How to Harness Happiness When Work Projects Bring You Down

Help paper clips sayingI had finished a team project for a job I was working, feeling good with the results and pleased with myself. I was happy. I’d confidently moved on to the next project. Then a month later while checking my email one evening (big mistake!), I learned that one member of the team hadn’t fulfilled her part and so the whole thing had to be redone. I had to go back to the project, help her finish her work, and then tweak my portion to make sure it fit together with the whole. I was not happy. In fact, it ruined my entire evening.

While watching MasterChef that night, all I could think of was that project and how tight my schedule already was, and how I didn’t have time—or energy—to revisit something I’d already completed and had approved. Those home chefs were slicing and dicing food, while I was slicing and dicing conversations I really wanted to have, but knew I couldn’t. I really wasn’t happy!

As I went to bed, thoughts still swirling and overtaking any semblance of peace I’d had before I read the email, I stared at the ceiling and wished for sleep to overtake me, but knew my mind wouldn’t cooperate. I replayed the email and the months of work I’d done with the team. I tossed and turned. I sighed heavily and glanced at the clock multiple times. Then a tiny dose of insecurity began to sneak into my thoughts. What if the issue wasn’t the other team member? What if the team didn’t like my work and this was just an excuse? What if, gulp, they didn’t like me?

That only opened Pandora’s Box. Now I began to think about my entire career. Maybe I was just terrible at it all. Maybe I should give up. I began to compare myself to others who were so much better at the work.

It was a dreadful night.

The next morning, dragging out of bed—which also made me unhappy—I realized how quickly happiness can come and fade. One email moved me instantly from having a good day to wearing me out, frustrating me, making me lose sleep, and all manner of other negative issues.

I grabbed a cup of coffee, went to my office, and gave myself a pep talk: “It is what it is. Don’t overanalyze or read too much into it. It probably doesn’t have to do with you—even though you are dealing with the consequences. Just make the most of it, see the positives where you can, and go from there.”

I dove in and got through the project “renovations.” Although I’d have rather not had to deal with it, I was pleased with the way it turned out. And felt my happiness return.

Happiness can be fickle. It comes and goes like the wind, and many times I find myself pursuing it because, well, happiness feels good. I’d much rather be happy than cranky—even in the midst of emails that mess up my schedule, workload, and mental capacity.

One thing that would have helped me maintain my happiness? Well, actually there are a few things:

(1) Don’t check work-related emails in the evening. Nope, don’t do it. We have the power to choose not to go there. So don’t. What’s there in the evening will still be there in the morning. And it will allow us to maintain focus as well as a sense of peace and calm in those hours with family and friends before we head off to bed.

(2) Don’t go down the “what if I’m the problem?” road. Where will it get us? Nowhere but Unhappyville. Take the issues at face value, face them straight on, and then move on.

(3) Isolate the issue. One restructured project does not an entire career or life make. Or break.

(4) Focus on the good. Thank God that we have a job that gave us a project that needs to be reworked. Philippians 4:8 (NIV) puts it this way: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” And the reward? Peace. And happiness.

So the next time I’m tempted to glance at my work email, perhaps it’s best to refocus my thoughts and wait so that my companion “happiness” will stick around a little longer.

What are some ways you’ve maintained happiness in the midst of rough work projects?


Newsworthy note: My book Your Best Happily Ever After releases August 1! It’s filled with great ways to catch and keep happiness. Available at online retailers and bookstores. Check it out!

photo credit: <a href=”″>Office Rescue</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

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The Danger of Being Right (Or: Thinking Better of Saying, “Ha, Ha, Ya Dimwit!”)

arrogant woman_shutterstock_189992249Last week I stopped at the grocery store. I purchased two large bags of green beans, along with a few other items. The beans were on sale: two bags for six dollars.

As I was checking out, the teenaged cashier rang up the veggies and sent them down to the bagger who promptly and unceremoniously shoved them into a sack. Mid-swipe of the next item, the cashier paused, looking thoughtful.

“You know if you want the sale on the peas you have to buy four bags.”

