The Secret of Happiness: A Grateful Heart, Looking and Asking for what We Want

Richard looked into the eyes of his son and said, “If someone you knew were to give you a million dollars, and tell you to spend it anyway you want, what would be the first thing you would buy?” “That’s easy,” his son replied, “I’d buy a Thank You card!”

After the performance, a little girl asked the concert violinist for his autograph. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but my hands are tired from playing.” The little girl replied, “My hands are tired too. Tired from clapping.”

There’s a big difference between the two stories, isn’t there? One is a tale of gratitude and the other of ingratitude. What a pity the concert violinist, talented as he is, chose to be unhappy at the time the little girl spoke to him. For you cannot be ungrateful and happy at the same time. The surest way to always be happy is to always be grateful.

We need to develop an attitude of gratitude, an appreciation for the gift of life. One of America’s most influential Protestant spokesmen of the nineteenth century, Henry Ward Beecher, said, “If one should give me a dish of sand, and tell me there were particles of iron in it, I might look for them with my eyes, and search for them with my clumsy fingers, and be unable to detect them; but let me take a magnet and sweep through it and how would it draw to itself the almost invisible particles by the mere power of attraction. The unthankful heart, like my finger in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day, and as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessing. Only the iron in God’s sand is gold!”

The grateful heart is a magnet that attracts more blessings. How is this possible? Well, the blessings were always there; we just didn’t see them. Gratitude clears the haze that obscures the gifts surrounding us. To be enlightened is to live a life of gratitude. Or, as Johannes A. Gaertner wrote, “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.”

Are you living in a garden of abundance and joy or in a barren wilderness? Whatever your situation, Sarah Ban Breathnach explains why it is as it is: “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.”

Our decision on whether we focus on the positive or the negative determines whether we live in heaven or hell. For example, when we clean or repair the house, do we focus on the drudgery or are we grateful for home ownership? When the going gets tough, do we focus on the unpleasantness or are we thankful for the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson? If we lose our job, are we devastated or are we joyful that we still have our family, friends, and life?

The rewards of gratitude are many. For one, it will change a life of emptiness to one of fulfillment. Unappreciative people are never satisfied and live empty lives. If we do not appreciate what we have now, how can we enjoy what we hope to have in the future? To have what you want; learn to want what you have. Also, when we are fully aware of the treasures we already have, we eliminate worry, fear, greed, and envy. Finally, an ever-grateful heart will soften the blow when tragic events occur.

Gratitude is more than a feeling of thankfulness, it is also an expression of that thankfulness. It’s fine to appreciate your spouse, but prove your gratitude with acts of kindness. It’s great to be thankful for your job, but show your gratitude by respecting your boss and working hard.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize how much we owe to others. However, one genius, Albert Einstein, explained it as follows: “Many times a day I realize how much my own life is built on the labors of my fellowmen, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”

How can we develop our sense of gratitude? Two popular methods are with a “gratitude journal” or a “gratitude list.” If a journal, write at least five things you are grateful for each day. Or, simply create a list of what you are thankful for. You can carry a small notebook with you and jot down items whenever they occur to you. Whether you work with a journal or a list, the idea is you are forcing yourself to focus on and become aware of your blessings. When adding your entries, don’t forget to consider the harm you have avoided, as well as the blessings you have received. For instance, you may not be blind, deaf, dumb, lame, or terminally ill. But many others are, so you have much to be grateful for. As you daily keep your journal or list, awareness of your blessings will become a part of your nature, and all the benefits will follow. Then, we will be able to say, as Clarence E. Hodges did, “For today and its blessings, I owe the world an attitude of gratitude.”

Today, nearly everyone carries a smart phone, so there is no excuse for not keeping a gratitude journal. I say that because of the many outstanding apps that are available for smart phones and tablets. Once you have an app, you can quickly jot down, and later add to, your daily gratitude list/journal. My favorite app for my iPad is Day One. What I love about it is I can create as many categories as I want, such as Gratitude, Exciting Event, Learning Experience, and Achievement. And at the end of the year, if I want to recall the exciting things that happened during the year, all I have to do is click on Exciting Event, and a list of them will instantly appear.

Probing Deeper

Someone asked, “What makes you happy?”

“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, 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 win the lottery, inherit a fortune, get an unexpected bonus or raise, we are 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 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 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’m trying to make was nicely summarized by Gilbert K. Chesterton 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 and wiser.

Our happiness, then, 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 could be 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 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 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.”

To energize your day, start it by counting your blessings. You will find that “Appreciation is yeast, lifting ordinary to extraordinary” (Mary-Ann Petro). And when life gets hectic and you’re feeling run down, pause a moment and reflect on your blessings. This practice will lift your mood. Always keep in mind the words of a classic, old hymn, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings, see what God has done!”

Gratitude restores balance to our spirit. You see, those who feel empty inside often try to fill that void with possessions. But that never works because our appetite is insatiable. Charles Ferdinand Ramuz explains: “(An unfulfilled) Man never has what he wants, because what he wants is everything.” Julius Charles Hare continues, “How few are our real wants (needs), and how easy is it to satisfy them! Our imaginary ones are boundless and insatiable.”

