In my almost eight years of marriage, I have learned that there are certain things that invite joy into my life and marriage, and there are other things that drain me of joy.

I've also learned that joy isn't circumstantial. It can't be bought. It is a choice. Each of us is meant to have joy. Each of us is meant to truly live a full and meaningful life.

Joy, by my definition, comes from aligning my priorities and choices with my deeply held beliefs - with the truths I know in both my mind and my heart.

Joy is feeling deeply connected to your spouse. Joy is savoring all the little moments that make a marriage beautiful - that simple kiss, the note he left you on your pillow, her phone call just to say, "hi," and other small gestures. Joy is found in the process of improvement and becoming one in marriage. Joy is forgiving each other and letting new beginnings take place in your marriage. Joy is knowing that through thick and thin, your sweet spouse is loyally by your side.

Joy isn't about pleasure or thrill. For example, I am a chocolate lover...okay, an all-around sweets lover. However, chocolate doesn't bring me joy. Momentary pleasure and satisfaction? Absolutely. But joy? No.

Finally, joy most certainly isn't about having a care-free life. Joy doesn't equal "hardship free". Rather, joy can be yours during the hard, inconvenient, and even stressful times of life.

Joy is available to me, and it's available to you. In fact, it's yours for the choosing.

So, what is getting in the way?

Being too busy, not taking care of my health, and spending too much time on screens and too little time with the people who matter most to me, all get in the way of me choosing joy.

Joy is diminished when my choices don't align with my values and beliefs. I can choose joy in life and marriage when I choose to give my time, attention, and focus to those things that truly matter:

1. I choose selflessness

For me, joy isn't about me at all. I believe that true joy really stems from selflessness. It comes from serving others. In my marriage, joy comes from cleaning my husband's car, giving him a back massage, calling him just because or listening to him vent about frustrations at work.

2. I choose patience

Joy comes when I choose to let that little thing he said slide, instead of fester. Joy comes from recognizing that my husband is doing the best he can, and that neither of us are perfect. Joy comes from being patient when I feel like getting angry. Yes, joy comes from patience.

3. I choose connection

Joy comes when I put my phone down and actually look into my husband's eyes and ask about his day. Without realizing it, it's all too easy to live life through a screen. I've learned that virtual reality is no reality at all. Real life is what happens to us outside of screens. It's about people, real face-to-face interactions and connection.

In my marriage, joy comes from simple moments of connection - when I catch my handsome husband wink at me, and from hugs and kisses.

4. I choose intentionality

Joy comes from being intentional about my marriage. It comes from regularly saying, "I love you," making sure date night happens, planning romantic getaways, and from washing dishes together. Joy comes from holding hands and walking around the block or cuddling up in the backyard to look at the stars.

5. I choose gratitude

Joy comes from choosing to be grateful for my husband and pointing out all of the things I appreciate and love about him. It comes from saying simple things to him, like "I really appreciate that you called my mom today to wish her happy birthday". Joy comes as I let my heart fill with gratitude for all the things my husband does to provide for me, protect me, and bless my life.

6. I choose simplicity

When I say "yes," to too much, and simply fill my schedule with busyness rather than fulfilling and meaningful things, I lose joy. I find myself being impatient and angry. I find myself seeing the world through a negative lens. Joy comes as I simplify my schedule, say "no," more, and fill my space and time with the people and things I love. When I simplify my life, I am able to choose joy as I say "yes," to the things that truly bring meaning, satisfaction and fulfillment into my life. "

7. I choose forgiveness

Joy comes as I look at my life and realize the things I need to change to make my marriage better. In fact, some of the sweetest and most joyful moments of my marriage have come when either my husband or myself have been humble enough to say, "I'm sorry. What I said was wrong and hurtful. What can I do to make things better?" Joy comes from forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

8. I choose health

When I am running on too little sleep, it is hard to choose joy. When I eat too many processed or sugary foods, I never feel well. When I don't feel good, I don't have energy, enthusiasm or passion for life or love. Choosing joy for me includes finding a sleep schedule that works for both me and my husband (so we can go to bed together every night), from eating healthier foods and from moving my body more.

9. I choose laughter

Joy stems from living in the moment and laughing with my husband. It comes from seeing the humor in situations that may not seem funny at first. It comes from not taking myself too seriously. Joy comes when I look over at my husband, and we both erupt in laughter because we were thinking the same thing at exactly the same moment.

10. I choose love

Yes, joy comes from choosing love. Love for my husband fills my heart as I pick up his favorite cereal at the store, write him a love letter, cook his favorite meal, encourage him to go golfing, watch his favorite show with him, and compliment him. Love grows as I choose to see all the marvelous gifts, talents, and attributes that make him who he is. Love comes as I seek to serve my husband and be fiercely loyal to him. Joy and love come as he makes those same efforts for me.

Why choose joy?

Choosing joy brings a measure of peace, comfort, and purpose to your life in ways you may not currently recognize are possible. Choosing joy helps you slow down and soak up every beautiful moment that life has to offer you.

Choosing joy in marriage doesn't mean your life will be perfect, but it does mean that you will be able to see and recognize perfect moments, and give thanks for them. Choosing joy helps you find meaning, happiness, and fulfillment where it matters most - in your relationships with others, especially with your spouse.

How can you choose joy this week?

Write down at least one response to each of these questions, and then decide to do something small to choose joy in your marriage:

  • Are my choices in line with my deeply held values and beliefs?

  • What is missing from my life?

  • What do I need to make time for in my life?

  • What do I need to eliminate from my life?

As you intentionally choose joy in your life and marriage, you will find that your outlook on life is happier. You will find yourself treating others in a more respectful way. You will find your heart being filled with gratitude for little things, things you may never have thought to be grateful for in the past.

Yes, choosing joy will change your life in hundreds of small ways, and help you find meaning and fulfillment in the here and now. So, go be joyful.

Editor's Note: Originally published on Aaron and April's blog Nurturing Marriage. It has been republished here with permission.

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