I didn’t buy peas, so I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I said in my politest voice, “Huh?

“The peas. If you want the sale, you have to buy four bags. Not two.”

“What peas?”

He rolled his eyes and looked at me like I was an idiot. Then he said slowly and loudly, as though I were a deaf idiot, “You wooonnn’t get the saaallle priiiccce if you oooonly buy twooo bags of peeeeas. You have to buy fourrrrr.”

Yeah, I got it. Four bags of peas.

“There’s a sign back there but people don’t read it,” he continued.

I scrunched my face slightly, still not sure why we were having this conversation. “I’m sorry. What peas are you talking about?”

He sighed and rolled his eyes again. Then he reached over and pulled out one of the bean bags. He flipped it with his wrist as if to say, See? Peas, you moron.

“Those are beans,” I said, half looking around to see if I was being punked. “They’re on sale two for six dollars. I saw the sign. I didn’t see the sign for the peas . . . or . . . the peas themselves.”

He ignored me. “Well, lady, you aren’t going to get the sale price.”

“What price are the beans coming up as?”

“Three dollars each.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll take those.”

Apparently, we need to start teaching people the difference between peas and beans. Other than they’re both green.

Dare I get too cocky, as I walked out of the store, smirking at his idiocy, I realized that too often I’ve also perpetrated that kind of proud and self-assured ignorance.

Several years ago while teaching at a conference in the Toronto area, I had a friendly debate with a Canadian about the fact that Toronto sits on the bank of Lake Erie (it doesn’t). The Toronto resident tried politely to assure me that it sits on the shores of Lake Ontario (it does).

But no, in my arrogance I dove face-first into stupidity and reiterated that I had flown over Lake Erie to get there, and therefore Toronto was on Lake Erie. To be fair to my poor, misguided, albeit woefully oblivious, pride, I had actually flown over Lake Erie—and then I flew over the other lake while apparently I was napping or having my brain sucked out by the thin air at 30,000 feet.

When I realized the truth about Toronto’s location, I was mortified that not only had I been wrong, but I’d acted so arrogant about what I thought was truth. If I could have found that woman, I would have eaten any amount of proverbial crow to apologize to her. (At this point, I can only hope she reads this blog post.)

How often do we rush into judgment and make comments about something we do not really know or understand? How often do we catch snippets of gossip or biased news that the media hands out and jump to conclusions without practicing due diligence to discover the facts? How often do we blurt out first without considering someone else’s experience, expertise, or reality?

For me, the answer to the above is that I do those things too often. If I make a comment and then someone corrects me (correctly), I should accept and shut up so that perhaps I can learn something. But no, in my glory, I blaze a trail through Stupidville, reiterating my point and proving that I shouldn’t just blaze a trail there, but set up residence.

As Abraham Lincoln once said (also attributed to Mark Twain), “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

The Bible sums it up this way: “Even fools seem smart when they are quiet” (Proverbs 17:28, CEV).

For my young cashier friend, I could have grabbed the bag from his hand, pointed at the beans, and shouted, “Ha! They’re beeeaaaannns. Not peeeeas. Score!” Yes, I would have been right with that fact, but oh so wrong with the way I handled it. And to what end?

I appreciate the way my Canadian friend handled me. She stated the truth and when I continued to disbelieve her, instead of pulling out her phone and showing me Toronto on her Google maps, she simply smiled kindly (leaving me my dignity) and then changed the subject.

Some facts matter and we should set the record straight. But beans versus peas and Lake Erie versus Lake Ontario? It really doesn’t matter. We can let it go, let everyone maintain their dignity and respect, and look a whole lot smarter than we might actually be.

So the next time we’re set to dispute something someone else has said, perhaps it’s better for us to keep silent. If the other person is wrong, then they will show their own foolishness. And if we are wrong, no one will be the wiser.

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The Old Fashioned Way FB study group starting–June 1!

TOFWA small group of Old Fashioned fans has recently formed an independent FB discussion page devoted to the film and will actually begin a study of the official companion book, The Old Fashioned Way (by yours truly, Ginger Kolbaba) on June 1. So cool!

