Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

Finding Joy in Life

Finding Joy in Life

Best-selling author and life coach Valorie Burton discusses her former struggle with depression and explains how she learned to find joy and happiness in her life.



Jim Daly: Valorie, what’s the difference between joy and happiness?

Valorie Burton: You know, I think a lot of times as Christians, we try to make a very big difference between those two, but I tend to think of joy having more to do with where you are spiritually. It’s kind of this abiding sense that God is with you no matter what you’re going through. Happiness is subjective well-being. How are you doing overall? How are you feeling about your life? And so, happiness deals more with feelings, I believe. Joy is more a deeper sense of what’s going on in your spirit.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: A good delineation about some commonly used words from our guest, Valorie Burton and we’re gonna dive into this concept of happiness on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and Valorie is a life coach and a best-selling author. And she’s got some ideas about how you can boost the happiness level in your life.


Jim: John, can you believe it’s a new year already? I mean, we are right around the corner from all the New Year’s resolutions, which of course, mine every year is how much weight can I lose? (Laughter) Valorie, you can help me with that, can’t you?

Valorie: I can help.

Jim: But you know, it’s that time of year where we take a look at ourselves and say, okay, Lord, are we on the right track? And I don’t know if I’m gonna set up another resolution. Resolutions can be depressing, because you don’t always hit ’em. And we’ll need to talk about that. You can be my life coach. But happiness can be such a fleeting thing and I think in our culture today, we tend in the Christian community particularly, we’re looking for happiness and we forget about the joy of the Lord. And you said that so well a moment ago, Valorie. I’m lookin’ forward to talkin’ about your new book, which is called Happy Women Live Better: 13 Ways to Trigger Your Happiness Every Day and as you said, John, we’re gonna dive into this topic. Valorie, let me welcome you to “Focus on the Family.”

Valorie: Oh, it is so good to be here, Jim. Thank you.

Jim: I really liked that answer. There is a distinction between joy and happiness. Joy is core. It’s what hopefully, you never get rocked in your joy. Happiness can be more day to day. Am I feeling good today? What’s one of the things that you recommend that people, in order to find happiness, what can they do when they get out of bed?

Valorie: Well, you know, and I think one of the first things you can do when you get out of bed is to ask yourself, what am I looking forward to today? I talk about 13 happiness triggers in this book and the very first one, which is actually my favorite, is called “anticipation.” And one of the things that is known from research is, that having something to look forward to actually makes you happier. So, even if it’s something as simple as you’re taking a walk with your kids or you and your spouse are going out for dinner that night. Or maybe you’re just getting’ a bubble bath or a chance to, you know, curl up with a good book, all day long you know you have that to look forward to.

Jim: When you say that, there are people listening that can’t find that gear. When they get up in the morning, they feel perhaps even depressed. Are you born with happy genes? Have you always been this way?

Valorie: (Laughing) You can be born with happy genes, in fact (Laughter), but that does not mean you can’t be happy if you don’t have the gene. About 50 percent of our happiness is actually genetic and I can tell you, I have two very positive optimistic parents. They’ve been through a lot, but I believe I inherited some of that from them.

But I myself struggled with depression. I don’t think I knew what it was. When I … when I dealt with it the first time was when I was around 14- or 15-years-old and my parents had separated. And when I think about it, I know every night, I cried myself to sleep. I didn’t necessarily tell my parents that’s what I was dealing with. And so, I understand what it means to deal with depression. It tends to recur when you have it.

But the thing is, 40 percent of our happiness is intentional choices. It’s what we choose to do every day. So, yes, sometimes it takes a little work to be intentional about, you know, what am I looking forward to? Or what do I have to be grateful for? For you have a lot more control over it than you realize.

Jim: We seem in our culture to, I don’t know, you get into a rut of talking about how busy you are or how unhappy you are. That’s not a smart thing to do, is it?

Valorie: Well …

Jim: We kinda reinforce the negative rather than talking about the good things.

Valorie: Yeah, yeah. Winning words is a happiness trigger. So, we have to notice and become more aware of what we say to ourselves. You know, you know, I’m never gonna get all this work done. I’m never gonna do it.

