You and I, we have one common desire that we share with the people of this world. We share the desire to be happy. How we imagine our happiness may differ from one another, but the desire for happiness is unequivocally shared.
My father was undeniably a happy person. Although he grew up in “poverty” with perhaps very little material possessions and had to work at a very young age before he could complete an education at a later age, he said he was never in need. He said he was a fortunate man for all the opportunities given to him in every moment of life. He lived life in the moment and acted out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity. He was a man who lived gratefully. And his gratitude was the key to his happiness.
But is it really the happy people who are grateful? I know a number of people who have everything (or so it seems to me) that it would take to be happy, and they are not happy. They are wanting something else or they want more of the same. And I know people who have misfortunes that we ourselves would not want to have, and yet they are deeply happy. They radiate happiness. What is the difference? New scientific research shows that those who feel happy are the ones who are thankful, grateful for what they have or whatever comes their way as opposed to concentrating on the more and what they don’t have. The research concludes that acting out in gratitude makes you a happier person, more disciplined, more able to achieve your goals, physically healthier, less stressed, and happiness frees you from emotional pain. It appears my father had the right idea.
Does that mean that we must be grateful for everything? Certainly not. We cannot be grateful for violence, for war, for oppression, for exploitation, for the loss of a life, for unfaithfulness, for bereavement. …However, we can be grateful in every given moment for the opportunity, even when we are confronted with something that is terribly difficult, to rise to the occasion and respond to the opportunity that is given to us. With gratitude, we affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received, and it makes us “pay it forward.” It could be in the simplest of behaviors…a smile, a pat on the back, help with the groceries, a thank you, a thumbs up, letting someone go ahead of you in line, buying a bouquet of flowers, a phone call, a meal, small change, or finding $10 in your pocket.
A few years back, on my way to work, I made a habit of stopping by the 7/11 to pick up a cup of coffee. The area wasn’t the best of neighborhoods. Panhandlers and people who carried their world in a shopping cart used to hang there especially on cold days hoping for small change or a kind offer of a warm cup of coffee. Among them was a woman seemingly new to the area. I picked up my coffee, returned to the car and was about to drive off when I remembered I had an older jacket in the back seat of my car. I hadn’t used it for over a year. On impulse, I grabbed it and gave it to the woman. Her gratitude radiated from her eyes as she said “Thank you.” A few days later, I dropped by the 7/11 for my usual a.m. coffee and the same woman was there, wearing the jacket. Before I could enter the store, she approached me, and taking her hand out of the one pocket she handed me a folded $10 bill and said, “I found this in the pocket.” I was touched, not by her honesty so much as touched by her content and satisfied heart. Gratefulness out of a sense of enough. It was my turn to thank her. I told her she could keep the money on condition that she buy me my cup of coffee that morning. The joy on her face that she was able to do something for me with dignity could not be captured in a picture. I think we both unleashed our hearts to sing that day.
I’ve lived long enough to learn that we can all be people who live gratefully. Practice gratitude. Cultivate it. Live it daily. It’s the key to happiness.
On this Thanksgiving Day, for what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.