Hear me out, especially if you’re prone, as I am, to cynicism.

I just finished reading Rainn Wilson’s Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution, and he raised a pretty thought-provoking point about cynicism:

I propose that the opposite of cynicism isn’t optimism. The opposite of cynicism is joy… Joy knows that negativity is a part of life as well. Joy says that life is hard but there is a place you can go, a tool you can use. Joy is a force. A choice. Something that can be harnessed. A decision to be made.

Part of inventorying my own life in these last few difficult years has been admitting that I, at various times, have given into cynicism – perhaps not entirely, but on too many occasions. And I can share this word of warning to others headed to those same places…

Nothing good ever flowed into or out of my life from cynicism.

Cynicism has always led me to more pain. Deeper anger. Strained relationships. Resentment and bitterness and hostility and unhealthy choices and unhappy days and nights.

If optimism is seeing the world through rose-colored glasses that unrealistically beautify the ugliness that exists around us, cynicism sees through tinted lenses and colors everything darker than reality.

Cynicism, like fear, leads to hate. And hate, as we all know, leads to the dark side.

But joy isn’t something that just happens accidentally to save us from sliding into the shadows. Joy, as Rainn says (and as the Apostle Paul argued in his letter to the Philippians… written from prison…), joy must be chosen. Joy must be cultivated.

But how? I’m sure this isn’t he only pathway, but this has worked better for me than anything else.

Express Gratitude

Consciously, intentionally thinking thoughts and saying words that express thanks for the good things that are is the first step toward joy. No matter our circumstances, there is always something for which to be thankful.

Victor Frankl, the holocaust survivor and founder of Logotheraphy, observed:

The last of human freedoms is the ability to chose one’s attitude, especially an attitude of gratitude in a given set of circumstances, especially in difficult circumstances.

Express Appreciation

While I think of gratitude as taking inventory of things I’m genuinely thankful for in any given situation, appreciation is something tougher to cultivate. Appreciation is choosing to affirm the value of something for which I don’t necessarily feel a natural affection already.

Think: I’m not a fan of _____, but I can appreciate _____.

Express Hopefulness

Optimism sometimes feels a bit empty, as if we’re putting happy masking tape over problems instead of addressing them.

Hopefulness, on the other hand, is believing that redemption and renewal are possible in places that once seemed utterly valueless. Hopefulness believes that things can improve. That people can change. That an actual difference can be made if we find a pathway forward together.

Choosing joy over cynicism requires holy stubbornness. Our inner autopilot has been tuned to steer downward toward negativity. But the best qualities in us are always intentionally developed and not accidentally discovered.

You can be cynical and, even after reading this, roll your eyes at the possibility that joy can be chosen by expressing gratitude, appreciation, and hopefulness. Or you can give it a shot and see the difference between the cynical you and the joyful you.

I’d urge you to choose joy.

Photo by Ahmed Zayan on Unsplash.