If you’re interested in becoming a part of that online group, you can learn more/join here:

If you’d like to know more about The Old Fashioned Way or see a cute little video that “Clay” and “Amber,” the lead characters, made, you can do so here:

Also, you can download the first chapter for free here:

Would love to have to join and hear your thoughts on living and loving the old fashioned way . . .

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Injustice that Breeds Injustice. And What I Can Do About It.

I saw something last evening that has kept me up all night. The image of it has seareAbused puppy1d itself into my unwilling brain and I am shocked, as I so often am by such atrocity, at the level of malice within a person’s heart.

Who could do such a horrible thing? I wondered. And why? What possible explanation could there ever be to commit that kind of an act?

And I realized what it was.


Two days ago I read about a dog walker in Chicago caught on video brutally kicking a beagle puppy. When someone hurts an innocent, loved creation of God, that’s evil. Just reading the story, I felt my blood pressure rise at the injustice of what had happened to that innocent animal.

But what could I do? I was miles away. And . . . what? I show up at the Alone at Home Pet Care office and give them a piece of my mind? Take a tire iron to the guy who did it and ask him how he likes it?

I may dream of doing those things, but even if I could exact revenge, would it change his heart? His behavior? His attitude?

And so I read the article, grew angry, and then had no ability to do anything about it. Such seems to be the case with every injustice that I read about in my newsfeed or on Twitter.

Then last night I clicked on a story about how people from all over the world have donated money to help a stray dog who is fighting for her life after her muzzle was taped shut for days. As I scrolled down, my eyes fell on the photo.

Abused puppy2It led to shock. Anger. Frustration. And more than anything I wished that I could unsee that image.

I went to bed with it still hanging in the forefront of my mind. I prayed that the perpetrator(s) would be caught. That justice would be served. That the 15-month-old puppy would survive and find a forever home filled with people who love her and treat her with the respect that belongs to every creature God has fashioned and formed.

I tossed and turned as I thought about the kind of evil that exists that pleasures in that type of torment. And one word floated through my mind: pain.

That type of evil exists because the person attached to it has suffered immense pain of his own.

When we suffer, we have two directions we can go with that hurt.

We can find help and restoration and healing. We can choose to allow that to shape us into a person of compassion and empathy and change our world for the better—where injustice breeds justice.

Or we can choose to allow the pain to rot within us and fester the open wounds until we become people capable of committing violent acts and creating a world where injustice breeds injustice.

This person or persons opted for the latter.

How deeply must a person hurt to think that taping a dog’s muzzle shut and leaving her to suffer and die in such a way is an acceptable action? What level of unhappiness and instability must a person have moment by moment?

Make no mistake: there is no excuse for this kind of act. Finding and arresting that person is the right and just thing to do. We should and must have a zero tolerance policy for cruelty of any type. Period. Over and over the Bible tells us to fight for justice (such as Isaiah 1:17 and Micah 6:8).

But ultimately, that isn’t enough if the deeper wound and sin problem isn’t handled. “Guard your heart,” the biblical proverb says, “for everything you do flows from it.”

To my surprise, I found myself lying in bed, praying for this person. That God would convict and help him realize what he’s done. That God would send someone into his life to help him choose the good and honorable path—the path that leads to redemption and healing and forgiveness. That God would help him make things right. Ultimately, that God would change his heart. Because that’s where true justice really begins.

And this morning, I am no longer frustrated over reading about injustice and not being able to actually do anything to change the situation. Because I can.

I can donate money. I can volunteer to help other abused animals. I can adopt. I can advocate for the innocent. I can work to create and change laws. I can serve. I can educate. I can write. I can speak. I can cry. I can pray for the victims and for their needs and hurts. But the most powerful agent of change is that I can pray for the perpetrators who need a spiritual heart transplant. I can pray that they will truly understand the evil that lurks within and see the sustaining and unresolved pain that allows it to remain and grow. I can pray that they will encounter good and compassionate people who will help them make different spiritual choices. I can pray that they will be filled with a changed heart that longs to repent and actively work to breed justice out of injustice.