The best way to get rid of a feeling of emptiness is to look inward and develop a grateful heart. When we do so, we will find that GRATEFULNESS gives a GREAT FULLNESS to the heart. Francis Beaumont expands on this notion, “He is not rich that possesses much, but he that covets no more; and he is not poor that enjoys little, but he that wants too much.”

The world is a mirror, reflecting whatever I send out. If I am a grumpy man, everywhere I go, I will be met by resistance, anger, and hostility. Yet, if my heart is filled with gratitude and my every thought, word, and deed is one of kindness, no matter where I go, every door will open. St. Basil  said something similar, “A good deed is never lost. He who sows courtesy, reaps friendship; he who plants kindness, gathers love; pleasure bestowed on a grateful mind was never sterile, but generally gratitude begets reward.”

When we are thankful for the miracle of life and its wondrous gifts, who is there to thank, other than our Creator? For this reason, gratitude also helps us tap into the realm of spirituality. Johannes A. Gaertner hinted at this when he wrote, “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” The reason we “touch Heaven” when we are grateful is that Heaven Itself is grateful. At least that is what is reported in the Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad-Gita. For in it, it is written, ““Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart — a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water — I accept with joy.” For those of us who are spiritual and engage in prayer, let that prayer be, “Thou who has given so much to me, give one thing more: a grateful heart” (George Herbert).

Melody Beattie adds, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Receiving More to Be Grateful for

The more we are grateful for what we have, the more we will have to be grateful for. This simple law of life is just common sense. After all, who do you help the most, those who appreciate your help or those who are indifferent to it? So, doesn’t it follow that when you appreciate the love, respect, and kindness you receive from others, more is sure to follow?

Yet, you can add even more to be grateful  for by simply asking for what you want. “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.” These words of Christ express a natural law; mainly, the world responds to those who ask. Percy Ross describes this profound fact in more playful terms, “The world is full of genies waiting to grant your wishes.” If we only knew what we’re not receiving because we’re not asking, we’d surely change our behaviour.

Those of us who are married or in relationships are so because we asked the person of our dreams to share their life with us. So, inherently, we all know that we can realize our dreams merely by asking. And yet, after finding their mate and job, many people stop asking. Consequently, they stop receiving. Their dreams are vaporized. Their progress halted. Their happiness stunted.

Why do we stop asking? Mainly because we’re afraid the person we’re asking will say no. Marcia Martin explains why such a notion is foolish: “What I point out to people is that it’s silly to be afraid that you’re not going to get what you want if you ask. Because you are already not getting what you want. They always laugh about that because they realize it’s so true. Without asking you already have failed, you already have nothing. What are you afraid of? You’re afraid of getting what you already have! It’s ridiculous! Who cares if you don’t get it when you ask for it, because, before you ask for it, you don’t have it anyway. So there’s really nothing to be afraid of.”

Another reason for people not asking for what they want is they believe they are unworthy of it. The solution is to make yourself worthy. I may want to get a raise at work, but I am not automatically entitled to one merely because I put in time and carry out my responsibilities; after all, that’s what I am paid to do. However, if I do more than I am supposed to and make myself a valuable member of the company, I become worthy of a raise and can then ask for one. If I’m turned down, I can ask for advice on what else I can do to earn a raise in the future. So, I have nothing to lose by asking. At the very least, I will gain some knowledge on how to better my chances in the future, as well as impress my superior with my ambition.

We have to learn from our children and pet dogs and cats. Don’t they live by the principle that it never hurts to ask? We need to do the same. It is essential to realize that we cannot reach our goals without the help of others. Therefore, we must ask them for their help. True, we may not get what we ask for, but we will never get what we don’t ask for!

To start getting more out of life, we need to ask ourselves a series of questions. Questions like, “What do I want that I am not asking for now? What is needed to get what I want? Who can help me get what I need? What are the obstacles I need to overcome? What path of action should I take to overcome those obstacles? What are the worst and best that could happen by asking? What is most likely to happen? What am I waiting for?

Also, prepare the way by following another universal law, which is, “You only receive what you give away.” In other words, before you can expect others to respond favorably to your requests, you have to willingly cooperate with those asking for your help. Be generous and kind. This sets in motion relationships and networks that are predisposed to help you because you are worthy of it.

Need more help around the house from your spouse? Need more training to improve your job performance? Need your neighbor to stop blocking your driveway with his pickup truck? Need your doctor to explain in greater detail what your options are? Need help in doing your school report? Need to have your friend stop blabbing about the things you tell her in private? Accomplish your aims; achieve your wishes, and get what you want out of life by asking for it.

How to Ask for What You Want

Develop the proper mindset. That is, recognize that people are the source of our power; we are both worthy of being helped by others and obligated to help those in need of help; realize that we live in a friendly, supportive world rather than a hostile one, and that there is plenty to go around so we don’t have to fight for what we want. Alan Cohen summarizes this point, “Only those who ask for more can get more and only those who know there is more, ask.”

