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How to Choose Joy One Day at a Time

Joy doesn’t just happen; it’s up to us to choose it daily. Here’s how.

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Each and every day we are tasked with making life choices. One of the most important is to find joy each day. Whereas happiness is shaped by external circumstances, joy is found deep within. Unless we are intentional in discovering the gift of joy in ordinary things, it will not happen.

Daily life offers many paths to joy. Think about having a meal with friends or loved ones. There is beauty in the simplicity of a meal or the elegance of a cuisine. Breaking bread provides time to relax and get to know others in a safe space. Whether you are having dinner with family or lunch with co-workers, the act of eating together and celebrating friendship brings joy.

Meaningful work also offers joy. In addition to his job, my friend Donnie finds joy while working outside in his backyard or on a home improvement project. Joy can come from having a deep sense of purpose and knowing that what we are doing makes a difference to others. When I speak or teach, it gives me profound joy because it allows me to spread good news and empower others.

Helping others—especially without expecting anything in return—brings joy. My colleague Bernardo’s family emigrated from Brazil to the United States before he was born. He remains in touch with his family in Brazil, and many are struggling to find decent work.

During a conversation with a cousin, Bernardo was moved to help his relative get closer to his dream of being a music producer. The cousin told Bernardo how he had an opportunity to live rent free in the Netherlands and work in this industry. When he didn’t have enough money to purchase airline tickets, Bernardo decided that he would help his cousin pursue his dream, so he purchased the tickets for him. Afterward Bernardo said, “What is $1000-$2000 in a lifetime?” Bernardo’s joy overflowed, knowing that he was able to make a difference for his cousin.     

Author and priest Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” There are many opportunities to find joy in the ordinary. We must choose it one act and one day at a time. 

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