Okay, what can you do? And asking yourself that question is so, so important. Words mean a lot. And amazingly, even when they, like do brain scans of you looking at the word “no” versus the word “yes” or looking at something that’s a positive word, your brain responds differently.

Jim: Hm.

Valorie: I think it’s pretty amazing how God made our bodies such that happiness actually makes us healthier. The whole list of benefits that come from being happier and I think it’s really worth it, to at least attempt (Laughing) to boost your own happiness.

Jim: Hm. When you think of authentic happiness, let’s hit the nail on the head for that woman that’s struggling with that. Define it, authentic happiness.

Valorie: Authentic happiness is understanding your own definition, not necessarily looking at what society as a whole says your life should look like. And I think for so many women, especially if you think about the amount of media we have today that’s supposedly reality television, it’s really “unreality” television.

Jim: Right.

Valorie: You open up a magazine. It’s not reality. It’s all airbrushed. We have this airbrushed idea of what it means to be happy. We have to get clear about what it means to us individually. And I think it’s different in different seasons of life.

And so, defining it for yourself, I think is so important, because it’s gotta be authentic to you. What works for one woman and her family may not work for you or it may not work for you in this season. And so, we’ll be praying and saying, “Lord, what do You have for me? And can I get comfortable with what that is, even if it doesn’t look like Susie Q down the street?”

Jim: How do you do that though, Valorie? How does a woman realize, okay, this isn’t a healthy place for me to be, to have these unrealistic expectations. I’m gonna do something about it. What does she then do? How does she get emotionally over the speed bump? She’s recognized it, but what do I do now? How do I actually get there?

Valorie: Well, first of all, you need to embrace what is. I think sometimes we fight so much against wherever we happen to be in life. And think, okay, this is where I am right now. How can I accept where I am, while still having a goal for something different?

When it comes to the happiness triggers and I mean, and this is gonna sound kind of counterintuitive, but one of my favorites for women is play. Sometimes we just need to stop being so serious about absolutely everything. Most things that are going on are not life and death. Men are really good at play.

Jim: And sometimes we get chided for it—

Valorie: Yes.

Jim: –I must say. (Laughing)

Valorie: Yes, but if you’ve got kids, they love the play. You understand what I’m saying? And so, men bond through play, side by side. As women, it’s the connection, it’s the face to face. So, I would say, even with your kids, you know, I call ’em my “bonus daughters.” My bonus daughter the other day, we were out at the pool, so you know, and she said, “Will you go down the slide with me?” And I’m thinking, I wasn’t plannin’ to get my hair wet today. (Laughter)

But that cute little 7-year-old face looking up at me was such a simple question. And I thought five years from now, she’s not gonna be asking me if I want to go down the slide. And who cares if my hair gets chlorine in it. I need to rewash it when I get back home. Play allows us as women to relax, because you can’t multitask and play.

And so, what I’m saying is, every once in a while, take those things that feel so serious and say, you know what? I’m gonna do somethin’. Maybe I’m not even good at it, you know. I’m not good at tennis. I’m terrible, but I play it because it’s fun. Do some things that you enjoy simply because you enjoy them and it actually helps to decrease your stress level. It helps you to relax. And then when it’s time to go to do that stuff that’s more productive, you can do it and be in a more relaxed state.

Jim: You know, I heard a great advice I think from a parent who said, “I always try to say yes to what my kids want to do,” within you know, reason.

Valorie: It’s amazing, yeah.

Jim: But something like that, can you go down the slide with me?

Valorie: Yes.

Jim: I think that’s a good rule of thumb. Sometimes you have to say no, so you don’t want to feel guilty—

Valorie: Absolutely.

Jim: –when you say no, but (Laughter) try to say yes as often as you can, even if you get your hair messed up.

Valorie: That’s right.

Jim: I mean, that’s good advice.

Valorie: That’s right.

Jim: Another trigger you share is connection. What does that mean for you? What benefits do we receive from connection?