Follow the advice of Barbara De Angelis, “You can’t ask for what you want unless you know what it is. A lot of people don’t know what they want or they want much less than they deserve. First you have figure out what you want. Second, you have to decide that you deserve it. Third, you have to believe you can get it. And, fourth, you have to have the guts to ask for it.

Explain your need and desire for help. Make a request, not a demand. Make them understand why you need what you are asking for. A request for help without a reason is likely to fall flat on its face.

Accept refusals graciously. Thank them for their consideration. Don’t sulk. As the Russians say, “Ask a lot, but take what is offered.” Show gratitude when they help; show understanding when they don’t.

Don’t try to get what you want by manipulation. Don’t try to make the other party feel guilty for refusing.

Don’t ask others to do what you can do without their help. Show some initiative.

Don’t ask for advice or suggestions if all you want is to have someone agree with your preconceptions.

Be creative: “A clever, imaginative, humorous request can open closed doors and closed minds.” (Percy Ross)

Don’t make unreasonable requests. Don’t ask someone to do what you are not willing to do for them.

Before asking, write it down. Writing it down helps you to focus, clarify your needs, and consider possible objections and how to answer them.

Don’t ask God, unless you believe He is Santa Claus. God helps those who help themselves. Save your prayers for prayers of thanksgiving.

Don’t be vague. For example, don’t tell your coworker she isn’t cooperative enough, but be precise in explaining what you need. For example, “Mary, I need you to come to the meetings on time. And the Month’s End Report must be completed by the 27th of each month. Whenever a problem occurs, tell me about it immediately so we can resolve the difficulty and meet our deadlines.”

Many married couples or close friends expect their mate or friend to be a mind reader. Don’t fall into this trap. Others are not aware of what is going on inside your head or the emotions you are experiencing. Thoughts such as, “If he really loved me, he would know how I feel” are sheer fantasy. You are capable of an infinite range of desires, thoughts, and feelings. Even the Amazing Kreskin won’t be able to decipher them unless you reveal them. So, don’t hide your thoughts, but share them by asking for what you want.

Remain committed to your goals and don’t get discouraged when your requests for help are turned down. You will never lose if you never quit. Just keep trying. The stakes are high and your efforts will be rewarded, sometimes in ways that are not immediately obvious.

Start asking today. You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.

Carefully choose who to ask; ask the right people, the ones who have the power to help you. And keep in mind Brian Tracy’s words, “Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’“

Ask for help, but not for permission to do what’s best for you. “When you ask permission, you give someone veto power over your life.” (Geoffrey F. Albert)

We often get less than what we ask for, so don’t downplay your value, ask for what you deserve. After all, if you ask for little, you are apt to get less. Or as Jim Rohn said, “Make sure you don’t go to the ocean with a teaspoon. At least take a bucket…”

Don’t be ashamed to ask and don’t be crushed if you are refused.

When you build relationships; get along with others, and cheerfully help those in need.You are building a foundation or network that will one day come to your aid when and if you need it. But don’t use this fact as the reason to help others; help them because it is the right thing to do.

People are basically good and willing to help when they can, so ask with confidence. Just by being confident you will increase the odds of getting what you want.

As a certain amount of courage is necessary to ask for what you want, practice regularly to develop your courage. You can start off with simple requests, such as by asking someone to pass the salt, mind your seat, tell you the time, or give you directions. Keep practicing until asking for what you want becomes perfectly comfortable and natural.

There’s nothing wrong with asking more than once and asking more than one person. As someone once said, The key to getting everything you want is to never put all your begs in one ask-it!

The major responsibility of human beings is to help one another, so don’t neglect the needs and desires of your family, relatives, friends, co-workers, and anyone you meet. When you see someone in trouble, don’t ask if there is something you can do. Rather, immediately take decisive action and help in any way you can.

Asking for what you want doesn’t mean you will get everything you ask for. But it does mean you will get more of it. Imagine how much better our life can be just by asking for what we want.

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:


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!




A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life by John Kralik

Gratitude: A Way of Life by Louise L. Hay

Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert Emmons

Living Life as a Thank You: The Transformative Power of Daily Gratitude

by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons

Gratitude: 7 Simple Steps To Becoming More Grateful In 7 Days by Ruth Logan

Outrageous Openness: Letting the Divine Take the Lead by Tosha Silver

TAKE THIS BOOK TO WORK: How to Ask for (and Get) Money, Fulfillment, and Advancement

by Tory Johnson and Robyn Spizman.

Ask for the Moon and Get It by Percy Ross and Dick Samson


Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude

David Steindl-Rast: Want to be happy? Be grateful.

Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work.

Jane Ransom:Discover the Three Keys of Gratitude to Unlock Your Happiest Life!

The Gratitude Experiment

Hailey Bartholomew:365 grateful project


Chris Winfield:13 Things I’ve Learned Writing 1,024 Gratitude Lists

5 Tips to Supercharge Your Gratitude List and Infuse Your Life With Joy

Cultivating Gratitude