Want more joy in your life? Try these three things…

It’s pretty amazing that I have enough joy in my life today to write about it.

My gratitude jar

I have survived a lot in my life.

I’ve survived abuse and trauma. Until fifteen years or so ago, I — to put it very mildly — had an unjoyful life. My journey had built up layers of protection, preemptive bitterness… no joy.

I’ve been blessed to learn how to melt those layers, to soften, and to invite and welcome joy.

And to soften some more so I can improve my tolerance for joy — yup, for survivors this can definitely be a thing. It sure is for me.

When you spend years and years and years being in a perpetual bad mood, joy and other positive emotions can be tough to take. You know how the ego finds comfort with the devil it knows.

Are you wondering what you can do to increase the joy in the your life?

Here are my three favorite tools and practices that build and enhance joy.

I’ve been transforming everything about the way I think, speak, and act for going on 25 years now, and I’m living proof that it’s possible to take really positive actions and still be miserable. Like getting clean and sober, for example. I really really wanted joy and all its buddies — satisfaction, serenity, self-acceptance, goodness — to land in my life like flipping a switch. It took me a long time to figure out that like most changes in life, daily (hourly? with each breath?) practice and more practice — in this now moment and the next — is the only way to make lasting changes.

#0. Let’s start with practice zero — the one you need to embrace in order for anything to change. That tool is choice.

The act of choosing to do something positive, and something different (like using any of the three tools that follow) is the game changer.

You can easily (too easily!) perpetuate your misery by thinking, speaking, and acting in this moment and the next the same way you’ve been thinking, speaking, and acting up until this moment.

“Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice.” — Unknown

I know it sounds simple, and I also know that choosing to choose something different and more positive than what’s keeping you miserable is probably the single most worthwhile choice you can make. Even if it feels difficult.

Start now. Choose to keep reading, and choose to try something new or even something you tried once before and then forgot about. As they told me in 12-step: Give it a try for 90 days. You can always get your misery freely refunded to you.

#1. Change your thinking

It’s simple. Change your thinking, change your life. Here’s a tiny bit of the science about this.

You didn’t create your pain and your negative thinking on a whim. In fact, there was probably a really good reason for some of these behaviors in your past. They might have protected you from danger or abuse. What happens, though, is that those protective behaviors become grooved habitual responses and then you’re repeating them and repeating them without even knowing why. These behaviors went from being protective to being your thrown-to way of being.

There are many ways to learn different and better ways to think.

  • Learn and practice meditation — if you’re a newbie, start with lovingkindness or mindfulness. I use apps on my phone that guide me through my daily meditation practice.
  • Zip your lip. Learn to think before you speak. Wait, wait, and wait some more until your habitual responses quiet down and you can think of a more loving response. This saved my ass for all the years it took for my thinking to begin to change. I’d bite my tongue until something someone wiser had said occurred to me and then I’d speak.
  • Know your hula hoop (also known as mind your own business). When you’re feeling victimized and put upon by people, places, and things that are not you and not in your control, envision yourself in the center of a hula hoop and take ownership of the idea that everything that is outside that hula hoop is none of your business. Try it.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
— Mahatma Gandhi

#2. Find and express your gratitude

Gratitude is the one that opened the path to living a transformed life for me. In fact, this blog started out as a gratitude journal.

When I began with this practice, it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t feel grateful at all. I was raising a young daughter who was angry and violent (can’t imagine where she learned those things!). I was miserable. I had just lost my one big client (for the second time). I had plenty of circumstances that made it clear to me that gratitude was a ridiculous idea.

Luckily, by then, I had learned how to be willing. Or willing to be willing, anyway. (Or even sometimes willing to be willing to be….) So I tried. And my gratitudes were gritty (sometimes still are!). Like:

  • I’m grateful I’m not having surgery without anesthesia right now.
  • I’m grateful that my daughter didn’t run away today.
  • I’m grateful there’s no reason to call the police at this moment.

It got better. It’s much better now. On most days anyway. I write my gratitudes on a piece of beautiful paper with a lovely marker and crumple it into a seed and place it in my gratitude jar. At this point in my journey, no one sees my gratitudes but me. If you’re first starting out, it’s juicy and joyful and wonderful to share your gratitudes with someone else. A buddy, your support team….or share them online as I did for years.

Gratitude and deprivation cannot coexist. Try it. If you’re in gratitude, you’re not going to be feeling victimized or sorry for yourself.

“Appreciation can make a day — even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that’s necessary.” — Margaret Cousins

#3. Generosity — do something for someone else

Generosity. Sharing of your time, treasure, and talents. (I just found out that this phrase is from the bible, who knew?) Some say it’s really best to be generous in stealth mode. If that option is available to you, try it; it can be awesome to just give without getting direct thanks in return. I find that either way works just fine.