Valorie: Well first of all, we need each other; we need people. And we live in a culture that’s giving us the message over and over again that being isolated is okay. One of the biggest changes over the last half century in America is the number of people who live alone. And in some cities like Atlanta where I live, it’s as many as 40 percent of households are a single person.

Jim: Wow.

Valorie: Of course, a lot more people work from home, which often means isolation from coworkers and so forth. We need eye-to-eye contact. There’s something that actually happens when I look you in the eye, right? Something happens physically when I look you in the eye. You know, we’re so into e-mail and we’re, you know, we’re on social media and I’m not saying any of those things are bad, but when we replace real contact with electronic contact, there are negative consequences.

So, connection in my definition as I talk about it in the book is those moments of love. We don’t even think of it as love. It’s the moment when you were talking to the cashier and she was so slow, but you smiled and you said, “How’s it going today?” And you really meant it. It’s making real connection with people, even if it’s in those simple moments. And it slows us down and it boosts our happiness.

Jim: That’s a good point. We’re talkin’ today on “Focus on the Family” with Valorie Burton. She’s the author of a book, Happy Women Live Better. I think that title should grab everybody’s attention, not just women. So, if you’re feelin’ down, tune in. Lean into the radio or the iPad or whatever you’re listening by.

Valorie, let me ask you this question. You talk about authentic connection. You just mentioned it. Technology is driving us kind of away from that. How do we as Christians in this culture, how do we find ways to connect? I mean, you can sound a little odd talking to the cashier saying, “Hey, would you like to have coffee?” (Laughter) That’s not normal.

Valorie: Right, so you’re not necessarily asking strangers to have coffee. (Laughter) But you can look them in the eye. You can have compassion. We’re all in such a hurry that sometimes we can be rude.

Jim: Well, that’s a big problem.

Valorie: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: Even in the Christian community.

Valorie: Yep.

Jim: We’re so tense about perfection that—

Valorie: That’s right.

Jim: –we tend to be rude.

Valorie: That’s right. Being able to slow down and say, what’s more important than me loving my neighbor as myself? And that means that even when someone’s done something that’s inconvenient for me, that I remember it’s not all about me. How do I show up? And how am I an ambassador for Christ as I go throughout my day with my neighbors, with my friends, with my coworkers who get on my nerves? (Laughter)

How can I still authentically connect and have really empathy for what’s going on with others? I’m not saying you don’t have boundaries or you let people walk all over you, but sometimes we allow our stress to cause us to completely disconnect. And then you take that into a home environment when you’re stressed.

One of the issues going on with dual-income households is, that both people have been workin’ all day and they are stressed out. And they get home at 6 o’clock or so and now they’ve gotta rush straight into dinner and everything else. Surely you’ve got 10 minutes that you can both decompress (Laughing), if you need to do it in your separate corners and come together and connect, simple things.

Jim: Well, let’s get real with that. How do you and your husband deal with that with your two girls? I mean, you’ve gotta have a night, you’re the author of “happiness.” So (Laughter), when you come home, have you had a bad experience and what happened?

Valorie: We just moved and my husband’s a pilot, so he travels and sometimes I travel. And so, we’ve been finding those days where we’re getting everything unpacked and of course, there was the move itself. And we both recognized that we had a little attitude at times, right? So, we’re (Laughter) getting stressed and it’s not about each other.

And in fact, we were talking just this morning and I said, “You know what? We have to remember what we always said we would do, which is when we’re stressed, we turn towards each other and not away from each other.” We keep ourselves reminded of that, because we’re a really good team, but even great teams have hiccups.

So, I think being able to be read with one another and again, the compassion comes in. Yeah, we’re both stressed and we’re not at our best right now. Can I give you the benefit of the doubt? As opposed to making this into a day or two long argument and you know, I’m not talking or I’m aggravated. You give … it’s important to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Jim: Oh, now he flies for Delta. Have you ever stepped on a flight and went, “Oh, my husband’s flying the plane?”

Valorie: (Laughing) No, but just a couple of weeks ago he flew the flight right before me that was going (Laughter) from Fayetteville, Arkansas back to Atlanta. Like doggoneit. But I have flown—

Jim: Just missed it.

