A Secret to Happiness

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie

 

Ultimately, happiness is relative. For me, happiness is sitting with my chescas (authentic handwoven Turkmenistan house-slippers that were gifted to me by a dear pal) propped up on a footrest in the lobby of our floor with my beautiful residents who for some reason have decided to unconditionally show love to me always. Happiness is writing this blog while sipping Mint Rose tea from my dark blue handmade ceramic mug with ABC family playing softly in the background. Happiness is waking up early naturally this morning without the assist of the demonic alarm, and going for a 9.8 mile run in the brisk, uninterrupted December morning air. Listening to podcasts on How Chili Peppers Work and The Time The Nazis Invaded Florida narrated so masterfully by the team on Stuff You Should Know (http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/, I highly recommend it). Happiness is being surrounded by people who share the same passion of worshipping God as I do as we fellowship and lift each other up. Happiness is the breathing in the aftermath of deep cleaning my room; scrubbing the floor with Clorox Bleach wipes, doing all of the dishes, wiping down surfaces that don’t get attention, finishing all the loads of laundry that I have neglected to attempt to start this past week. Oh my gosh, happiness is vacuuming the carpet and then slipping off my socks. 

I have been very blessed in my life to be afforded many, many opportunities to do things that make me happy. Things such as living in Glasgow, Scotland for a spell or getting to spend my summers program directing and counseling at a bible camp or the chance to be a Resident Assistant and form new relationships. I’m not saying these things to boast about how easy life has been to me and how lucky I’ve gotten. How fate loves me more and how blessed I am. I’m citing these examples to make a point:

Upon reflection of what has actually attributed to my happiness levels, I have found that it isn’t the fact that I’ve been given opportunities or that I’ve taken chances or that I’ve gone out of my comfort zone as much as possible. The events that one can write down in a planner…those aren’t what make me happy.

Happiness has not spawn from people giving me gifts, or from people paying me compliments. Happiness has not come from winning things or being the best at anything.

No, for me, happiness has come from gratitude.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart

Happiness doesn’t come from stuff. Happiness comes from being thankful for the “stuff”. Happiness is produced by mental reflection on our part. If someone handed me a new pair of gloves as a gift, the gloves themselves do not release endorphins or serotonin or dopamine. The emotions come when I reflect upon the gift. I have a couple of options upon reflection, I can chose to ask:

  1. Is the gift useful to me?  (I already have a good pair)
  2. How much do I like the giver personally? (she can sometimes be obnoxious)
  3. What is the quality of the gift (they were obviously second-hand)

or I can change my reflection habits entirely. I can ask better questions. 

  1. How much effort did this giver go through to secure this gift for me? (Even though they might be second-hand, she still wrapped them well and took time to approach me to give them to me)
  2. What else has the giver given to me in this gift? (Even though she is obnoxious to me sometimes, she is also giving me the chance to think about her differently, in a new light)
  3. What makes me so special to have deserved this gift? (Even if I already have a good pair, perhaps she has taken the time to want me to be able to replace my pair if need be)

The idea of gratitude doesn’t have to always apply to gifts. It definitely doesn’t mean posting a thank you card and calling it good. It can apply to life. Ultimately, taking the time to reflect upon gratitude and what one is grateful for is like taking the life you have now and squeezing as much happiness as possible from it.

“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” Willie Nelson

I can tell you from personal experience that gratitude is almost the single-handed reason for my happiness. Every morning, while I savor my cinnamon honey oatmeal and sip on my dark roast, fresh brewed cup of magical coffee, I take the time to journal. I use the beautiful, wonderful Moleskine journals (pronounced Mol-ay-skeen-ay, in case one wondered) that my father has purchased for me every birthday (I go through about one a year), and I take about 10-20 minutes to half-pray, half-write down what I’m thankful for.

It usually begins with being thankful for coffee.

But it’s simple, and it’s positive reflection, and it reminds me of the people who are beautiful and who are around me. And I have found that gratitude doesn’t come from being happy, happiness comes from gratitude.

Gratitude does not spawn from being happy, being happy spawns from being grateful.

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Why does the simple act of thinking about who and what I’m grateful for make such a big difference in my life?

One of the best blogs for always inspiring me in some way is Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits. I highly recommend it, he focuses on gratitude and also simplicity. The above question comes from his post on “Why a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy” (http://zenhabits.net/why-living-a-life-of-gratitude-can-make-you-happy/), and he provides a four-fold answer that I would like to share with you on the question of why gratitude makes such a big difference.

  1. Because it reminds you of the positive things in your life
  2. Because it turns bad things into good things
  3. Because it reminds you of what is important
  4. Because it reminds you to thank others

Gratitude also works to combat some things that inhibit happiness. Things such as selfishness, discontent, fear, uncertainty, and anxiety.

It combats selfishness because reflection swivels the focus of the reflector onto other people and other things outside of themselves. When I am truly grateful for something, I am so wrapped up in the emotion of it that I want others to share the same feeling.

It combats discontent because it reminds me that I have enough, that I am enough, that I have done enough. I think the tendency to underestimate how fortunate you are is extremely prevelant, and is honestly cured by reflecting. When you reflect upon how actually fortunate you are, you then realize you’ve left out some things.

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
Epicurus

It combats fear because it reminds you that there are people in your life who have your back. You reflect upon these people and the past things they have done for you, and you feel secure because of the support they have offered you in the past and will undoubtably offer to you in future if the need were to arise.

It combats uncertainty because you are able to reflect upon prior periods in your life that were also uncertain, but that you emerged from successfully (I say successfully, because you’re here, aren’t you?).

It combats anxiety because happiness is a stress-reliever. Truly. My anxieties wash away when I flood my stress with the emotion of happiness.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

So I emplore you. If you are struggling with a lack of happiness, if you are stuck in selfishness, focused on discontent, drowning in fear, lost in uncertainty, consumed with anxiety…try it. Just try it. Try writing down a gratitude list, try reflecting on what you are grateful for.

The more you do it, the more you practice gratitude, the better you are going to get at it. The more naturally it will come. The more gratitude will slip subconsciously through the shadows and be applied to all areas of your life.

Gratitude doesn’t involved comparing yourself to anyone else. Find solace and relief in that, because too much of life seems to involve comparisons.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens

What better opportunity to practice gratitude and purposeful reflection than the holidays?

 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

 

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