In my fifty years of life, I’ve learned that joy and pain often go hand in hand. And I think I’ve experienced more joy than many ever will because I have experienced more pain than most will.

I am someone who has lost a sweet, precious daughter. I have been raped—the assailant was caught, and we went through a full jury trial. I had Stage 3 breast cancer and survived, but lost my baby sister to cancer just a few years later. My mother had a brain aneurysm. My husband battled with alcoholism.

I know how it feels when you can’t stop crying, or when you’ve wept so much there isn’t another tear inside. I know how it feels to be furious at the world, helplessly thinking over and over, This can’t be happening. I know how it feels when you think you’ll never recover, you’ll never emerge from the darkness, and your life is most certainly over.

I get it. I understand. I hear you.

But I want you to know there can be joy in the tsunamis of pain. Belly laughs and tears of joy can bubble up in the middle of an ugly cry, reminding us that even in the middle of our darkest moments, light can find its way in through the cracks.

Here are some of the things I learned about finding joy

1. Joy is a Choice. I hate saying it, it even makes ME cringe a little to do so but I know that joy has had to be a conscious choice for me. Joy is a focus before its a feeling. Just like getting dressed and choosing a pair of yoga pants to put on, you have to choose joy every day until one day it does become a feeling.

2. Joy is in your relationships. First, your relationship with God, whether it is new or seasoned, growing with him is growing in Joy. Second relationship is YOU! You have to love you before you can get others to love you. Working on ourselves is hard but so important to living a joyful life. Third, make sure you surround yourself with people that fill your cup, not drain it.

3. Change your environment, get outside, go for a walk. Sometimes the smallest of things can make a big impact.

4. Make a list of what brings you joy and what you are grateful for. This is another one you hear over and over but there is a reason why, it works. I can be in the worst mood and as soon as I start writing things I’m grateful for, the floodgates open and my mood is shifted into JOY.

5. You are the author of your own story. It would have been easy for me to decide to be miserable because of the hand of pain and tragedy I have been dealt, but inside I have decided the hardships are my fuel for living a life of joy. You get to decide what your story is, make it a good one.

There is no perfect formula for joy but I hope that these point you in the right direction of Joy.