15 Ways to Cultivate Joy in Your Life

A friend told me recently of a trip he and his wife took to Hawaii several years back. After dropping his wife off at the terminal for the flight home, he was the only person on the rental car shuttle. He recalled the shuttle driver’s words: “I think I need to go on vacation.” My friend laughed when he told me this. Where do you go on vacation when you live in Hawaii?

Having friends who used to live on one of the Hawaiian islands, I know that wherever you live, life is never all blissful. In fact, one side of my house looks over a little cabin serving as a VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) year-round. And God seems to use it to tap me on the shoulder: Just a reminder. You live in a place where a lot of people go on vacation. 

It’s good for me to remember this during points of my life when I’m feeling weary: As I wait to hear back from publishers on my book proposal. As I wait to see if a teenager’s course will correct. As I stumble through days, hoping God will reveal why I am in this country and not in that one, but knowing He doesn’t have to. I think of my friend’s advice from his days caring for his wife as she slipped from his fingers with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): Thankfulness is an off-ramp from suffering.

There is a Harvard study which shows that happiness is closely linked to gratitude. Yet as a mother, a wife, a woman—it’s all too easy for me to lose my gratitude. I often run circles chasing what I want, chasing what isn’t to be, and never finding gratitude. When I am in a slump, I overlook the fact that I live in my own kind of Haiwaii. If the eye is the lamp of the body, it’s possible mine has a dimmer switch.

My mind’s lens zooms past God’s rich generosity—which are scattered like love notes everywhere—and zooms in upon the one letter I wanted which has yet to arrive. Along the way, somewhere I bypassed my gratitude and joy for what I have. Sometimes I even conclude, He loves me not. 

But who knows? Maybe someday I’ll look back and think, That was actually Hawaii, right there. I was living in it. Or at least, a whole lotta parts of Hawaii.

So much of my joy, I know, is training my eyes to see.

Some days I have to really train my eyes to see God’s blessing. On those days, I come back to this list of 15 easy ideas towards happiness, via gratitude. This is my lifeline on days when I’m down. Maybe you’d find them helpful too. Just pick a few—and then go big.


  1. Set a goal of how many people you’d like to thank today. Meet it.
  2. Before you get out of bed, thank God for 10 things. Mean it.
  3. Write a family member a quick card or text, letting them know you’re grateful for them. Get specific.
  4. Sing a song of gratitude as you wander around the house or do your chores. (I mean it.) It’s usually lyrics appropriate to my situation that set me off, such as When you don’t move the mountains/ I’m needing you to move. . . I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you.
  5. Send one thank-you note to someone who is underappreciated this week. Repeat for three more weeks.
  6. Keep a gratitude journal nearby as you work. Jot down one thing every hour.
  7. When someone praises you, return the praise back to God, without whom we can do nothing (John 15:5). Make sure you also thank any other people who pitched in.
  8. Thank God and the cook before you eat.
  9. Find at least one person in your community, your child’s school, or your workplace that is underappreciated, and thank them in person sincerely for their work. Sharing our gratitude openly with each other is like a gift exchange!
  10. When you hit a slump in your emotions or freak out about something, take a quick thankfulness inventory.
  11. Cover a cupboard door, a window, a fridge door, etc. with sticky notes of things you’re thankful for.
  12. Take at least one action point from your thankfulness: I am so thankful to have great kids; I’m going to go snuggle with them. I love where I live; I’m going to open the windows. I am so thankful for good health; I’m going to go on a run. 
  13. Work toward becoming the most grateful version of yourself—not out of an “I’m the best!” attitude but out of humility, understanding that anything we have, we received from God (1 Corinthians 4:7).
  14. Play a quick “thankfulness game” with your family or your friends at the dinner table or in the car: What are you thankful for right now? What’s great about your life?
  15. When someone asks how you’re doing, answer truthfully. Then mention at least one thing you’re genuinely thankful for.


This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

1 reply
  1. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Thank you, Janel. Your analogy of living in Hawaii and longing for a vacation is spot on for me. I’m sitting in the blessings I asked God for with a lot of disappointment and complaints. I found this article through a Google search after a long week of feeling hopeless. I don’t think I’m a generally ungrateful person, but I can see that I’m struggling with letting go of my expectations. And that is certainly interfering with my gratitude! I appreciate your suggestions. Thank you for offering more than platitudes!


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