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How to Add Joy to Your Life

A group of friends smiling with joy
Sometimes when life feels dreary, it helps to care for ourselves in pragmatic and life-giving ways.

I recently told a friend I was feeling blue about certain aspects of life — specifically the challenges I was facing. She surprised me by asking, “What brings you joy? What activities make you feel happy?” She gave a few examples: Going for a walk in the sunshine. Reading a book. Cooking.

I had to think for a minute. In attempting to keep up with the responsibilities of life and feeling weighed down by my cares, I’d become disconnected from daily rhythms that could lift my spirits.

Chasing joy

This isn’t the first time I’ve navigated emotional doldrums. In “Joy Elusive,” an article I wrote over a decade ago, I reflected on one such slump.

“I had a happy childhood and mostly everything seemed right with the world. But generally, life doesn’t get easier as you get older. You sustain more loss. Some dreams die. And you realize that this world, and even being a Christian, is not ‘safe.’ Nor does it guarantee happiness. And the joy that comes with being carefree can get lost somehow.

I recently came through a difficult season. Actually, let me rephrase that — I’m going through a difficult season.”

At the time, my grandfather had died, I’d lost a childhood friend, and my young son was hospitalized with a mysterious childhood illness. Some seasons feel like a torrent of loss and grief. Back then, I went straight to the spiritual fix, suggesting others in my position draw close to God, practice gratefulness, and continue serving God.

That was fine advice, but I think I ignored the fact that we are physical beings as well as spiritual ones. God doesn’t expect us to march on as Christian soldiers when we are weak and worn out. Sometimes when life feels dreary, we must care for ourselves in pragmatic ways.

I addressed this in “The Unhappiness Lie:”

Along with the spiritual solutions of prayer and trust in God, addressing negative emotions can be simpler than we think. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah wins a major spiritual victory when he defeats the prophets of Baal. In the next chapter we find him running for his life and telling the Lord he wants to die. What a difference a day can make!

In 1 Kings 19:5-6 we read, “And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.”

After that, Elijah was revived and went on a 40-day journey. Exercise, sunshine, a cup of coffee and good company can be powerful combatants to negative emotions. Recognizing this can give us a holistic strategy to open ourselves up to greater joy. Here are three easy ways to add joy to your life.

Identify what brings you joy. As I considered my friend’s question, several things came to mind. A few ideas, such as attending theatrical productions and traveling, were cost-prohibitive. However, as I continued my list, simpler joys came to mind — taking a walk with a friend, blasting some music while cleaning, watching a funny TV show, going to the aquarium (where I have a membership). Make a list of the practical activities — big and small — that lift your spirits. You may be surprised at how many things you can name.

Notice the “happy” in your life. Some weeks I feel like there’s not much to get excited about. It seems I just can’t catch a break and the days are heavy. I recently heard someone say she’s learning to recognize “glimmers” in her day — moments that inspire gratefulness, bring a smile, or warm her heart.

In my women’s small group, we start each meeting by sharing something that brought us joy that week. A compliment from a coworker. A beautiful sunset. Taking a walk with the dog. Spending time with a friend. Regardless of how difficult the previous week has been, I usually must choose between multiple circumstances that brought me joy. Being mindful of joyful moments is powerful.

Prioritize levity. Laughter and levity are critical to a happy life. E.E. Cummings wrote: “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” And studies show that even forcing a smile tricks your brain into feelings of happiness! Once you’ve identified the practices that lighten your spirits, schedule them into your life. Put the walk with a friend on the calendar. Purchase the groceries to make your favorite meal. Watch the funny movie you’ve been wanting to see. Create an upbeat playlist to accompany daily chores.

If you’re in a heavy season, know that God walks with you and can meet every need. As our Creator, He knows part of the solution may be making practical changes to care for ourselves. In fact, He has given us many good gifts to relish, such as good food, friendship, pets, music and natural beauty. By rearranging the “furniture” of our lives to include more of these gifts, we will usher in more daily moments of joy.

Copyright 2024 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved. 

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About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

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