What Makes You Happy? – The Magnitude Of Gratitude
“What makes you unhappy?” came the reply. After all, if we are grateful for what we are, do, and have, how can we be unhappy? Such is the magnitude of gratitude. Our happiness hinges on it. The importance of gratitude, appreciation, or thankfulness never escaped the attention of the great philosophers. Marcus T. Cicero (106 ~ 43 BCE), for example, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
How about you? Are you grateful for ALL your blessings? Of course, we are grateful for unexpected, pleasant surprises. For instance, if we were to win the lottery, inherit a fortune, get an unexpected bonus or raise, we would be brimming over with thankfulness.
But what about the blessings we live with daily. Aren’t we so used to them that we take them for granted? Here are some examples of good fortune that we may forget to be grateful for: food, shelter, clothing; the country we live in; opportunities to work, play, and study; the miracle of life; the misfortunes we have avoided; the diversity and spice of life; good health; our gifts and talents; our achievements; freedom of speech; the kindness, encouragement, and help we receive from others; the technology that makes life more pleasant (air-conditioning, appliances, computers); the ability to create our destiny with the power of choice; art, music, dance, poetry, and beauty; our friends, family, and pets.
Even our memories can be a source of great joy, for as Amelia C. Welby (1819 ~ 1852) wrote, “As the dew to the blossom, the bud to the bee; As the scent to the rose, are those memories to me.” And what about nature; shouldn’t it also be a great source of gratitude? Here’s how Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906 ~ 2001) answers that question, “One can get just as much exultation in losing oneself in a little thing as in a big thing. It is nice to think how one can be recklessly lost in a daisy.”
The point I was trying to make in the above two paragraphs was nicely summarized by Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874 ~ 1936) in one sentence: “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”
But wait, there’s yet another category of events and circumstances that we often neglect to be thankful for, and that’s the difficulties we struggle with and the obstacles we have to overcome. For they are what make us stronger.
At this point, let me expand on what I suggested in my opening remarks; mainly, our happiness depends on an attitude of gratitude. Look at it this way, when we live with a grateful heart, we live without whining or complaining. In other words, we’re happy. Or as Marianne Williamson has expressed it, “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”
Despite the many handicaps she had to endue, Helen Keller (1880 ~ 1968) was grateful. Certainly you and I can do the same. Here is what she said, “So much has been given to me; I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.” That’s what happy people do. They focus on what they have, not on what they lack. They do so for good reason, for as Epicurus (c. 341 ~ 270BCE) taught, “Do not spoil (the pleasure of) what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
If you would be rich, be grateful, for gratitude is riches and complaining is poverty. Rather than complain about what you lack, be grateful for what you have. Charles Dickens (1812 ~ 1870) agrees, for he wrote, “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
The next time you feel like complaining, write down your complaint and then change it into something you are grateful for. Do this often enough and you will develop the skill to always see the positive in every situation. For an example of what I mean, take a look at this popular piece, taken from the Internet and titled, I AM THANKFUL:
I AM THANKFUL
For the wife who says it’s hot dogs tonight, because she is home with me, and not out with someone else.
For the husband who is on the sofa being a couch potato, because he is home with me and not out at the bars.
For the teenager who is complaining about doing dishes, because it means she is home, not on the streets.
For the taxes I pay,
because it means I am employed.
For the mess to clean after a party,
because it means I have been surrounded by friends.
For the clothes that fit a little too snug, because it means I have enough to eat.
For my shadow that watches me work,
because it means I am out in the sunshine.
For a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing, because it means I have a home.
For all the complaining I hear about the government, because it means we have freedom of speech.
For the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot, because it means I am capable of walking and I have been blessed with transportation.
For my huge heating bill,
because it means I am warm.
For the lady behind me in church who sings off key, because it means I can hear.
For the pile of laundry and ironing,
because it means I have clothes to wear.
For the weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day, because it means I have been capable of working hard.
For the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours, because it means I am alive!