15 Ways to Cultivate Joy in Your Life

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA 

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.

How Much Fun Should A Christian Have?

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun than I have in the last couple of years. I’ve been self-employed and my wife has been in school. Since our schedules are so flexible and we have no kids, we’ve taken some pretty amazing trips.

For instance, we just got back from a week in Las Vegas where we caught quite a few shows and toured nearly every casino on the strip. Or a couple of months ago, we took a flight to New Orleans one day just to eat Cajun food—we literally flew in that morning and out that evening, just for gumbo and beignets! We’ve also been to Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico this year. We’re seriously into this “fun” thing.

But how many trips to Las Vegas does it take before I’m having too much fun? Where should Christians draw the line? How should we view fun?

These are questions worth exploring and the Bible does give us helpful principles to live by. On one hand, 1 Timothy 6:17 tells us that God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. On the other hand, we’re called to a higher purpose: do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, make disciples, care for the widow and orphan in their distress, live a life of holiness. . .

They may seem to be conflicting concepts; but they aren’t. In fact, I’m convinced having fun can be a way to bring us closer to God. Renowned theologian C.S. Lewis, in Reflections on the Psalms, said it like this: “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.” The question we need to consider is this: What does our enjoyment praise?

When we acknowledge the Giver of the things we enjoy, we get a chance to praise the Giver of that enjoyment. Could it be that Christians are best equipped to get the maximum pleasure out of every drop of life, because we can praise the source from which it originates from?

Pleasure is meant to be a good thing. It’s a gift.

At the same time, if we aren’t careful, there is a point at which pleasure becomes hedonism. Hedonism is when the sole goal of our life is to experience pleasure. As believers, that’s a cheap way to live; it completely ignores the purpose God has for our lives.

So, at what point does pleasure turn into hedonism? That line is different for each one of us.

Here are three questions we should ask ourselves occasionally to help us test whether or not our enjoyment is misplaced.


Am I becoming addicted to the fun?

It’s far too easy to use fun as a distraction. Wine, travel, television, Candy Crush Saga . . . you name it. They all make wonderful distractions from the realities of life. But that same escapism can quickly become an addiction, which is a form of bondage. In Galatians 5:1, Paul tells us, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” He’s referring to circumcision in this passage, but the principle applies to any form of bondage—bondage to a law, to addiction, or to anything that God isn’t calling us to do.

Enjoyment should feel like freedom, not like bondage.


Am I neglecting my purpose?

If the pursuit of fun keeps us from accomplishing God’s call on our lives, it has turned into hedonism. That’s not to say there’s no room for vacation. For instance, if you’re a pastor, it’s okay to take a week or two off; the calling is eternal, but the role is not a rigid routine. Even missionaries take vacations. My dad, who runs a missions agency, actually requires his missionaries to take time off and recharge. It’s a sort of a Sabbath rest so they can be more effective in their roles.

But if tons of vacations prevent us from being able to be generous or to make an impact on those we’re called to, we’re neglecting our purpose. God has called us to make an impact where we are. Don’t let the pursuit of fun get in the way of that.


Is this pursuit of fun coming from a mindset of entitlement instead of gratitude?

“I deserve a vacation” is something nearly everyone has said at some point in our lives. But the truth is, we don’t really deserve anything. Instead, it is the grace of God that allows us to have good things. We don’t deserve a vacation, but because of the grace of God we get one. That mindset is critical to proper enjoyment as a believer.

Can we change our perspective in enjoyment to one of gratitude? We’d have a much better time, and we’d have the opportunity to praise God who gave us that enjoyment.

There is a time for enjoyment, just like there’s a time for work. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. . . a time to plant and a time to uproot. . . a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3) It’s a call to enjoy our life in all its different seasons. Have tons of fun. But when the other seasons come, let’s invest the same amount of energy into them.

Do Temptations Come from God?

Day 6 | Today’s passage: James 1:16-18 | Historical context of James

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Two weeks after Christmas, I excitedly ripped open a letter from my mom and chuckled when I found a neatly handwritten thank-you note inside. She had always reminded me about the importance of good manners, and it felt like her note was a genuine thank-you as well as a subtle reminder to send my own Christmas notes. Point taken, I tucked away her letter and sat down to start writing a few thank-you’s.

My mom’s note was a good reminder to celebrate good gifts. And James tells us that whatever is good and perfect ultimately comes from God (v. 17).

Recognizing blessings and expressing gratitude is especially vital when we’re in the midst of trial and temptation; in other words, when it’s most difficult. The Jewish believers during James’ time were likely facing this kind of discouragement. At times, it’s possible that they even questioned God’s goodness. Were these trials and temptations from His hand?

