Ambassador of Reconciliation
9/30/12 at 10:39 PM 15 Comments

Joy Is A Choice, Part 4

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Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series presented biblical principles for experiencing joy in our lives. I have continued to think about this topic, and observing and talking with people who live joyful lives has helped me see several more principles.


Copyright Charles Schulz

The most joyful people I know are those who are the most loving. They are always thinking of other people, and their lives radiate love. Instead of putting themselves first, they understand the old adage that the key to joy is putting God first and considering others before themselves:


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:3-4).

Studies show that people who cultivate loving relationships and look for opportunities to show kindness are the most content and the most likely to avoid depression and despair. It’s for our own wellbeing as well as that of others that we are to love our brothers, love our neighbors, and even love our enemies.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…. Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great (Lk. 6:27-28; 35).

In all relationships, whether with family or friends or even with colleagues halfway around the world whom you know only through email, treat others with respect and kindness. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much fun it is to look for ways to show love.

Let all that you do be done in love (1 Cor. 16:14).


Several months ago I was talking with my friend and fellow volleyball player Nancy at a party for her fifty-sixth birthday, and she was telling me about an idea that has become a theme in her life: “movement.” Her goal is to keep moving, both physically and mentally. She has found that making some kind of forward motion every day—doing something a little different or a little better—leads to contentment.

It can start very simply, with small changes, like just taking time to breathe and to notice and enjoy the little pleasures around you. Nancy started walking in the woods near her home, and her short strolls have become long treks. Recently she took me on a walk in her woods and told me more about what she has been learning. She explained that movement clears your mind from the rat race of the world and opens you to take in beauty, which in turn enables you to give out more to other people. Nancy makes it a point to find the worth in every person she meets and to do something each day to enrich someone else’s life. Her amazing gardens, which she and her husband created from scratch, provide a place where she can exercise her creative energy and also bring beauty and joy into her corner of the world.

Talking with Nancy inspired me to do something about my far-too-sedentary lifestyle. Since I make my living on a computer, I was spending way too much time on my butt. I knew in my head that for my own physical and emotional health I should be moving more, and I finally decided to do something about it. I bought a board and clamped it to the handles of our old treadmill that had been collecting dust. I put my keyboard and monitor on the board, and voilà—a treadmill desk. Now I walk as I work. The pace is very slow—just one mile an hour—but it keeps me in motion, and it gives me a sense of wellbeing, both physically and psychologically. I have also started walking with a friend once a week, and I’m trying to be more alert to ways that I can make some forward movement in my life each day.

This is not Ruth Colvin, but she'd probably be right out there playing with these ladies!

One of my heroes for staying active is Ruth Colvin. In 1962, Ruth founded Literacy Volunteers of America, now ProLiteracy Worldwide, and she has been a tireless advocate for literacy ever since. She has traveled all over the world to help people learn how to read and write and to teach people how to teach others. In 2006 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, and the next day she turned 90! She still lifts weights every morning and plays 18 holes of golf regularly and is active in her church and community. I’m sure that her cheerful, upbeat attitude is strongly connected to the fact that she remains active physically and stays engaged in worthwhile endeavors.


It’s important to keep not only your body in gear, but also your brain in gear. Mrs. Colvin is a lifelong learner who keeps her mind active by reading, writing, doing Sudoku puzzles, and participating in book clubs. Her new book, Off the Beaten Path: Stories of People Around the World, has recently been published. The book tells some of her adventures meeting people of very different backgrounds and learning about their cultures and traditions.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the connection between keeping your body moving, keeping your mind moving, and maintaining a positive outlook. The study suggests that kids who are physically active get better grades and have a better attitude:

Research shows that students who earn mostly As are almost twice as likely to get regular physical activity [as] students who receive mostly Ds and Fs. Physical activity can help students focus, improve behavior and boost positive attitudes.

What’s good for kids is good for adults too: keep exercising your body and your brain, and you will view life with more optimism and cheerfulness.


After my husband was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer a little over a year ago, we decided early on that we would try to maintain a positive attitude and keep a sense of humor—for our own well-being and also our testimony to others. I opened a carepages site for him, where I update family and friends about his condition and post prayer requests for him. I started including with each post a “Smile for the Day”—something lighthearted, like a joke, anecdote, cartoon, or youtube video that would make people smile, or laugh out loud. To remind us not to complain and moan, my sister sent us a “No Whining” sign, which is posted in our kitchen. Trying to keep a positive focus and a sense of humor has helped us get through this year, and I believe has also helped other people feel less awkward talking to us, which in turn gives us more support.

Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., calls laughter “a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict.” She says that “nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.” She explains that laughter is good for your health in a variety of ways:

Laughter relaxes the whole body and relieves physical tension and stress.

Laughter boosts the immune system and decreases stress hormones, improving your resistance to disease.

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

Laughter protects the heart by improving the function of blood vessels and increasing blood flow.

The nonagenarians in this video understand what the writer of Proverbs 17 knew thousands of years ago—that laughter is good for body and soul!

A joyful heart is good medicine (Pr. 17:22).


Warrior Women

To keep life interesting and amusing, it’s not a bad idea to do something completely nutty and out of your comfort zone once in a while. A few weeks ago my daughter and I ran in the “Warrior Dash,” a 5K obstacle course race up and down a mountain. So what on earth was an almost-60-year-old granny doing climbing over walls, walking across planks, crawling through mud under barbed wire, sloshing down a giant slip-’n’-slide, and jumping over flames? Doing something goofy to make memories with her daughter and have fun!

A few years ago I went to visit my son in college, and he took me to go skydiving. I wrote about that experience in “Fear, Faith, and Freefall.” I described the experience as “terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.” You know there’s a certain danger, but you feel fully alive.

When you dare to do something that pushes you past your comfort zone into unknown territory, you discover that you can move beyond what you thought were your limits. You realize that you have strength and inner resources that you didn’t know were there, and it gives you more confidence to try the next thing. For you the challenge might be to push yourself physically or conquer a fear or learn a new skill, or maybe to get up the courage to cultivate an unlikely friendship or explore a new idea or pursue a career change. Don’t let fear immobilize you!

The joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh. 8:10)


Always focusing inward on yourself and your problems is a sure way to breed self-pity and gloominess. Conversely, reaching out to help others brings satisfaction and joy. My mom, Phyllis Perkins, is a lifelong caregiver and volunteer. As a registered nurse and mother to five kids, she was always taking care of somebody. For decades she volunteered with many organizations, including her church, Literacy Volunteers, Hospice, Meals on Wheels, Francis House (a home for people with terminal illnesses), and Winds of Agape Home Care Agency, where she helped train certified home health aides.

In 2009, at age 85, she was honored with the Central New York Post-Standard Achievement Award for her outstanding contributions to the community. A year later, she received an honorary doctorate from her college for her service to the Central New York community. Sharing her gifts with others has brought fulfillment and joy, and she can look back with contentment on a life well lived.

Paul commended the believers in Macedonia for giving according to their means and even beyond their means. They found great joy in sharing abundantly, even out of their own poverty:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints (2 Cor. 8:1-4).

If your goal in life is your own personal pleasure, it will probably elude you or never be quite satisfying. But if your goal is to love and serve others, you will discover that joy comes as a bonus. Even if you don’t have worldly wealth, you can be wealthy in generosity. Share what you do have—if not material resources, then time, talent, or a listening ear—and you will find abundance of joy.

So if you want to experience joy in your life, practice the biblical principles from Philippians and throughout the Bible, and remember these keys:



Part 5 is a follow-up on one of the people featured here, Ruth Colvin.

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