Sunday, March 20, 2011

Living for all you're worth : 5 ways to get your joy back

Several years ago, my husband and I were engaged in a heated conversation when he turned to me and said, "Dayle, you are one big grouch!"

After my initial shock, I realized his words rang true. Somewhere along the way I had lost my zest and joy for living. I was, indeed, one big grouch.

Following a season of intense self-examination, I identified several areas of my life that needed serious tweaking—all within my power to change.

Here are five things that helped me get my joy back:

1.  Be cheerful.

Being cheerful is a choice. We can’t always be happy, but we can always be cheerful.

Susan is the most cheerful person I know. I recall one winter evening, after dining out with a group of friends, she realized her keys were locked in her car. She wasn’t happy about it, but she remained cheerful throughout the hour-long attempt to get the car open. She laughed. She made me laugh. She sang silly songs. She danced in the parking lot to stay warm. And when at last she drove away, she honked and smiled, as if nothing ever happened.

In the late 1800's, William James was the dean of American psychologists. James battled serious depression and after years of studying his actions and reactions, he came to a conclusion. "By regulating the action,” he wrote, “we can indirectly regulate the feeling.” He went on to say that if you don’t feel cheerful, you should act cheerful and before long, the feeling will follow.

When I decided I didn’t want a tombstone that read: “Here lies a sourpuss,” I put James’s theory into practice and found it not only works, but, with enough practice, cheerfulness can become second nature. Try it. The world will thank you.

2.  Seek out silence.

We need silence. In silence we can think for ourselves, instead of just parroting the opinions we hear around us. We can dream, and devise a plan for fulfilling our dreams.
Silence also puts us in tune with nature, helping us see those often missed gems—strips of yellow sunlight wrapping around a porch, the elaborate pattern of a leaf, a full moon's path across a lake, billowy clouds sailing against an azure sky.

In silence we can hear healing sounds—the mellifluous song of a bird, a gentle wind whispering through trees, the scampering of a squirrel across the ground, the voice of God.

When you stop covering the silence in your world, you’ll be amazed at the pleasures that are there, just for the taking.

3.  Write about past hurts, then let them go.

When I was in counseling many years ago, my therapist asked me to go home and write about a painful incident that had occurred years earlier. She asked me to describe, in detail, the place, time of day, the clothes I wore, the emotions that surfaced—all of it—during that distressing event.

It was an excruciating task, requiring all of the courage I could muster. I cried. I hit the notepad with my fists. But when the words lay quiet in front of me, there came a moment of certain release. And peace. 

I suppose you could say that writing about painful events is, in a curious way, one’s private therapy, a conversation with oneself, a way to identify feelings and thoughts that otherwise might be left like unturned stones upon our souls, heavy and oppressive.

Today, whenever I’m feeling wounded, I open up a journal and write.

4.  Reach out and touch someone.

Much of life is spent obsessing about ourselves and our possessions. But after taking some time to volunteer and mentor, I’m convinced that true happiness comes whenever we reach out and touch another person’s life. It can be as simple as saying “hello,” or as substantial as helping build a house.

Something therapeutic occurs when you help others. Instead of thinking about your own maladies, you feel at peace.  Happy. Content. Thankful.

The great humanitarian Albert Schweitzer said, “I do not know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

5.  Open the door to God.

Nothing is as depressing as feeling like you’re alone in the world. Believing that someone walks beside you, that prayers are heard, that you are loved, that death isn’t final, can be so uplifting, especially in difficult times.

Try creating a special place in your home for praying or meditating. Include a comfortable chair, a small table for holding books or a beverage, a reading lamp, and a light blanket. My faith in God is the nucleus of my joy, and when I take time to pray and meditate, my mind is free of the day’s worries.



This article first appeared in The Dallas Morning News. All rights reserved.

Adapted from the book, Home Improvement: 9 Steps to Living a Joyful Life , by Dayle Allen Shockley (Word Aflame Press).


  1. I love this!! Thank you so much for sharing!!

  2. Peaceful, refreshing reminders--thank you! :-)

  3. Dayle,
    I so agree - at the moment our church is offering "Cottage Prayers." This is what we do: we asked for volunteers to host prayer meetings 1 hour per week through the six weeks of Lent. We have four opportunities throughout the week to seek one hour of prayer with others. It is amazing to me how comforting it is to pray with other Christians and hear their prayers or just to sit in complete silence with them.


  4. Your lists are speaking to my heart, Dayle. Thanks for sharing.

    P.S. I love your new header.

  5. This was a great post and exactly the things I have been doing the past few months after being confronted with my own "grouchiness."

  6. Love this post and the observation by William James. Going to remember this!

  7. Thank you for your thoughts. We can so habituate grouchiness. Often we have our reasons for hanging on to destructive thoughts. We even believe we should. It's wonderful to know we have been freed from them in God. I read this quote this morning:

    'Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.'
    ~ Denis Waitley

  8. Dayle,
    This is wonderful and wise. I am going to fwd it to Chickie.
    Thank you for being such a blessing!

  9. Great post Dayle. In my head, I know those words of William James to be true. (I hadn't read them from him before this, but I mean that I know that concept to be true.) It's nothing but my stubborn old sin nature which refuses to give it a whirl when I'm determined to be grouchy.

    I like your words of wisdom about writing it out. Funny, but as much as I love to write and journal, there are some old wounds that I just can't put on page. And guess what? They are the ones most haunting.

    Thanks for this. It was a great read to start my week.

  10. Excellent post Dayle...seeking silence is so important, how else would you be able to listen for God's voice?


  11. I need to work on #2 and #5.
    Oh, I do have silence but it's what I do or don't do, when I have it.
    And yes, I do pray but I would like to make a special place for just praying.

    So now, I'm putting on a smile and grabging my pen.

  12. Good evening! I read this earlier, but felt somewhat intimidated by "what to sau" (that sounds halfway intelligent!).
    There's so much truth here. That part about remaining cheerful certainly struck a (guilty) chord.
    This post is definitely a keeper! In fact, I'm printing it to keep with my morning "pick-me-up", "take self to task" reading material.
    Have a wonderful new week!

  13. Loved the post, Dayle. All of those things are so important if we want a good quality life. Susan

  14. What a great post! We all need more joy & less grouch. :) Thanks for these helpful tips.

  15. Dayle, your post is exactly what I needed to hear today.Thank you.I'll be practicing cheerful smiles and seeking God in the silences.
    I love your header picture ... especially the gumboots.
    God Bless
    Barb from Australia

  16. Wise and encouraging words that we can all benefit from.
    Dayle, thank you for giving us these great pointers on finding lasting joy.
    God bless you..Trish

  17. 2. Seek out silence.
    This one makes me think of parents who complain to teachers that their child is bored in school. My answer is always that boredom is a choice. Without guiet down-time when would your child have time to think!?

  18. I enjoyed reading this piece, Dayle. Especially the writing down what's on your mind. I find that's one of the best cures for a troubled mind. Wise and helpful words, thank you.


Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle