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Doing the Unthinkable: Boldly Seeking Joy in the Heart of Pain

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While preparing for my interview on the Bursting with Happiness podcast I found myself reflecting on joy. Host Lisa Dimino White encourages listeners to seek small bursts of happiness and joy every day.

As I reflected on Lisa’s message I started to question the timing of my interview, being I had traveled home to Ohio to help my family recover from COVID-19. Unfortunately, while my mom and sisters were on the mend, my dad was in the ICU.

Here I was interviewing about JOY, of all things, during the heart of the single most painful experience of my life! It was unimaginable, knowing my dad was fighting for his life alone. It was horrifying to watch my mom suffer, as we waited for the next phone call to hear he was ok.

daughter praying about overcoming a challenge

Not only was my heart breaking for my family, but for so many other families out there going through the same experience. It truly made every “challenge” I had previously faced this year look like a vacation! A huge part of me wanted to crawl under a warm blanket, eat all the sweets, and zone out to any Netflix series I could find.

I initially thought, "Screw joy! How DARE I speak about finding joy right now." At the time of writing this article, my dad is STILL hospitalized! It’s been weeks worth of stress, sadness, and overwhelm.

However, the harder this situation gets and the longer it drags on, the more I realize I NEED joy in my life right now.

As I wrote here, I believe we should give ourselves permission to feel our pain and raw emotions. But here’s the thing: Shouldn’t the same be said for joy, recognizing life is always a perfectly imperfect journey that ebbs and flows? Just because society tells me this experience is “terrible, horrific, and terrifying” it doesn’t mean it has to be every single moment along the way! After all, this situation is hard enough! I will inevitably have many moments of incredible pain.

I got to thinking: Is it possible we should not only FEEL JOY during the heart of pain but also, dare I say, SEEK IT? What would it look like if I not only let myself experience joyful moments but also actively worked to create joy in each day?

woman reflecting on self-care and finding joy

While I wrote my book to help others find confidence and ease when facing a challenge, as a result of my interview with Lisa I now found myself creating simple ways to experience JOY when facing a challenge.

Here’s what I found: Creating small bursts of joy and happiness within this terrible time is exactly what I need to help me make it through. In fact, it’s an essential tool for my survival. As a result of actively creating a simple foundation of joy every day, I have become a better daughter, sister, friend, and mother. My joy is contagious and has a ripple effect on my kids, husband, coworkers, and family. Not only does this impact others’ well-being, it’s exactly how my dad would want me to proceed through life, despite his personal pain. As a pastor once said at my friend who died in combat’s funeral, “We can choose to live every day to the fullest in honor of those who no longer have the opportunity to do so.”

So, in honor of my dad, who wouldn’t want me to be miserable…

In honor of my family, who I can be a pillar of strength for within this dark time…

In honor of my kids, who need a loving mother despite the pain I’m feeling…

I can actively choose to seek small bursts of joy every day. On the days I am not inspired to do so, I can seek this joy for others, knowing the ripple effect it creates in this world is bigger than me and it does make a difference!

True to my Team Valentine Project mission I want to share SIMPLE, realistic, and actionable takeaways from this experience.

I encourage you to BOLDLY SEEK small bursts of joy, even during life’s most difficult moments. Give yourself permission to find joy within your pain and see the impact it has on your well-being and the well-being of others.

Try the simple steps below and see what a daily joy practice can do for you!


STEP 1. Choose joy & keep it simple.


As easy as this sounds, it's actually not so easy to do. Because joy may naturally be the opposite of how you are feeling, acknowledge that it will require you intentionally choose to create a small burst of joy for yourself. If you are stressed and low on energy, keep things SUPER simple. Each morning, take just a few minutes to identify and commit to creating one small burst of happiness in your day.

a child finding ways to be happy and joyful

How I Put This Into Action: As I share in my book, when facing a challenge I believe in rooting ourselves in “go-to phrases”, inner dialogue that helps ground us in our confidence and capability to break through. Well, my go-to phrase for my family and I’s challenges prior to COVID was “I can be a light in this darkness.” Despite our challenging time getting even worse, it is still my choice to be a light within our darkness. Now, with my dad hospitalized, it requires that I actively choose and commit to creating a small burst of joy in my life every single morning. This brief daily act ensures I have a foundation from which I can be a source of light for others.


STEP 2. Recognize your burst of joy may look different than you’d expect.