But James gently reminds us that not only does God never tempt us to do wrong (1:13), He never gives us a bad or evil gift. The suffering of this world is a result of our brokenness, of the imperfect world, and of the deceiver Satan.

God is the source of all good things. He is not like a shifting shadow; He is constant and faithful (v. 17). Let’s not allow anything to persuade us otherwise.

And as if to address those of us who are still not convinced, James proceeds to remind us of the greatest example of God’s good gifts to us: the offer of salvation and redemption (v. 18). This is God’s ultimate gift of grace to us.

“In this world, you will have trouble,” Jesus said. But do you know what He said next? “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). That is another good gift—the assurance that our Savior has overcome.
Today, let’s look out for the good and perfect gifts in our lives.

And perhaps a thank-you note to God wouldn’t be amiss.

—Karen Pimpo, USA

Questions for reflection

1. When are you most tempted to doubt God’s goodness?

2. What encouragement does this passage offer to those who face trials and temptations?

Hand-lettering by Sonya Lao

Karen Pimpo lives in Michigan, USA, where everybody complains about the weather but secretly loves it. When she was little, she wanted to be a librarian. Not much has changed. Besides literature, listening to and performing music is one of her greatest joys. She sings and writes to help untangle the knots in her head, and because telling stories helps us realize we are not alone. She endeavors to face the unknowns of life with the naive bravery of Bilbo Baggins: “I’m going on an adventure!”

Read 30-day James Devotional

I Was Wrong About Thanksgiving

I used to think Thanksgiving was cute, like little handprint turkey art projects from third graders. Thanksgiving was mildly entertaining, like whatever football game is on TV when you fall asleep after too much turkey.

But Thanksgiving, I thought, was not important or relevant or meaningful. How could it be?

I’ve always been a little jaded about this particular holiday. A national day of gratitude? Yeah, right. What good is giving thanks for what we’ve got if we spend the very next day scrambling and fighting for the best deals on stuff we don’t really need? Everyone knows that Thanksgiving is really just an excuse to get a day off work. Maybe we’d just be better off without it.

But I was wrong—and I’m so relieved. This year, I’ve learned that Thanksgiving is really not about the traditions or the shopping or the food. The spirit of gratitude it represents is essential to this life. And when we take the time to gather in our homes and break bread and remember blessings with one another, amazing things happen.

In October this year, a few close friends and I had our very first “Friendsgiving”. Yes, it was a month early, and yes, most of us had never made our own Thanksgiving meals before. But we are nothing if not adventurous (and perhaps a little foolish). So we each committed to bringing a dish. And this tiny gathering turned into the most wonderful, eccentric, and heartwarming Thanksgiving meal—but not because of the food.


 The power of gratitude

After the meal, we sat on the couch and passed around popcorn kernels. The game was that everybody had to list one thing per kernel for which he or she was grateful. The first round of giving thanks was easy and lighthearted, and then things started getting deep. We listed blessings like the support of friends in difficult times, deep conversations around unanswerable questions, and God’s faithfulness in storms.

And that’s when our gathering really became thanksgiving. It was the gratitude, not the amazing apple pie, that completed our celebration. Sharing those blessings was a powerful experience, creating a bond between us and encouraging our hearts and bringing us into God’s presence with thanksgiving.

The “Friendsgiving” gratitude game gave me new eyes to see God’s daily provision of things that I normally take for granted. Looking back on the last year, I can see God’s hand throughout my life in ways I couldn’t see in the moment— an overwhelming bill that is now a testament to God’s provision. A scary tumor that is now a testament to God’s healing power. The loss of a friend that is now a testament to God’s sovereignty.

The circumstances we are in right now may not evoke songs of praise, but we are encouraged to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Part of gratitude, I’ve learned, is trusting that God is still present and working in the midst of times that are fearful, painful, or lonely.

The Psalmist reminds us that gratitude and worship are what we were created for. It is fitting for us to be grateful to the One who is always true, trustworthy, just, and loving.

Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord; it is fitting for the pure to praise him.
Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre; make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.
Sing a new song of praise to him; play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.

For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does.
He loves whatever is just and good; the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.
(Psalm 33:1-5, NLT)

I was wrong about Thanksgiving, and my new awareness of gratitude is bringing a fresh perspective to this season. Gratitude is powerful. It moves us to action. It causes us to literally give thanks, but also to give back, to give forward, to show someone else the generous hospitality we have received. And Thanksgiving isn’t complete without it.

I want this heart change to result in action—encouraging others, serving wholeheartedly, praising my Creator. I was wrong about Thanksgiving, and maybe you were, too, but we don’t have to be any more.