Choose Joy

This isn’t easy.


This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.


It often takes health scares or tragedy to focus your mind on the durable, indelible good stuff — including joy. 

Why it matters: Joy isn’t simply a byproduct of good times. It can be an active choice in crappy ones. 

My family has lived this lesson this past year. And it surfaced simple, surprising lessons applicable to all. 

The backstory: My wife, Autumn, has endured a hellish medical journey all too familiar to too many. It started with one of those long-COVID horror stories you hear about — the brain fog, piercing migraines and stroke-like episodes. It rendered a voracious reader unable to read, and an eloquent speaker often unable to string words together.

  • Then her entire digestive system shut down, landing us in and out of a half dozen hospitals.
  • Emergency surgeries, months-long hospital stays, close calls and ICU visits gave way to inexplicable drops in blood pressure, malnutrition and frequent falls. 

But something magical happened amid the chaos and unimaginable pain: Autumn seemed more at peace, and able to find hope and solace in overstuffed, understaffed rooms.  

  • I was a hot mess. So at one point, I asked her how she was not more demoralized.
  • “I choose joy,” she said.  

Autumn explained something that I’ve heard her say before in other contexts: While our life right now was suddenly very small and stressful, the one thing she could control was her joy. 

  • She found it, she said, in me, in her kids who rose heroically to the moment, and in the friends and family who showed attentiveness, often in surprising ways.

She is right. Three things struck me that all of us can practice in tough times: 

1. Savor what you’ve got. Autumn and I have been married 22 years. Neither of us are remotely easygoing: We are intense, opinionated and self-certain. We didn’t marry our opposites. We married ourselves.

  • But we’ve never found more joy in each other than in the solitary confinement of hospital rooms.

2. Deepen what you’ve got. None of us wish pain on our kids. But we found new depths in the character, emotion and strength of our children. A good trick we learned over the years is to not hide the tough stuff, and use it to deepen connections.

  • I watched my daughter spend hours reading to her mother, soothing her when she couldn’t read.
  • I saw my sons prioritize after-school visits to the hospital, stretched out in their mom’s bed trying to make her laugh. All three of them gathering strength before the surgeries to remind their mom that she’s a warrior. 

3. Rediscover what you’ve got. Nothing reveals the depth of friends more than how they rise to the awful moments. This is such a great tell for who really has your back. The most delightful discoveries are those who surprise you. And we were blessed with lots of surprises. 

The bottom line: Try to choose joy, even when things suck or seem scary.