3 Simple Lessons to Be More Joyful

I can be pretty deadpan (or ugly deadpan for that matter). In fact, I’m so subtle with my humor sometimes that I have learned to quickly let people know I’m joking. When I do, I destroy the power my joke had, but I hopefully keep my audience from being angry with me or thinking less of me. I suppose it’s worth the cost of a joke to ensure tranquility. But I digress.

My deadpan manner isn’t just my sense of humor. Since high school I’ve often said I default to an emotional midpoint, somewhere between a peaceful dispassion and a melancholy ambivalence. Some situations simply don’t warrant a passionate response.

What do you think of the new throw pillows, Chip?

Um, good, I think.

What do you think we should do for our office party, Chip?

Pizza, maybe?

How do you feel about periwinkle?

Um, I feel…supportive?

That’s not to say I’m not passionate about things. I am very passionate when I have formed an opinion. I mean, when I’ve taken the time to craft my opinion about something I’m going to try to convince you. This used to get me in trouble when I was young. I was brash and really obnoxious. It’s no wonder my wife didn’t date me until I settled down.

Where I Fall Short

However, whether it’s my static dispassion or my enflamed enthusiasm, where I’ve constantly fallen short is joy. My demeanor when I’m disengaged tells others that I don’t care. But when I’m engaged it says I care so much and you have to care as much as I do or you’re either stupid or dead. (Ok, I’m a little kinder than that in person, but my younger obnoxious self would have agreed with that sentiment.)

My lack of joy was so palpable that after giving a particularly heavy sermon a couple years ago, I was pulled aside by a parishioner who thanked me for preaching. He knew it took a lot of preparation. But then he asked me, “Chip, where’s your joy?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. What did he mean? Of course I’m joyful. Can’t you see how joyful I am? I’m the joyfullest, the joyesty joyfulness of joy. I’m a bright ray of joyful sunshine. Since he was obviously not dead, I wrote him off as stupid.

But he struck a nerve. Why did he think I didn’t have joy? What did that mean that I didn’t seem to have joy? What was wrong with me?

Leaning Toward the Negative

Joy is difficult for me. It doesn’t come naturally, since I’m not a bubbly person. In fact, I tend to look at bubbly people like they’re not all there or at least like they’re hiding how they really feel. I tend to think their bubbly persona is just a mask. I’m not alone, either. There is a tremendous negativity bias that has been studied extensively. It’s why we tend to assume stock market predictions of collapse are more believable than stock market surges. It’s why we see a preponderance of negative political ads. And it’s also why, in general, negative people are seen as more trustworthy.

Church guy hit me pretty hard with this, so I determined I would get to the bottom of this joy thing, and I learned 3 very simple things about joy.

Lesson #1—Joy Is a Reaction

I considered calling this lesson, Joy Is a Result or Joy Is a Consequence, but I didn’t want to make it seem like joy is inevitable. It’s not. This is not a quaint little math formula where X + Y = Joy. To have joy we must feel joyful. And that looks different for everyone.

When I embarked on this journey of discovering and cultivating joy in my life and in my family, I was in the mathematical mindset. I must have sufficient joyful things happen on the left side of the equation to yield joy on the right side.

What I failed to realize is that the Bible is very clear that joy is the result of a life lived in relationship with God, and relationship with anyone is not math. Here are some examples:

So in order to be joyful I have to be in the right place, and that’s in God’s presence. Joy from God is both gracious and surprising. Either way, it’s not a balanced equation. It comes as a result of relationship.

Joy from God is both gracious and surprising. It’s not a balanced equation. It comes as a result of relationship. Click To Tweet

Lesson #2—Joy Is a Reward

This is almost a subset of Lesson #1, but I think it’s helpful to see them as separate. The first lesson can come without any movement on my part except as a result of choosing God over the world. The second lesson is a tighter circle within Lesson #1.

The Circles of Joy

We must start with relationship with God, being in his presence. The joy that comes from that comes much like a sudden punchline. It can take us off guard, suddenly, with no warning. Joy as a reward is more predictable.

When we begin to choose God in our everyday circumstances, we begin to move from a casual relationship with God to a more intimate relationship with our Father. Joy becomes more of a disposition than an emotion. The Bible has several examples of this intimacy and how it brings joy:

The daily grind of working out our salvation is what prepares our hearts for joy. It’s the predictability of tilling and planting yielding a harvest. The hard work of life, when done in right relationship with God, yields the fruit of spiritual joy.

