Finding Joy in the Military Journey

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

Maybe he picked the wrong girl for the job.

That's what I thought after attending a Commandant's Mixer with my new husband -- my first formal social outing after our marriage. And I thought it again when newlywed me would cry every time he had to leave for field time and training. And again while navigating the dos and don'ts of formal wear for our first dining out together, terrified of making a military fashion faux pas and forever ruining our peers' impressions of us as a couple and of my husband as an officer.

So many times I have feared that I won't be able to do this; it's just too hard. I haven't even been through a deployment yet and already I feel overwhelmed by the nuances of my husband's career. As I sat down to write this very article, I found myself thinking, "How am I supposed to tell people about joy when I don't feel it myself?"

But then it hit me.

Instead of focusing on the many opportunities that are open to me as the spouse of a military service member, I was selfishly focusing only on the circumstances of military living that make my life (seemingly) more difficult than "normal" people's lives.

What I should have been focusing on instead is this:

First, joy is not the equivalent of happiness. Happiness is an emotion that is fueled by circumstances, while joy is an unwavering state of being that is fueled by thankfulness in the midst of every circumstance. When I have no joy, it's because I'm choosing not to dwell on the many things that I have to be thankful for, in spite of the madness taking place around me.

Second, the circumstances that make my life difficult are the very same circumstances that give my life the sense of adventure that I've always hoped for. Exploring new places, experiencing new climates and cultures and making new friends are just a few of the things that have enhanced my life as a result of being a military spouse.

Third, on a practical level, being a military spouse has continually helped (forced?) me to acquire new skills. I'm an expert at packing on the fly, I can navigate brand new cities in a day or less and I can bubble wrap the crap out of some breakables. More importantly, I've learned to be flexible, independent, and to find ways to maintain my interests and hobbies regardless of where we move and how many times I start over. Some of these skills may have been developed out of necessity, but they're still important tools for anyone to have and go a long way toward improving my quality of life as a military spouse.

And if you need even more reasons to choose joy, think about this:

Health care: I am far more inclined to go to the doctor when I'm sick and to receive preventative treatment and wellness checks now that my health care is free than I was when I was still paying for it out of pocket as a civilian.

Community: I have found that the communities outside of military posts are incredibly understanding of the military lifestyle and are willing to work with me in ways that they never would have if we were not military. Even more importantly, the military community itself is so welcoming of its brothers and sisters to new places and willing to reach out and make us feel at home everywhere we go.

Food: Not even joking -- everywhere we've been, we have found at least one life-changing restaurant that we don't know how we ever lived without. If good food doesn't bring you joy, then I don't know what will.

Many times the challenges unique to military living can become my main focus, and maybe this is the case for you, too. But when I widen my perspective and take in the full scope of my life and the ways it has changed for the better since becoming a military spouse, it's suddenly so much easier to change my mindset.

Above all else, we as military spouses can always have the pride and joy that come with knowing our servicemember is working for the good of our nation, and that we as family members (and the sacrifices we make as such) are playing a role in this as well.

Joy is not dependent on your circumstances; joy is a byproduct of choosing to focus on all that we have to be thankful for, even when this journey as a military spouse feels like too much to bear. Next time you're feeling overwhelmed, make a quick list of all the things you have to be grateful for and choose joy as you continue on your journey.

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