How to Rejoice Always—Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

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I may be a little biased because New Year’s Eve is my birthday, but I am a big fan of this time of year. One of the things I really look forward to is setting and working on new year resolutions. I’ve also jumped on the “word of the year” bandwagon, and this year, my word is “Rejoice.” This choice was inspired by several months of pondering a question posed by Brett while doing our Come, Follow Me study together. As we read Philippians 4, we were struck by the following verse:

Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice. Philippians 4:4Brett paused and asked, “How do we rejoice when we feel lousy?”

2019 was a challenging year. We battled infertility and other health issues. I dealt with worsening anxiety and an unexpected family crisis. I don’t mean to paint a woe is me picture of my year because there were plenty of good moments in there, too. But I cried—A LOT—and this verse found us right in the thick of it.

Brett’s question has been playing on repeat in my mind ever since. How do we rejoice when we feel lousy? How can we find joy when our lives seem to be falling apart and we don’t know if we have the strength to make it to the end of the day, much less survive whatever trial has been plaguing us for months or even years? As I pondered his question, I studied every instance of the words “rejoice” and “joy” that I could find in the scriptures. What emerged was a list of things we can do to increase our capacity to rejoice always, no matter what.

Choose Joy

One of the first things that stood out to me was that joy is a choice. Sadness can be addicting[1], and sometimes it just feels easier to let yourself stay sad. Making an effort to be happy can feel fake or downright exhausting, so we give up after a few minutes and grab the ice cream out of the freezer.

But the scriptures teach us to “let [our] hearts rejoice.”[2] We can choose to open our worry-laden hearts to the possibility of joy. We can choose to do the things we know will help us feel it, and act on the promptings the Spirit gives us. We can choose to turn to the Lord in fasting and prayer, which the Doctrine and Covenants actually calls “rejoicing and prayer.”[3] Think of that!

To be perfectly clear, I am talking of the disheartening but ultimately temporary sadness that accompanies many of the challenges of mortality. I am not for one second implying that clinical depression is something you can just choose your way out of. I could never, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland puts it, “responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively.”[4] If you are struggling with depression, please know that your effort to keep trying and keep pushing day after day is choosing joy. Seeking treatment from qualified professionals is choosing joy. Choosing to stay is choosing joy. I beg you to keep making that choice. There are so many who love you and pray for you, even when you can’t see it or feel it.

As President Russell M. Nelson said, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation … and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. … Jesus Christ is joy!”[5]

No matter what we’re dealing with, we can choose joy by choosing Jesus. We can choose to turn to him and let our hearts rejoice in His love.

If you are interested in learning more about depression in the context of the gospel, I highly recommend the book Silent Souls Weeping by Jane Clayson Johnson. Read my review of this life-changing book here.

Trust the Lord’s Assurances

Of the 130 scriptures I studied, over a third of them taught that we can find joy by trusting in the assurances the Lord has given all of us as His children. For example, we can find joy in building our testimony that God hears and answers our prayers (Mosiah 3:3-4); that all things are equitable in the Lord’s plan (Isa. 11:4); that God is wise, merciful, and compassionate (Alma 26:35); that Christ suffered for the sins of all mankind so that we could repent, be resurrected, and inherit the kingdom of God (Hel. 14:15-17).

We can also find joy in the Lord’s assurances to us personally. I have had multiple priesthood blessings that promise that I will be a mother—often given by priesthood holders who have no idea that we’re even trying to start a family. These blessings have given me a great deal of confidence that the Lord really is aware of me and my situation and increased my testimony that the priesthood really is the power of God. As I’ve leaned on the assurances given in these blessings, I have been able to find more joy in the day to day. Disappointment still happens, but I’m much more resilient and I can move forward with hope.

Count Your Blessings

When you’re in the midst of a trial, the last thing you want to hear are the “at least” statements. You know the kind: “At least you’re not dead. At least you have a job. At least you aren’t homeless, etc.” Not only do such platitudes invalidate the legitimate pain we feel, but they demoralize us further by making us feel guilty for not being grateful enough.

The good news is, God is not an “at least”-er. When Mary and Martha mourned the death of their brother Lazarus, Christ did not say, “Well, at least you still have each other.” He wept with them, setting the perfect example for how to “mourn with those who mourn.”[6]

But while I wouldn’t want to come across as saying “at least” to you in your time of trouble, there truly is a connection between gratitude and joy. We can find increased joy by focusing on the good things the Lord has blessed us with. If we let Him, the Lord can even help us see how our trials can become blessings for us. I was single for a very long time before I met Brett, and there were times when it affected my happiness. But the Lord helped me see that because I was single, I free to move to England for grad school—and if that’s not reason to rejoice, I don’t know what is!

And there’s a lovely bonus that comes when we start to feel and express gratitude for our blessings: it becomes easier to see them. If you want to increase your capacity to rejoice, you might start by increasing your expressions of gratitude.

