by Ellery Frost
Joy is an elusive concept. When you have it, you know it. When you see it, you know it. You can recognize it in someone’s face, in the lines around their eyes, in the corners of their mouth, in the laugh of a child, or the look on someone’s face when they’re surprised by a visit from a faraway friend.
But it’s hard to define exactly what joy is and how to get it or how to hold onto it once you “have” it. The dictionary defines joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” and lists synonyms like delight, happiness, exultation, and radiance.
We’ve probably all heard someone speak or write on the nuances between joy and happiness. How joy comes from a deep well of abiding in the presence of our Savior and happiness usually rests on circumstances. But radiance and delight are the two synonyms that stand out to me.
How do you choose and cultivate joy/radiance/delight in the midst of the upside-down, broken world like we’re living in?
I’ve met a few people in my life that almost have a glow about them, a radiance. Sometimes it’s big moments in life that bring joy—like the look on my sister and her husband’s faces at their wedding reception. I’ve never seen anyone so elated, so radiant with joy. And sometimes it’s the small joys, the feeling of appreciation when you wrap your hands around a mug of steaming coffee and let the aroma waft over you.
Joy is a theme that’s followed me all my life since my name means “deliverer of joy”. As a fifteen-year-old, I had a friend ask me how I was so joyful. That question caught me off guard and made me pause to think. I wondered why I was joyful and how did I keep that up? Now I laugh because I took the question seriously and thought my joy was created by me. But it did lead me, over the next decade, to ponder what joy means, where it comes from, and how to consistently choose it.
There’s a beautiful quote that says joy is an act of resistance.
Joy is a soft rebellion. A gentle uprising. A mutiny against the pressing darkness.
In order to choose joy, you need to determine what the source of joy is. As I Christian, I believe that Jesus is an endless well of joy and that in His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). That means that regardless of circumstances, you can find joy in Him. My joy does not rest in my ability to manufacture happy feelings, it rests in Him.
Here are a couple of practices to cultivate joy:
People say that you become like your five closest friends. If you take a look around at your closest media “friends”—what are they like? What books are you reading? Whose voices are you listening to on podcasts or in songs or in sermons? What news are you ingesting?
Take a few minutes to prune your Instagram feed or your news sources or Spotify lists and really pay attention to the kinds of messages you’re feeding yourself. Are you listening to the truth or are you listening to a lot of negativity? I’m not recommending simply ignoring what’s happening in our culture or giving up reading the news altogether, but I am recommending prayerfully pruning the time and energy you invest in consuming large quantities of news and media. After you read or listen to something, take a minute to check in with yourself and see how it impacts your mood, your energy, and your peace.
Also take some time to consider how you talk to and about yourself. It’s hard to be a joyful person or experience the joy that Jesus offers if you are constantly talking down to yourself or repeating lies about yourself. I was surprised—when I started paying attention—at how often my inner monologue was pretty negative. Having an awareness and slowly replacing lies with Scripture, or negative words with positive life-giving ones, makes a big difference.
Simplicity is a way to cultivate deeper joy because it helps eliminate distractions and gives you the margin to actively enjoy your day. It frees you up from being overloaded with stuff or commitments. The pandemic has had a silver lining for many of us in that it has required us to slow down and simplify. Like Bob Goff says, “It’s easy to confuse a lot of activity with a purposeful life.”
Here are a couple of ways to practice intentional simplicity.
Simplify Your Calendar. This may feel ironic in the middle of a pandemic when all your travel plans were canceled and your calendar is empty, but hear me out. Be intentional with your social commitments—you’re not as likely to accidentally bump into a friend at a coffee shop anymore so intentionally reach out and invest in those friendships you value.
Simplify Your Closet. This one is really hard for me, but I’m slowly finding joy in buying and owning less. I like to think of this as thoughtful shopping. When purchases are made, you carefully invest in a few nice pieces or make sure that what you’re buying is ethically made. It helps pare down your closet when you invest in pieces that support small business and good business practices.
Simplify Your Pleasures. There is joy in simple habits, simple pleasures and actively paying attention to small, daily routines. For me, it’s a recent love of matcha lattes. I find a few minutes (almost) every afternoon to make a nice oat milk matcha latte as my mid-work-day reward. I like those ten minutes of mental space to just whisk and pour and enjoy the process.
Whatever brings you joy on a daily basis—a walk with your dog, the perfect cup of coffee, a few quiet minutes curled up with a book, a phone call with a friend—make space for that and ensure your practice is daily or at least a few times a week.
Nature is one of the most beautiful ways to connect with God. Somehow I feel His presence in nature almost instantly, in a way that I don’t often feel in the confines of a building.
And you don’t have to live in the country or in the mountains to experience nature. (Although I do recommend getting far away from the noise and bustle of humanity every once in a while if you can—find a quiet river, a good trail, or a wide empty beach to wander.) I find joy in being at my parent’s house in rural Virginia but I’ve also found a lot of joy in walking my dog downtown in Charleston, SC and noticing deep purple morning glories against a brick wall or the brilliance of moss on old stones in the sunlight or the pattern of the clouds overhead.
John Eldredge says in his book Get Your Life Back, “If you can get into nature as a soulful practice, it is enormously healing.” Find a patch of grass and spread out a blanket and just listen. Listen to your breath, to the bugs, to the street noise, and soak in the healing power of nature.
Joy also comes from a heart that is turned towards gratitude, towards delight. You can’t create a joyful life without enjoying your days. When was the last time you were captivated with the sheer beauty and magnificence of your life? What would it look like to intentionally choose to be grateful for the ordinary joys that show up throughout your day? A sunrise. A good conversation. The smell of bread in the oven. The perfect ending to a movie.
I am slowly learning the power of gratitude as a daily, moment-by-moment practice, and experiencing the power of delighting in small things.
Even in a world that is wild and uncertain and hard, when our hope is rooted in God, we can become people of joy and people of gratitude. Pay attention to what you’re consuming and what you’re feeding your soul. Fill your heart and mind with goodness and truth. Pick a few areas of your life where you can simplify and create margin. Spend time in nature and let it do its restoring work. And then turn your heart towards gratitude and delight and let yourself be captivated with the goodness of our Savior and the life He’s given you.
As Psalm 34:5 says, “Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy.”
Ellery Frost believes in celebrating joy and creating connection through food, art, and stories. She's a passionate world traveler and writer who partners with nonprofits and humanitarian organizations to bring their stories to life. You can find her at elleryfrost.com and follow her love affair with food on Instagram @therealpersnicketychef.