Valorie: –on flights that he’s piloting and it’s pretty neat.

Jim: That’s gotta feel a little comfortable, that—

Valorie: Yes.

Jim: –your husband’s at the helm.

Valorie: (Laughing)

Jim: That’s good. Hey, Valorie, when you talk about serving the home and family—good things– a lot of young women and you talk about being a Gen Xer, Millennials, 20-, 30-somethings, they are strugglin’ with that. A lot of young women are deciding not to have children, because they feel it’s too big of a burden. How can a young wife decide, you know what? The Lord may have that in store for me and I need to embrace it and be open to and really to find the happiness and the joy in it? What’s goin’ on in a young woman’s heart today? You’re a young woman. What are they thinking about—

Valorie: Thank you.

Jim: –when it comes to–

Valorie: I’m not thinking of myself that way as much these days. (Laughter)

Jim: –when it comes to family and family formation?

Valorie: I think there’s a couple of things going on and there is a statistic that came out in 2011 that blew me away, that said that as of 2011 when the youngest Gen-Xer was 33, that 43 percent of college-educated Gen-X women did not have children. It is a result partly of all the change in the ’60’s and ’70’s of greater education, greater opportunity.

And so, the focus on, “I’ve gotta plan for my career,” oftentimes I think women don’t think I need a plan personally. They really believe that it’s just going to kind of unfold. And I think that there is a misconception that there are so many women deciding not to have children. I think there are quite a few that may make that decision, but I think there are just as many if not more who really, really want to be married and have a family and it’s not happening for them.

And part of it is, that the more education a woman has, the more income she makes, the less likely she is to get married, not necessarily because she doesn’t want to, but because of the dynamics of relationship.

Women love stability and security. We look for that generally speaking in men. Men aren’t necessarily looking rot that in women. And so, I think there are a lot of young women who feel they’ve done all the right things and they get to their 30s or even 40s and they’re thinking, what happened?

Jim: Hm.

Valorie: And that’s a serious issue that’s going on and is affecting a lot of women in terms of their happiness and their dreams.

Jim: Valorie, a lot of people are listening and they’re hearing words, you know, that these are the things you need to do to find that contentment. But what was that process like? How did you really grapple with God to say, okay, Lord. If I’m gonna do this as a single person, I’m gonna live here.

I kinda went through that. I had a two-year hiatus before I met my wife, Jean, where I felt like I needed to say, “Lord, I’m gonna try to live my life as a single if that’s what You want from me. So, I didn’t date. I didn’t do any of that. And He honored me, I believe with a wonderful wife in Jean. But how do you actually go through the process? It’s not like a switch.

Valorie: No. First I cried a lot. (Laughter)

Jim: Okay. Well, no, that’s good.

Valorie: I mean, cried from the depths of my soul for not having what I thought I would have by that point in my life. It was …

Jim: So, it was an honest struggle that way with the Lord.

Valorie: Oh, yeah.

Jim: Raw emotion.

Valorie: Yeah and feeling like, God, I feel like I’ve done the things You’ve asked me to do and what am I doing wrong? And He was saying, “It’s not that you’re doing something wrong. I need your patience. I need your trust.”

And so, I made the decision to begin focusing more on what I had in my life, which was incredible, than what I didn’t have. Two parents that, one had brain surgery, one’s had heart surgery, but they’re still alive. A brother who’s 20 years younger that I’m so close to and love dearly, all of my cousins and the little cousins that are like nieces and nephews, a career doing what the Lord has called me to do. I mean, when I looked at it, I was like, really? Is this what you’re complaining about? Because God hasn’t give you your spouse yet?

So, I had to make that decision, that I wasn’t gonna waste the part of my life where I was singe, somehow believing that when I was married I would suddenly be happy. Actually the light bulb did go on where I began to realize, if you can’t be happy right now, first of all, who are you going to attract into your life (Laughter) that’s lined up with what God really has for you?

