  • My Inner Chick
    January 6, 2014

    beautiful, positive perspective.

    —you are an inspiration. Xx

    • Alison
      January 7, 2014

      Thanks, Kim. I feel the same about you and your blog — I just visited and left a comment. I love the way that you stand for something besides having fun. Our world needs so much more of that, i.e. realizing that joy and service can go hand in hand. Rock on, my friend.

  • Alison
    January 6, 2014

    Mike, I hadn’t known that your father and grandfather had had Parkinson’s. We have yet more in common than I’d realized. Thanks for the empathy, my friend, and also for the praise. I do feel good about the life I’ve crafted. Both you and I have weathered some hardships.

  • Mike
    January 5, 2014

    Oh my gosh I’m glad you got rid of those horrible thoughts from your bankruptcy, Alison! I can totally relate as I lost my kind, loving father to Parkinson’s as did my grandfather go the same way. It’s so brutally painful and I’m sorry you experienced that. Your strength and renewed vigor with the life that you’ve built is beautiful :)