But joy is so much more than happiness in the same way that love is more than attraction.

Joy is more than happiness in the same way that love is more than attraction. Click To Tweet

Lesson #3—Joy Is an Action

The third and final lesson, the inner circle is that joy is something we do. Throughout scripture God’s people are commanded to rejoice. We are to rejoice in worship, rejoice in suffering, and rejoice always. To rejoice because of and in spite of our feelings is the same exercise of faith that loving is. We don’t always feel loving and we don’t always feel joyful. When we choose to act out that love or that joy, that shows the Spirit is in us.

So how does all this apply to my family? Frankly, my lack of joy has been such a burden to my family. I never realized how gloomy I am naturally. Our senior pastor used to call it the Spirit of Eeyore, a perpetual lack of joy. When this stupid parishioner (ok he’s not stupid) called me out on it, I realized that I needed to change.

Now I’m choosing joy, and my family is benefiting. I bought books to teach me how to be funnier (who knew that was even possible…and by possible I mean writing a book like that, not me getting funnier.) I started working out (my mood has improved drastically). I cut out the life-sucking things, and I’m investing my time into life-giving things. And last, I am trying to rewire my brain to choose joy. (As an aside, you should check out this post from my wife on this same topic.)

When I started choosing joy, my family began following suit. Our kids are thriving. We’ve seen growth especially in our oldest who is such a mature 10-year-old. Our marriage is better than ever. Our future, despite the many question marks, seems more exciting and less looming. We’ve been given a hope and a future. We’ve been blessed beyond all measure!


The Finale

I would be remiss not to mention that there is a final joy beyond all experiences we’ve had thus far. It is the culmination of our lives on earth. It is the finale. Until then, I’m going to perk up and enjoy the life God has given me.

But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. And then your master will say to you, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave. Enter the joy of your master.” (1 Peter 4:13) and (Matthew 25:21)

How have you thought through joy in your own life? Please comment below. As always, please subscribe to continue getting encouraging posts from me, and be on the look out for my debut children’s picture book Under the Dancing Tree in 2019 from Elk Lake Publishing.

If you want to check out another great post on joy, check out Yvonne Morgan’s post Fruits of the Spirit – Joy and Peace and follow her on Twitter @YMMAuthor.


22 thoughts on “3 Simple Lessons to Be More Joyful

  1. This could not come at a better time. I think a lot of people have the mindset is just a personality trait, not a practice, and so people that have a tough time during the holidays don’t attempt to find joy, they just find a way to “get through it”.

    1. For sure. I remember it was like that for me after my mom died. I totally understand the idea that the painful times keep getting brought to mind during the times we’re supposed to be joyful. The key is working through it. Thanks for commenting, Jessie!

  2. Chip,

    So many thoughts on this post. First off: who supports periwinkle? I mean, is it blue? Is it purple? I can’t support something that doesn’t even know what it is! But that slip of credibility aside, I love this post. I identified with it in so many ways. This year, when I went to renew my license, I thought, “I’ll smile in the picture. Not a big smile. But you know, I’ll make a pleasant face.” When they handed my license back, I started belly-laughing. Apparently, when I think I am looking pleasantly happy, I actually look miserable and slightly drugged.

    Also, the ‘dead or stupid’ line. How often did I think that?! How often am I STILL tempted to think that, even after age and my own stupidity have mellowed me? Like you, I feel I go from one side of the spectrum to the other.

    This post gives amazing verses with just the right amount of explanation to open eyes. My favorite verse you used was from Ecclesiastes. God gives joy to those who please him. What a beautiful promise. And comparing joy as a choice/action to love as a choice/action is very thought provoking. This is a concept I have never thought about. Thank you.

    1. Hey, listen. I had never even heard of periwinkle until I was in high school. My mom was a very colorful dresser, and she insisted on buying me colorful clothes. I once had a teal suit…but that’s another story.
      That’s so funny about your license picture! I think that’s my fear with the license branch, that I’ll take a picture that looks more suspicious than the stoic mug shot by smiling like a goober.
      That Ecclesiastes verse is an amazing promise attached to a real challenge. What does it mean to please God? That seems like a whole post in itself. But yes, joy is a choice I have to make in my life circumstances…except for the DMV. That place is joyless.

  3. Chip, I think we all can learn to be more joyful, especially in really tough circumstances and trials. Happiness is dependent on our circumstances, where joy is found in God and his work in our lives and therefore it transcends our circumstances. But joy can be so hard to find when we are in pain and walking through grief. It takes practise and using some of your suggestions to grow into someone who experiences joy no matter what we are walking through. I really appreciated your line,“Joy is happiness in the same way that love is more than attraction.”

