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The Christophers: How to Cultivate Happiness

Tony Rossi, Director of Communications


If you’d like to be happier in the new year, Joy Marie Clarkson has some insights to share from her own life. In fact, she considers herself “aggressively happy,” which is also the title of her book, because, “In this world that is so pervaded by cynicism…[and] difficult things…to have some kind of joy and happiness does take an act of at least assertiveness, if not aggression.”

At the same time, Joy is a realist who never descends into toxic positivity, which she describes as “an inability to deal with the actual griefs and heaviness of life.” In fact, she notes that her name, Joy Marie, means “joy in a sea of bitterness or sadness,” which, again, accurately reflects her personality.

During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Joy explained, “I am a person of extremes to some extent. So I’ve always felt…a deep enjoyment of life…and I’ve also felt very keenly the heaviness of the world, whether it was my own struggles with mental illness, or the people that I loved [who were] suffering, or just looking at the vast fragility of the world…So happiness for me has been…a cultivated thing or a habit. It’s not that you can just make yourself be happy. It’s that you slowly but surely till the ground of your life. You pull up the weeds. You water thankfulness every day. So that was part of what the book is wrestling with and, hopefully, models a bit as well.”

Ironically, “Aggressively Happy” was inspired by an extended period of hardship for Joy, a period from which she emerged with wisdom and clarity about life and God. At the end of December one year, she had a mystical experience that told her the coming year would be one of suffering. Initially, she wrote it off as OCD or intrusive thoughts, but she soon learned this was a message meant to prepare her for what was to come.

“I feel like that period of my life was one of the first times I woke up to the fact that Jesus says, ‘In this life, you will have tribulation, but take heart for I have overcome the world.’” said Joy. “Having that sense of preparation made me feel like I wasn’t alone in it, that I was being guided through it. It helped me…get in touch with reality, which is that there will be difficult things. Then [it ushered] me into a posture towards life, which I have to learn again and again: to not be surprised by suffering and to know that it doesn’t undo the joy and beautiful things we experience. Also, to let it become something that softens you and makes you open to others and other people’s pain, and aware of God’s love in the midst of life.”

The comforting aspects of Joy’s faith did not just occur in the spiritual realm, but through tangible ways. It’s not just about sitting in church trying to make yourself “believe harder,” she said, but rather about a sacramental experience of God’s grace.

Joy continued, ”We experience these specific graces in the Church, but also as Gerard Manley Hopkins says, ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ So from poetry to the beauty of nature to the comfort of the sacraments, those were all things that helped me know that God was with me, that I was never alone in suffering, and that the suffering was never the fundamental thing…It didn’t have the final word in my life.”


For free copies of the Christopher News Note GOD DELIGHTS IN YOU, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail:

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