I had to make a decision that God had blessed me and there wasn’t some magic pill in getting married. And that was pretty huge. And then I began realizing there were so many things I wanted to do that I could do at that time in my life. And I started moving forward.

Jim: The important part of that and I think I want to emphasize it, is that you can struggle with God and God’s okay with that. Because sometimes when you hear about happiness and you know, 13 ways to be happy, people might think it’s too glib, where you just choose to be happy,. Therefore, you don’t struggle. You’re not saying that.

Valorie: No.

Jim: You’re saying, struggle is part of it. Live.

Valorie: No. I believe happiness and resilience are skills.

Jim: Hm.

Valorie: And yes, you know, 50 percent of happiness is genetic and there are a lot of people that just came out of the womb smilin’ and giggling and a lot of people didn’t. (Laughter) And if you can learn that despite not feeling your happiest, that if you choose in that moment to be grateful, if you choose for example, to get moving, which is one of the happiness triggers I used a lot, I realized that if I would just go take a brisk walk for 30 minutes, it would change how I feel.

Well, we know from research that 20 minutes of cardio can boost your mood for up to 24 hours. It works. But I had to get up, put on my tennis shoes, go outside–

Jim: Yeah, you don’t feel happy—

Valorie:–and do it.

Jim: –at that point—

Valorie: That’s right.

Jim: –in the beginning.

Valorie: It’s a skill and if you understand the things that it takes to be happy, being around people. Call up your girlfriends. Have a conversation about this subject, you know. Get ’em all together. Connection is a happiness trigger. If you isolate yourself, you’re probably not going to feel as happy,. So, you begin looking at the things that actually work. It’s not just sitting on the sofa waiting for God to make you happy. It’s using what you already have at your disposal and taking action.

Jim: How long can that process or should that process take? I mean, I know every circumstance is different. It’s probably an unfair question, but if you’re in that funk, where you’re not finding joy in the Lord and it’s a month, that may be okay. If it’s three months, you might be concerned. If it’s six months or longer, you might need to talk to some counseling—

Valorie: Absolutely.

Jim: –or some friends.

Valorie: And generally speaking, if you’ve gone, you know, three, four weeks of just, you know, you’re not able to sleep. Maybe you’re crying every day. You’re isolating yourself. Get help. I mean, you know, I talk openly about that. Counseling, good Christian counseling really transformed me, because it gave me someone with another perspective to speak back to me.

And when we go through very difficult things, you know, divorce, a major family health challenge, even just a move where you’re tryin’ to get used to a new community, it’s stressful. And don’t be ashamed of getting help. In the multitude of counsel there is safety.

So be willing to get that help. I think that’s one of the most important things we can do. And sometimes it’s just, you know, I’m just feeling a little down. What I need to do is get together with a friend, watch a funny movie. But if it’s long-term, have a long-term happiness action plan.

I have a whole bunch of action plans in the back of the book based on your stage of life. Sometimes there are big changes you need to make. Maybe you need to do like I did, where I moved closer to my family. Growing up in a military family, never lived close to my extended family, decided to move to Atlanta, because I’ve got 20 relatives there, a lot more relatives—

Jim: Yes, that’s—

Valorie: –who live within a couple—

Jim: –a bold move.

Valorie:–hours. A big move. Sometimes you need something big. Sometimes, you know, maybe it’s too much going on in your household. Maybe you’re both working too much. It becomes a long-term goal of, can we live more below our means so that we get to the point where we don’t need as much income? Maybe one of us can work part-time or not work at all? That won’t necessarily happen tomorrow, but that becomes a part of your long-term happiness plan as a family. So, sometimes it’s the bold changes that you’re gonna make that take a little more time, but it will be worth it.

Jim: You were really tested with your mom. Your mom had a situation , a[n] impairment , physical—

Valorie: Yes.

Jim: –impairment. What happened in that? How did the Lord teach you something through your mom’s illness?

Valorie: Wow. When my mother was 49, one evening we were talking on the phone and she suddenly said, “Oh, my head.” And she just kept saying, something doesn’t feel right in my head. And you know when—

Jim: Yeah.