How different would our world—could our world—be, if when we read or hear about some injustice that has occurred miles from us, and we think we have no recourse, we pray intensely for the perpetrators to find healing. That they are brought to physical justice, of course, but more so that they discover a way that leads to a lasting heart change.

May it be so, oh Lord. May it be so.

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10 Commandments of Dating—the Old Fashioned Way

OF movie promo shot_Fireside

  1. Thou shalt not stay out after eleven with a person of the opposite sex, for nothing good happens. Thou shalt also be aware and careful of how much alone time you spend with a member of the opposite sex, for nothing good comes from that temptation, either. It’s a conscious decision. You are, in advance, making a choice about what will happen.
  2. Thou shalt actively listen to the other person and give him or her thy full attention. For much is said when nothing is said. And much is said when everything is said—but only if you listen without trying to rush into getting your own opinions across. Everyone wants to be heard. Thou shalt always attempt to hear.
  3. Thou shalt keep a check on thine emotions. Don’t give them away any time, any place, to anyone. Do not rush into giving away your emotions, for once they are “all in,” there is little hope to control them in a healthy way. Nor shalt thou overanalyze every single thing another person says or does to figure out some deeper meaning. Nor shalt thou overspiritualize: “God put it on my heart that you are the one for me.” If God put it on your heart, he is big enough to put it on the other person’s heart as well.
  4. Thou shalt set ground rules up front, for both parties must be on the same page or thou willst fall prey to temptation. Thou shalt not try to set ground rules in a bedroom in the middle of hooking up. Thou shalt also not try to set together time in the middle of the Super Bowl or March Madness, when one party wants to have deep, meaningful conversation and the other wants to actually just watch the game.
  5. Thou shalt not use “I love you” like air freshener. Words matter. Don’t say things you don’t mean.
  6. Thou shalt hold the door for another. Look for ways to serve the other person. Are you looking for ways to serve or just what you can get from the other person? Treat the other person with respect and dignity. Every woman is someone’s daughter. And every woman is a daughter of God. Every man is someone’s son. And every man is a son of God. Think about that in terms of how you treat the other.
  7. Thou shalt not waste anyone’s time, including thine own. Are you ready? Are you in a place where you bring something healthy to another person? Or do you need to take a season to ready yourself? Along these same lines, thou shalt lighten up. Don’t be so desperate. The Lord’s timing is perfect but can be frustratingly long and slow for us. Use the time well, preparing yourself, getting to know and become comfortable with yourself. Work at truly respecting yourself, using the gifts God gave you, and appreciating the treasure you are as God’s special creation, made for a special purpose. Thou shalt not settle just because you want a date on Friday night or because everyone is hooking up or getting married. Thou shalt avoid comparing thy situation with someone else’s—in particular if that someone else makes you frustrated, sad, jealous.
  8. Thou shalt be ready to be considered different. Embrace that. Old fashioned is like the eighties punk-rock scene. Embrace it boldly and without apology. Live intentionally because you owe no reason or explanation to anyone else—you are living in light of God’s choices for you, and that is enough.
  9. Thou shalt remember that thine old fashioned way is not a set of rules that other people must follow. Don’t turn your old fashioned way into the world’s. You can pursue it with diversity and still be on the same path, moving in the same direction. Continue to seek God’s direction for your path.
  10. Thou shalt pay attention to the original Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20). They’re much better than mine. Follow the actual ten and the other two (see Matthew 22:36-40). Remember, this world is a battleground, not a playground. Pay attention. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And thou shalt make a habit of inviting God into your choices.

{Excerpted from my book The Old Fashioned Way. Published by Tyndale House Publishers. Get your copy here.}

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My Mother-in-law Is Gone. Here’s Why I’m Celebrating.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”Ruth 001

Johnny Mathis bellowed out his pronouncement over the speakers as I rolled a cart filled with my mother-in-law’s possessions down the hospice hallway.