Happy couple laughing

Strengthen Good Relationships

The scriptures are replete with the promise of joy in our relationships. We are taught to rejoice in our marriages (Prov. 5:18), our children (Prov. 23:24), and our associations with others (D&C 50:22). Not only do good relationships give us a support system when we need it most, it also allows us to support others when they need it. Strengthening our relationships with our families and friends can improve our ability to find and feel joy together.

Additionally, building community with others means not just mourning with those who mourn, but also to rejoicing with those who rejoice.[7] It can be so easy to look at the social media “highlight reel” of our friends and feel sorry that our lives don’t look as shiny and perfect as theirs. I know all too well how hard it can be to see ultrasounds and gender reveals when you’re struggling to get pregnant, or promotion announcements when you’ve been unemployed for almost a year, or pictures of friends visiting far off places when you can’t even afford to put dinner on the table. I get it.

But I truly believe that supporting and celebrating the other people in our lives can work wonders for our own happiness. Literally every time I have reached past that pang of jealousy to celebrate a friend’s good fortune, it has helped my own burden feel a little lighter. The magical thing about joy is that it is infinite and contagious. When you let yourself rejoice with a loved one, you are letting your heart rejoice. You are choosing joy, and it will grow.

Get to Work

They say that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and the adversary wants us to be miserable. God, however, wants us to be happy, and faith is a principle of action. Therefore, if you want to find more joy in your life, it might be time to literally do something about it. The scriptures teach us that joy is found in missionary work (D&C 18:15-16), prayer (D&C 19:8-39), keeping the commandments (Mosiah 2:41), service (Heb. 10:34), seeking wisdom and learning (D&C 50:22), hard work (John 4:36), keeping our covenants (D&C 25:13), serving in the temple (Ezra 3:12-13), and more. The more effort we put into doing good things, the better equipped we will be for finding, recognizing, and feeling joy in our lives.

Increase your Testimony of the Plan of Happiness

Now, I say all of this with one caveat. So often in the church, we share checklists of things that are supposed to make us happy. Do this and this and this and, BOOM! Joy for everyone.

But I know from sad experience that that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, you do everything right, and it’s still hard. Sometimes you do your very best and you still struggle to feel joy, or feel the Spirit, or even feel like God is paying any attention to you.

If you are sitting there feeling like you’ve given everything you’ve got and wondering where your promised joy is, please don’t think that you’re not good enough, faithful enough, or doing enough. I know how hard you are trying, and if I know it, God knows it. Sometimes, when you’re so overloaded with pain, grief, frustration, or depression, it can be hard to hear the still, small voice of the spirit, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t talking to you. That doesn’t mean that God isn’t listening, or that He isn’t involved in the tiny, everyday details of your life. He is. I encourage you to pray for the ability to recognize the ways He is communicating with you and blessing you even when you have trouble seeing it for yourself.

Whatever you’re dealing with right now has a purpose in His plan of Salvation, which is also referred to as the Plan of Happiness. Increasing our testimony of the Father’s plan, the Savior’s Atonement, and its reality in our own lives will enable us to find peace, comfort, and everlasting joy. I can’t guarantee that relief will come quickly, but I can guarantee that it will come. I testify that even when things are really, really hard, we can, as Paul admonished, “rejoice always,” because we know that it is through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that we have been saved—not will be saved. Have been. It’s already done, and there is nothing that can take that joy from us.

Find Your JoyAs you think about the goals you’d like to set for your new year, consider including goals that will increase your capacity to “rejoice always.” Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking:

  • Work on replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts
  • Start a gratitude journal
  • Send your friends birthday cards that thank them for ways they have blessed your life
  • Focus on making your prayers more meaningful
  • Volunteer in your community (find opportunities on JustServe.org)
  • Take a course on a topic you’ve wanted to learn more about
  • Serve in the temple more frequently

I’d love to hear about your goals! Share in the comments below or over on Facebook, or tag your pictures on Instagram with #jestkeptsecret.

If you found this post helpful, please share it! Thank you!


Footnotes

[1] Psychology Today: Are You Addicted to Unhappiness?

[2] 2 Nephi 9:52, emphasis added

[3] D&C 59:13-14

[4] If you are interested in learning more about depression in the context of the gospel, I highly recommend the book Silent Souls Weeping by Jane Clayson Johnson

[5] Joy and Spiritual Survival, Oct. 2016 General Conference

[6] Mosiah 18:9

[7] 1 Cor. 12:26

Featured image by Sarah Pflug. Happy couple photo by Pexels. All images used with permission.

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I’m a quirky Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. I always return my shopping carts to the cart corral, I fold gum wrappers into origami cranes, and I polish my nerd badge daily. I am passionate about helping women intentionally make space for the things that bring them true joy. Read more about me and my mission here.

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