    1. Joy transcends our circumstances. That’s a great line! Yes, joy is beyond my natural capability, but supernaturally, with God in me, I am more than capable. Great thoughts, Anne!

  4. Hey Chip, we certainly were on the same page this week with joy. 🙂 I relate somewhat to your experience. I think my personality naturally lends itself to see the cup as half-empty. But I used to be more bubbly and joyful. Now, I strive to cultivate joy in my life. And it’s not even about seeing the cup as half-full. It’s about seeing my cup as running over and overflowing with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), including joy!

    I agree 100%, joy comes from an intimate relationship with the true God of heaven. If we worship any idols in our lives, people or things or pursuits or dreams, above the Lord, real joy is lost. I love your circles of joy and that you also note Psalm 16:11, one of my favorites! And this, “Joy becomes more of a disposition than an emotion.” What a great thought!

    1. Yes! Having the perspective that our cups are running over is both crucial and rare, at least in my experience. Do you think it’s important to “fake it ’til we make it”? I think that’s where a lot of people land. It’s as if we have to act joyful when we’re not. So how should the Christian respond? I appreciate your thoughts, Karen.

  5. Thanks for the mention Chip 😄. I think those without Jesus really don’t understand the true joy they are missing in their lives. The joy we find in Christ is an amazing gift that remains no matter our circumstances. I think the two best gifts we receive after salvation are grace and joy and these are what separate Christianity from other religions. God bless.

    1. You’re welcome, Yvonne. And thanks for commenting. You’re right about grace and joy. What other religion talks about those things or at least holds them as central? Only in Christ do we find forgiveness and receive joy.

  6. Well, what comes off of a pizza pan is anything but deadpan.

    I like that you referred to God’s presence because that reality has been coming at me from multiple angles – blog posts, Scripture reading, discussions…, so I find myself thinking more about God’s presence these days. And I have that Blip Blip for Android app running well now. (Thank you for that.)

    Of course, I know God is present even when I don’t hear my Blip Blip but now I will be thinking about joy in addition to other aspects and results of God’s presence whenever I hear those 2 subtle chirps.

    Thank you for your encouragement and steadfastness…and your humor.

    1. Thank you, Stephen! That’s really encouraging to me. I’m glad you liked the post. It’s a constant thing for me to have to remember to practice being in God’s presence. I know he’s always with me, inside me, but for me to put myself before him deliberately is an exercise. But it has a great payoff. In his presence is the fullest experience of joy. Thanks for reading, man.

  7. Wow, this is so much like me! I once missed out on a raise in my first job because I didn’t smile enough (the golden arches wanted constantly smiling people). That is NOT me. I also can come across super intense when I’m passionate about something. The Spirit of Eeyore! That is so funny, and Eeyore was once my spirit animal. He is still my favorite Pooh character.

    It definitely takes effort for me to be joyful, but I try! Great post!!

    1. Thanks, Nicole! It’s so strange that it’s taken me this long to realize it. I guess I ended up with people who were either oblivious to it or accepting of it. Whichever it is, I want to choose to be joyful. Thanks for your comments.

  8. Embracing joy is definitely a game changer when it comes to family relationships and any relationship for that matter. It changes productivity too. I worked for a Pastor that was indeed joyless. His lack of joy rubbed off on the entire staff leaving everyone down in the dumps all the time. It hurt everyone, even the moral of the church body. We got less done, and no felt appreciated. It’s incredible the downer this made on everyone.

    I love these three points you make which changes everything:

    God grows joy in us when the Holy Spirit works in us—Galatians 5:22
    We consume God’s word in order to share it, and God gives us joy—Jeremiah 15:16
    When we teach peace (Proverbs 12:20), act justly (Proverbs 21:15), or speak wisely (Proverbs 15:23) God gives us joy.

    These are critical to finding the joy we need that is infectious to others. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this…they will stay with me! 🙂 Now, I’m going to go read your wife’s blog! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Marcie! I appreciate you supporting redirected.life as well!
      What a difficult situation that must have been working for a pastor like that. Any leader who is contagiously joyless would be a tremendous burden to the team. Everything would feel heavy. I hope the situation resolved well.
      It’s a warning to me that I need to seek joy deliberately in my life. Otherwise, I’ll leave those I lead in a bad way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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