How ironic that this song would play right then. My mother-in-law was dead.

My husband, Scott, and I arrived at the hospice facility a little after 1 p.m. Ruth, my mother-in-law, was lying on her side, her hands motionless by her face. The room held the faint scent of clove and peppermint, courtesy of scented sticks a niece had brought the night before, and soft religious music played from an iPod on Ruth’s bedside table.

Scott and I greeted Ruth and talked a bit to her, telling her about the overcast weather and what day it was—December 20—and how much I looked forward to the next day, the shortest of the year: “My favorite because it promises the hope of longer days ahead.” I read her two Christmas cards that had arrived earlier. Then I took a cool washcloth and gently stroked her face. With eyes firmly closed, she lifted her eyebrows and let them drop again, the only communication now left to her.

Apart from the occasional gurgling cough, Ruth was quiet. Everything was peaceful.

Less than two hours later, after she was repositioned to lie on her right side, we noticed that a more pronounced rattle came to her breathing. My sister-in-law had mentioned that reading Scripture aloud seemed to calm Ruth, so I decided to read to her and asked Scott to pass me her King James Bible.

Scott handed it to me and then caressed his mom’s head and arm. “I love you, Mom.” Then he stepped out of the room to make a phone call, and Ruth and I were left alone. Her loud rattling breath joined the sound of the music, making for a disharmonious symphony.

I flipped toward the back of the Bible, to Philippians, the book of joy. But as I didn’t care for that translation, I picked up my phone and pulled up a more contemporary one. I skimmed through chapters 1 and 2, trying to figure out where I would begin to read.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound” whispered from the iPod. Rattle breath in, rattle breath out.

I moved on to chapter 3. My eyes landed at the end of the chapter. This is where I would begin.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

The rattling stopped.

Immediately I looked up from my phone and listened.

“Mom?” I touched her face and then her back to see if she had even the slightest movement. Perhaps she had fallen asleep and had gone back to her earlier breathing pattern.

But I felt nothing. Her eyes were slightly open. She was gone. She had slipped away without flourish or flurry or fanfare.

Ruth always liked to say, “Absent from the body; present with the Lord.” Now she had experienced that reality.

I went to find Scott, and after he checked on her, he retrieved the hospice nurse to go through the formality of making her death official.

Sometime later, after we notified Scott’s brother and sisters, comforted Ruth’s sole remaining sibling who showed up to visit, and gathered her things, Scott and I again sat next to Ruth’s bed, just the two of us.

“You’re with Jesus now, Mom,” Scott whispered. “You’re seeing Jesus.” He caressed her now-cold hand. “I prayed for a miracle.” His voice was filled with pain. “Every day I prayed for a miracle. I don’t understand . . .”

I could have answered with every platitude I know—those things that many people utter to offer comfort after a person has died. I wanted to say anything to ease the burden that my husband carried, that I carried. Instead, I said simply, “I know.”

Within a few moments, he continued. “I’m going to miss my mom. I love my mom. But I’m okay that God allowed this. She’s free now.” He paused. “We need to celebrate that she’s in heaven.”

Scott’s words reminded me that we needed to celebrate because, as I had just read, Jesus had transformed her “lowly” body so that she could “be like his glorious body.”

I do not understand suffering and death, but I know that even in that, God has a purpose. And he allowed us to see glimpses throughout this entire experience.

Of all people to be with her at the end of Ruth’s life journey, for whatever reason, God orchestrated that it would be Scott and me—Scott, who had days earlier commented that he didn’t need to be with his mom when she died, and me, a second-rate daughter-in-law, who’d struggled in our relationship to find my place in her graces.

And I suppose that may be why we were gifted with that sacred honor. God seems to do that a lot; he chooses the unqualified and often least-likely folks and gifts them with holy moments.

Christmas is this week and an amazing and grace-filled part of the nativity story is that God surrounded the birth of his son with the unlikeliest people: a barely teenaged girl, a tradesman, a bunch of animals, and some shepherds.