As we know, when facing a challenge the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. Depending on the challenge you are facing, how your day is going, the stage of life you are in, etc. what brings you joy will vary. It’s specific to what YOU need and whatever brings you happiness today.

man finding joy and happiness in nature

How I Put This Into Action: When my dad was first admitted to the ICU I was still in Maryland with my husband and kids. I had to quarantine from my mom and sisters, who still actively had the virus. I found myself an absolute wreck, pacing around my house with tears in my eyes as I waited for the next phone call. It took A LOT of intention to find joy in that circumstance! However, as I gave myself space to "feel all the feels" and process my emotions, I also took a few minutes to think about Lisa's concept of experiencing a small burst of happiness every day. Normally a walk around the block or a cup of coffee would bring me joy. However, when I thought about what I needed in that specific experience I realized how much the disorganization of our downstairs was adding to my stress. So, I asked my husband and kids if they would help bring mommy some joy and partake in a family cleanup session. Ahhh...a little home organization goes a long way to fill my joy bucket! While I never would’ve expected that my small burst of happiness would be found in a family cleanup session, it was just what I needed.


STEP 3. Notice the results.


If we seek joy not only will we find it, but we will be better because of it. Take time to notice the impact it has on your day, your well-being, and the well-being of others.

How I Put This Into Action: I noticed that experiencing a small burst of joy through our family cleanup session ultimately decreased my stress level and resulted in my ability to be a happier, more vibrant mom and wife. Thankfully, this had a ripple effect on my kids and husband and it resulted in a lighter mood for us all throughout the remainder of that very painful and trying day.


STEP 4. Repeat daily.


You are now armed with a simple process to create small bursts of joy for yourself:

  • Choose joy and keep it simple: Each morning commit to creating at least one small burst of happiness for yourself.

  • Anything goes: Find joy in whatever works best for you.

  • Notice what experiencing joy does for you and the impact it has on others.

  • Repeat daily.




Feeling especially unmotivated to create joy for yourself? Start by giving it.

How I Put This Into Action: Let's be honest, we all have days where we are feeling especially down and defeated. On such days I instead commit to giving joy to someone else. Sometimes I send a quick text to a family member or friend to let them know I care. Other days I may commit to making my kids laugh or telling a coworker how much I appreciate them. I start small, aim to impact, and as a result lift myself up along the way.

finding happiness with an accountability buddy

Struggling to create your burst of happiness? Share your intentions.

How I Put This Into Action: Using the example of the day my dad was first admitted to the ICU I needed some support or creating joy was not going to happen! So, I shared my intention with my husband. I said, “I am an absolute mess, but we have a whole weekend ahead of us. I don’t want it to be completely miserable. I’d like to find just a few ways we can create small bursts of joy in our day. I don’t know where to start.” While I realize it is my responsibility to create my own joy and my husband could never know exactly what I needed, sharing my intention helped hold me accountable to finding something to lift myself up. My husband said, “Let me know what we can do to help.” Just knowing he had my back when I was ready was encouraging! When I got my idea for a family cleanup session he was there to help see it through. I learned when struggling to create joy, sharing your intentions can help.


Final Thoughts


This COVID-19 experience has been, as one would expect, life-changing. However, I found that not only is it OK to seek joy in the heart of pain, it is an essential tool to help us make it through.

Creating small bursts of happiness each day reminds us that good still exists within our trying times. It is because we are experiencing so much pain that we can truly appreciate how wonderful the little joyful moments are. This joy results in a ripple effect of happiness for others, ultimately making our situation and this world better.

In the heart of facing this pain, damn, do I appreciate small bursts of joy! Thank you Lisa Dimino White for encouraging me to boldly seek joy in the heart of my pain.


Additional Resources


Check out Lisa and I's conversation on the Bursting with Happiness podcast here.

Looking for a tool to help you overcome your challenges with confidence and ease? You’ll love The Art of Breaking Through’s simple 5-step solution. Find your customized game plan, real-life examples, and a go-to solution anytime you need it here.


Louise Valentine is an award-winning wellness expert, best-selling author, competitive runner, and fierce military spouse. She runs the Badass Breakthrough Academy, empowering others with simple, science-based strategies to stress less, optimize recovery, and confidently achieve their most ambitious health and performance goals. Learn more and view her free training here. As always, you can find Louise & Team Valentine living life out loud on Instagram @BreakingThroughWellness.


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