“Joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes.”
-Frederich Buechner

Joy hasn’t come easy for me. In fact, I have avoided talking about it for years. Over the last 11 years, I’ve written over 500 blogs posts and articles and delivered over 300 talks. Until a few months ago, not one of those was about joy.

My struggle with joy has to do with a woman named Joy.

Joy stalked my dad for 18 months. She sucked all of the joy from our family in that season. Her stalking included waiting in her car in our church parking lot and watching my dad (a pastor) and me walk to our car. She called our house several times a day, to the point where we got caller ID (for everyone under 20 in the room, there was a time where we actually had to answer the phone to figure out who was calling) and waited for it to go through the answering machine (it had a tape…I know, ancient times). She sent a letter to our entire church outlining their sexual liaisons (on church grounds) and describing lies about my mom.

What’s the Difference Between Joy and Happiness?

Because of my bitterness and baggage from this season, I avoided the idea of joy entirely. I’m not alone; I know many people who also struggle with joy. They haven’t been stalked, but they have endured circumstances and come close to people who turned their pursuit of joy into a nightmare.

Someone once suggested to me that I should be more concerned with happiness than joy.

I struggled to distinguish between happiness and joy. As I studied happiness, though, I learned it is far more circumstantial and fragile than joy.

Hap – the root of the word happiness – means “luck or chance.” While happiness is a product of our circumstances, joy is bigger than our momentary circumstances. I lost sight of this reality when I was a teenager, enraged at the woman who was ruining our family’s peace.

Learning About Joy From An Expert

A couple of years ago, I got tired of hating the word joy and decided to start working to reclaim the word. I found a helpful book entitled Fight Back with Joy, written by Margaret Feinberg. Feinberg wrote the book amidst her battle with cancer, making this a raw, honest read and not an ethereal book.

In the book, she defines joy as “a wide spectrum of feelings, actions and emotions.” She unpacks the ways she both found joy and fought for joy as she went through the battle of her life.

Feinberg raises an important question. “What if we reached for joy as a weapon? What if we fought back with defiant joy?”

If you think about it, we use a lot of self-destructive weapons. When we get hurt by someone, we fight back with bitterness and revenge. When our plans are disappointed, we fight back with anger and cynicism. We fight back against a setback with depression or a funk.

We don’t have to ignore what happened, but we don’t have to respond in kind.
Feinberg taught me an important lesson. Joy doesn’t come from an easy or painless idealistic life. Joy can surprise us even in the worst of circumstances.

Is It Bad to Be Joyful?

As I was finishing this book in 2017, I started becoming more open to joy. But then I wondered if it was okay to be joyful.

With a world rocked by brushfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, political tensions, threats of war, racial conflict, and violent protests, doesn’t it seem foolish to be worrying about joy?

The more I thought about it, though, the more I recognized that the world needs us to lead with defiant joy. They need us to face a difficult financial report and choose joy anyway. They need us to refuse to be beholden to the latest crisis online and be joyful. Our teams need us to be miles from our destination, finding joy in the mundane part of the journey.

Two Ways to Live with Defiant Joy

Today, I want to share two actions I’ve found helpful in living with defiant joy.

The first action is looking for joy bombs.

Have you ever seen or experienced a glitter bomb? If not, check out this video.

Hopefully, you’ll keep your eyes peeled for little tubes like that. I want you to begin looking for joy bombs too.

Take a minute today to look up from your phone, pain, stress, or your busy schedule to look for a gift of joy into your life. It could be a sunset, a great meal, a text from a friend, a great workout, the fruit of a hard day’s work, a car that starts the first time, or someone who smiles when you walk in a room.

Looking for and expecting joy to break into our everyday experience gives us the power in our circumstances, rather than becoming a victim of them.

The second action is to create a “joy bomb” for other people.

I don’t recommend sending a glitter bomb to a co-worker or teammate. I doubt that would bring them joy. (Although you might take some sick pleasure from it.)

Creating a “joy bomb” for someone you work with could transform their day, week or even their perspective on life.

How could you help a team member see the impact of their work? Maybe creating a framed quote from a customer or encouraging words from a teammate and hang it in their workspace. What if you made a list of the favorite coffees or candy of each person you serve alongside? You would be prepared to grab one of these items when they have a rough week. It could be sitting on their desk when they return from lunch or a meeting.

Bring Joy to Others

As I’ve reclaimed a word which once evoked trauma for me, I’ve found joy sneaking into the most unexpected moments. I recognized my ability to introduce it into the lives of others. This week, my hope is you’ll be surprised by joy too. Maybe you’ll even seize an opportunity to be a joy bomb in someone else’s life too.

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash
Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash


In a world rocked by natural disasters, political tensions, war, racial conflict, and violent protests, is it foolish to worry about joy? Or defiant joy exactly what we need?