God took on the form of a human and lived among a community of the most unlikely people—fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes. Then he gave up his life—dying among thieves and soldiers—as a sacrifice so that the most unlikely people—me and Ruth and you—could live beyond this earthly life.

We still grieve. We still suffer in the loss of a woman deeply loved by God and her family. And as we do, at the same time we can celebrate. This is the mystery of joy: that loss is never truly loss when couched in the birth of Christ.

So as I slowly pushed the cart down the hallway, past the other rooms filled with terminal patients, and outside to a world soon to be filled with the bustle of funeral planning during the week of Christmas, I realized that perhaps Johnny Mathis’s crooning about this being the most wonderful time of the year wasn’t so ironic after all.

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Where Is Joy in the Suffering?

Dave and Ruth_Dec 2014Today I sit at my mother-in-law’s bedside and watch this saint of God fight her final life battle. A month ago she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Her bladder cancer of almost three years prior has returned with a vengeance.

Her beautiful white hair that she always so meticulously washed and curled now lays matted against her head. Her breathing is labored. Her eyelids flutter every so often, letting us know that she is still awake—although she no longer opens her eyes. She doesn’t eat or drink. She barely moves. And she no longer speaks. But she grunts softly when we tell her we will pray with her.

My husband stands at the foot of her bed and every once in a while reaches out to touch her leg. My brother-in-law holds her hand, gently massaging it, and she is able to lightly squeeze and hold on. He removes his glasses and bows his head and allows tears to peek out from the corners of his eyes.

I look up at the date scrawled hastily across a dry erase board by her bed. One week to Christmas. As the world prepares for the Christ child—the messiah—to enter, we quietly, soberly prepare for the woman who gave life to leave. Such a strange dichotomy. And yet so intricately interwoven.

Outside this hospice room the world barrels by, doing life, unconcerned and unaware of its fragility, of its sweetness, of the gift of breathing and smiling and locking eyes with another person. Those gifts are fading for my mother-in-law.

I blink hard and sniff, trying to hold back my own tears. And soon a thought slowly drifts into my mind, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! . . . The Lord is near.

I shake my head. How? How do we rejoice always? Where is the joy in this?

I know the obvious: She’s going to a better place. She will experience love and peace as she’s never known. She is preparing for another life—one with new gifts. Gifts of locking eyes with her savior and experiencing things we can’t begin to fathom. I can rejoice for her.

But how do we rejoice when we are left behind? When we will continue to struggle and suffer? When life will never be the same? When the void will threaten to overtake us? Where is the joy then?

And I know.

The Lord is near.

He is near to the brokenhearted and “saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). We can rejoice because “the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5).

And it is enough.

The room is dimly lit. I reach over and run my fingers through my mother-in-law’s hair. I tell her about my day. And I am grateful for that simply-ordinary, nothing-special moment. That moment that has become sacred and oh-so special. And in that instant, I realize I have much to rejoice over. Even in the darkest time, I have found joy.


Procrastination does crazy things. It makes us wait for “just the right _______________ (fill-in-the-blank).” And often that makes us miss all the other wonderful opportunities that may not be perfect but that certainly work well enough.

In my case, I wanted to wait for just the right muse to share just the right idea to begin my blog. But in waiting, the muse never seemed to come. Over and over I had ideas to write on, but they weren’t that “perfect opener.”

So last night as I sat with my mother-in-law, who is in her last days, I realized that I could possibly end up waiting so long that I never accomplish anything. So this morning I wrote what is now my introductory blog post. It certainly isn’t upbeat or happy—something you’d expect from a blog on joy. But I guess it’s much more real this way.

I don’t need to chase after happiness when life is good. It’s in these dark moments that I need joy to chase after me and embrace me with a fierceness. Last night, joy did exactly that. And I’m so grateful.

As we take this journey toward joy together, I hope you’ll find a joy that chases after you too. And may we discover new things about ourselves that will leave us breathless, wondrously in awe, and overwhelmed with an inexplicable peace, insight, and wisdom. Welcome to a life of embracing the mystery of joy as we call on our souls to awaken.

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