Valorie:–something’s wrong in your body. And so she got off the phone, went and laid down and it didn’t get any better. And a little time passed and she had my brother call and he was 8-years-old at the time. I was in my 20s. My mom waited a couple decades between (Laughing)—

Jim: Yeah.

Valorie: –children.

Jim: The “oops baby,” I was one of those.

Valorie: Yeah (Laughing, exactly. And so, my brother called me and said, “Mommy wants you to come pick her up.” She got picked up by an ambulance. I picked him up and when I got to the hospital, she’d already slipped into a coma. They had paperwork for me to sign. They were wheeling her off. It turned out she had, had a massive brain aneurism while we were on the phone. A blood vessel had burst in her brain.

And she lost all of her physical abilities—her vision, her speech. She couldn’t sit up or walk. She couldn’t swallow. Her bladder didn’t function. I mean, it was everything.

Jim: Oh.

Valorie: And I remember going and praying with her. I always joked that I remembered watching “General Hospital” as a kid and somebody was always in a coma, you know, (Laughing) and somebody was always talking to them in the coma. So, I thought, let me read to her. And I did. I just began reading from the book of Psalms. And I started reading, “Be still and know that I’m God.” I read it over and over again.

My mother actually opened her eyes six hours out of brain surgery. She hasn’t made a full recovery. She still has trouble walking, but her vision, her speech, her swallowing, her bladder, she can walk. She drives. My mother walks 2 ½ miles a day with her walker at the mall. She is one of the most optimistic and determined people I know and she focuses on what there is to be grateful for. That by all medical accounts, she should be dead, but she’s here and she still got to raise her son and now at, you know, 62-years-old, 13 years later, she’s retired. She works with me in my business. And she has that joy that I was talking about; even in the hospital bed, my mother had that joy.

And so, I’ve learned a great deal, but one of the biggest things I learned is around purpose. I know my purpose is inspiring women in particular to live more fulfilling lives. But during that time and I moved back home with my mom, I realized that I had a divine assignment that my purpose was inspiring my mother.

And when we get clear about our purpose, we realize we can’t just do what makes us happy in the moment, because eventually we’ll look back and we’ll regret it. Oftentimes God’s given us assignments that may be tough, may not be something you want to go through. But ultimately, it’s going to bring you the sense of purpose and joy that is meant for you.

If you’re going through something difficult, don’t worry that you’re not happy about what you’re going through. Just understand that if you make the right decisions, the godly decisions in your challenge, that looking back you’re gonna have so much joy about the decisions that you made to get through it.

Jim: Well, Valorie, I mean you have lived a life that has had disappointment like you just expressed and you found the rung on the ladder to hang onto God.

Valorie: Yeah.

Jim: And that’s in essence, the critical nature of finding joy and peace and happiness. And again, your book, Happy Women Live Better is a great tool for women and I would suggest, men, too—

Valorie: Absolutely.

Jim: –to better understand God’s design for happiness. And it’s been great chatting with you. Thanks for bein’ with us.

Valorie: Oh, thank you so much.


John: Well, you’ve really reminded us of the reasons we have to be happy and I know many were encouraged by what you’ve shared, Valorie.

Now if you’re looking to explore these happiness triggers, as Valorie calls them, get a copy of her book, Happy Women Live Better, which will walk you through the 13 triggers, things like gratitude and connection and relaxation and more. And helpfully, at the end of each chapter, she includes some conversation starters, so you can use this as a resource for a small group to work with or perhaps, just share with a friend. One reader told us, “I can’t wait to ignite conversations through lessons learned from this book.” Again, the title, Happy Women Live Better. And we’ll encourage you to get a copy when you get in touch with us here.

In fact, when you donate to this ministry, a contribution of any amount to Focus on the Family, so we can get this kind of radio programming out to people and encourage them, we’ll send a copy of that book to you as our way of saying thank you. Find details about the book, the CD or the download of this conversation and ways you can donate at Or call us; our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I’m John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back here on Monday for some laughs. We’ll have Dr. Dennis Swanberg here, offering encouragement to help you and your family thrive.

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