This was a hard one for me to adopt. I had to act as if I was okay with letting go of anything! And when I did I softened. I found that when I loosened my death grip on MINE! I was open to receive. Generosity and entitlement also cannot coexist. Give, give a little, give a little more, and see what happens. Ways to take on generosity:

  • If you have toll booths in your life, pay for the person behind you (stealth mode!).
  • Carry some cash or packaged food with you and give it to someone who looks like they need it.
  • Smile, just smile, at a stranger or ten.

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” ― Debbie Macomber

So, darling, are you using these tools?

The good news is that with a ton of practice making better choices, changing your thinking, being grateful and generous, you will have more joy in your life, and you’ll not only tolerate joy — you’ll seek and welcome it!

What practices have you tried, and what have you found? Did I miss anything? Share your joy builders in the comments!

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I’m a barely tamed hippie, sage, seasoned, sarcastic (not all the time any more, but still). I’m a mom, a daughter, sister, a neighbor, and a friend. I’ve been on this meandering journey — like you, probably — seeking a better connection to and experience of peace, harmony, and fun in every bit of life. I’m single, quite good at it, and mostly love it. I’m here for the conversations I get to have with you, which these days center on exploring the mystery and beauty of life, work, health, aging, and creative expression. Want to know a little more about me and my journey? Explore the site. Read the blog. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

Join the conversation!

  1. I love your suggestions and your compassion for those who – like me – have had to struggle and work really, really hard to change the direction of their lives. Big love, Reba

    • Reba, big love to you too. Thank goodness changing direction in a more positive way gets a bit easier with practice; otherwise how would we ever….?

      Love and light,

  2. Thank you for your beautiful, insightful article, Sue. Reading your suggestions serves as a reminder and reinforcement that all the work that goes into changing unjoyfulness is hard work that pays off in spades!

    • Hey Melissa,

      Yup — removing the “un” from joyfulness is hard and the best work I do for myself and with others. Thanks!


  3. “Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice.” — Unknown

    Oh my goodness! I LOVE how you lead with this quote and then introduce your three ways to invite JOY into your life. #Truth

  4. Thanks for sharing your own journey and the tools that ultimately helped you to turn your life into a life of joy, Sue! Gratitude even for the little things, is something I could work on for sure. As someone who always looks for the grandiose in every experience, re-framing my thinking sounds like it would serve me well. I appreciate you sharing your own life examples. It made the practice very clear. Giving to others is a big part of my life. Smiles always go miles.

    • Hi Denise, welcome.

      Yup, for me there’s no basking in the joy and grace without first walking through, accepting, and healing the grit.

      Thanks for connecting with me.


  5. I used to want to go to a 12 step program so they could help me find my way to happiness but I didnt find a group for people without addiction, just unhappy. Fortunately I found my way to a personal growth program 20 years ago & learned that everything is up to me & I can just choose. I do daily, Also learned that everything is subject to the meaning I gave it & the light switch went on & I became filled with gratitude for the life I thought I hated. And fortunately, being generous of myself is in my DNA.

    • Roslyn (in my mind I call you Roz, and the story I’ve created is that you’re an east-coast NY area gal like me; am I close?), I think there is a 12-step program or three that does what you were looking for (Alanon and CODA are examples), but you found what you needed, that’s wonderful!

      It’s wonderful to read your words this morning, especially about the light switch, so inspiring!

      Blessed be,

  6. You are very generous in sharing your story and using your experiences the help others achieve joy in their lives — not always an easy journey.

    One of my biggest joys comes from paying-it-forward and being able to help others — personally or from afar.

    • Betty, thanks. To be completely honest, I don’t feel like I have a choice. Transparent sharing — even/especially of the gritty stuff — is a key part of transforming my life for the better. Glad it lands in a good way!


  7. Your article reflects the shining heart your have, Sue! Thank you for sharing your story, especially the deep spiritual meaning of gratitude… Each of us has ALWAYS something to be grateful for… and that is the secret spiritual medicine that heals and uplifts…

    • Millen, thank you! Gratitude is a powerful spiritual medicine for sure! Although, the way I’m going on my mission, not so secret any more. Which is good, because it can be so helpful, right?

      Much love,

  8. There are a pile of to-do’s off to the side but in my line of distraction, yet, taking the time to read and appreciate your talent for expression has given me a spark. My gratitude journal has been ignored for too long, and it shows in my cranky attitude. Ok, so I do have a miserable head cold at the moment, but taking the time to read your wisdom and respond gives me a sense of connection that has been missing. You’re an inspiration!

