When events around us feel stressful and difficult, it’s easy to believe that is the way it has always been and to be discouraged about how life will be in the future. The toil and drudgery of everyday life is all that we can see. We live according to our beliefs, so when we start to see things in negative terms, we respond in a negative manner, even when those events are positive or neutral. It can become a negative spiral that’s difficult to stop or change.

Of course, burying one’s head in the sand about real problems and real stressors is never the answer. They should be addressed in the best way possible. And then it’s time to find ways to reduce stress and get back on track. Previous blogs on this site have addressed reducing stress, so look back through the archive for more ideas on that.

Gratitude practices are one way of working with difficult situations we encounter. Being grateful for what we do have is often counter-intuitive when we feel life has beaten us down and nothing will change. We may have to look for it in tiny corners of our lives, but we have built good things into our lives, and acknowledging them allows us to see the hard work we have put in to ourselves. Gratitude is a simple act of appreciating what is good in our lives, however small – good food, a conversation with a friend who lifted us up, a few quiet moments alone with a cup of coffee and a book.

The step beyond gratitude, however, is looking for joy. Some people do this rather easily and don’t even have to think about it, but most of us have to find the joy in our lives, especially at times of stress and trouble. We tend to think of joy as being a huge and overwhelming emotion that we get when great things happen in our lives. Although that is an experience of joy, most of the joy in our lives comes in much smaller doses, so it’s easy to miss.

Finding joy involves being open to small and joyful things that happen every day, and possibly, going out of our way to seek out these experiences. I think of joy as coming in those quiet moments when you secretly smile when thinking about something that happened and that you are remembering now or the things that really touch you when you tell someone else about them. I find joy in a text message that just reminds me that someone is thinking about me and cares about my day or in the offer of help when I am struggling with too many things I am trying to carry. I find joy in seeing pictures of my friends’ sleeping or smiling babies on the internet – because that pure joy is so contagious. I find joy in the kindness of strangers and in unexpected acts of love from others. I find joy in the antics of my pets.

I encourage you to find joy in your life in all the small and unexpected ways that it happens to you. The more you seek joy, the more you will notice it, and the more it will find its way into your life.