    • Diane, thank you. Yes, I know only too well (and I’m quoting myself here) — today’s happiness and well-being can’t be strengthened by yesterday’s gratitude.

      Honestly, daily practice saves my ass from its built-in crankiness.

      Let me know how you go!


  9. Thank you for sharing these beautiful, powerful tools, Sue!

    I especially love that you prefaced them with talk of softening…letting go of the hard, inflexible, comfortable certainty of what we know…and allowing for something different.

    • Dana, thank you and yup: The softening is the key piece that allows these transformations to even begin.


  10. Sue, I love your gratitude jar. Gratitude is the practice that always puts me back on track and points the way back to joy. Thank you for sharing your hard-won wisdom.

    • Juliet, thanks. I love writing on the back of colorful origami paper every day and putting them in that glass vase. It gets more and more lovely to behold as I go. And inspires me to find the gratitude one more time the next day!

      Love and magic,

  11. Loved your article Sue and I’m happy to say I practice each one of these … hum, wait, maybe that’s w-h-y I’m happy!

    Seriously, I’m a huge believer in the power of choice, and that may be the toughest thing on your list because we can’t make choices without also being accountable for the consequences. It’s that last part that tends to trip people up, and yet that is the very thing that empowers us. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

    • Marquita, Nice! I think that may really be key. Choosing any kind of new and better behavior is impossible without taking ownership of the cause and effect part — consequences as you so beautifully put it.

      When we can do this at all you can no longer believe yourself to be a victim of circumstance. And when you’re miserable, that’s a really difficult letting go to take on. It’s like I was identifying myself as this dark and bitter woman and afraid to let in the light!

      Grateful for your words, you inspire me as always.


  12. I love that you started with Step #0 because that is that catalyst. You have to make a choice to be happy and then make the changes necessary. Thanks for sharing, very insightful.

    • Summer, welcome here; I’m so glad we’ve connected!

      Catalyst — great word! Choosing any flavor of positive was a difficult choice to make at the beginning. I’ll tell you that practice is the key. I don’t struggle as much any more. Nor do I take it for granted. Make that “daily practice.”

      Love and light,

  13. I love this in so many ways – thank you – and have passed it onto a friend who is facing some difficult times right now. Your sharing of your life with so much courage speaks volumes and makes every word resonate with truth. Thank you for being the person you are and sharing so much love and light in the world.

    • Julia, welcome! And thank you so much for sharing this with your friend.

      Your warm words fill my heart with joy.


  14. “Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice.” — Unknown

    LOVE this quote. Being happy is a choice. Having the courage to change your POV is a choice. I’ve had people in my life (truth be told they are still in my life) who would rather be unhappy in what they know instead of taking the risk of being happy by embracing the different, the unknown.

    • Kimba, Yup, that attachment to the known, no matter how dark, is seductive. And makes that first step toward the light seemingly insurmountable.

      Letting go of my death grip on my misery was not pretty. Nothing was gonna change until I did, though. Nothing was, nothing did.

      Blessed be.

  15. Sue I know this and have struggled this week with doing what I am so good at telling others to do. Gratitude always makes the shift for me as it brings me to a positive state love suzie xxoo

  16. Great article Sue and I can relate to your advice on SO many levels! I especially like your comment “Ego finds comfort with the devil it knows.” Wow is that true!

    One of your tips that especially resonates with me is “zip your lip”. As a young adult, I had some serious anger issues and it took my body rebelling against me, and a very wise doctor, to figure that out. One of my strategies that I still use today is putting myself on a time out whenever I feel my emotions getting the better of me. That one strategy alone has saved me so many times!

    • Marquita, thanks for sharing what works for you. I am also a fan of those time outs. I can tell you that shutting up and waiting until I can be grounded and loving was a key piece in healing the tempestuous-for-years relationship with my kid. And that relationship is amazing now. Proof!


  17. I really enjoyed this. My client who is in death transition was telling me how important gratitude is, especially near end of life. Thank you!

    • Janis, welcome here!

      That’s really moving, thanks for sharing your client’s appreciation of (gratitude for) gratitude!

      Blessed be.

  18. Sometimes I enjoy your posts for what you say, sometimes for what they make me think about and other times both. I think today’s is a “both” as I’m left thinking “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘thank you’, it will be enough.”

    Keep up the good work.

  19. Sue, many of us have been through tough years of abuse. Gratitude comes from that experience and how we made it till here with as less scars as we could. Then that gratitude transforms into generosity. Give people love, something we were deprived of during those years of abuse. Thank you for this amazing post!


    • Zaria, it makes me feel so happy that you’re checking out my work. Yay!

      Gratitude even if, gratitude no matter what, gratitude even for the dark stuff — yup, that’s how transformation happens.


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