Because “The Test of All Happiness is Gratitude”

Posted by Webster 
G. K. Chesterton can be a chore, the way he piles one analogy, one alliterative turn of phrase on another. But there are golden needles in his haystack. Today, I was plowing through Orthodoxy, chapter 4, “The Ethics of Elfland,” when I came upon a statement that stopped me cold: “The test of all happiness is gratitude.” It felt as though I was being handed a golden key, one that can help me make sense of my experience.

Think of the many forms of “happiness” you experience that don’t involve gratitude: the quick satisfaction of appetite; the thrill or enchantment of virtually every kind of electronic visual entertainment; a flattering word from someone you don’t care about.

Now think of other moments that do contain gratitude at their core: realizing how much you have been loved and supported by a parent or spouse; watching a sunset or listening to a concerto and realizing that life is a gift and that Whoever created it is worthy of all praise; or feeling the burden lifted from your shoulders following a good confession and thanking God for the sacrament.

The criterion of happiness Chesterton offers is so simple: Do you feel gratitude? 

Later this evening, I thought that maybe this seven-word thought might also hold the key to the most difficult door of all: forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer makes us a hard offer: We will be forgiven to the extent that we forgive others. Right now, in my life, although on balance I probably have far more to be forgiven myself, I am struggling with the difficulty of forgiving someone else. The offense against me, which was very real, occurred a long time ago, but I have become aware of just how hard it is to let go of.

If I can see reasons for gratitude even in this terrible offense, however; if I can thank God for what this offense taught me and is teaching me and even now is leading me toward—it seems that I might even be able to come to a new attitude toward the offender. I might be able to thank that person for helping bring me to a new place, a new understanding in my life.

One sentence from Chesterton alone, double-underlined and circled as it is in my book, is not going to work this magic by itself. The work is still mine to do. But at least I see a new avenue worth trying, a new path that might just lead to real forgiveness.

  • Anonymous

    Your site is awesome!Sincerely,a fellow Catholic and sister in Christ

  • Webster Bull

    Thank you, sister!

  • Ferde

    I have a similar problem with a former friend. Two things about forgiveness; it must be sought by the offending party, accompanied by an apology, and forgiving someone doesn't require forgetting nor does it require a return to the status quo ante. If that's what the Lord means by 'forgiving from the heart' I think He's asking the impossible. From me, anyway.I have forgiven by former friend. When he calls me, I'm cordial and polite. I don't consider him my friend any more so I'm not too chatty, but that's beside the point. I still resent what he did and I used to worry about that, but gave it up when I confessed it to a priest and he didn't even want to talk about it. I decided the resentment is benign, thus harmless. I hope you can find a similar way out of your concerns, too.

  • Anonymous

    Webster:About two years ago iwas hospitalized for some serious health problems brought on by cancer treatments i was going through. My brother, whom I dearly love came to see me three times in two days, which I thought was so nice because I hadn't seen him since Christmas.When I let him know I was home, he said he would stop by and see me sometime. I didn't see or talk to him again until two months later when I was able to go see him. I was angry and very hurt that he never even called, but I never brought it up to him.I have prayed about it, told myself I forgive him, but every now and then it comes back to me and I feel the hurt all over again. I really do love him and do forgive him, but when it comes back in my mind I have to ask myself if I really have forgiven or not.Anyway, quite some rant heh?Rick

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Brother Ferde. A certain wise man (initials FB) advised me the other day to look at the opening prayer for the Second Sunday in Advent: "God of power and mercy, open our heart in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy, so that we may share his wisdom and . . . ” FB suggested that forgiveness is necessary to remove whatever in our hearts prevents us from experiencing Christ. As such, it has nothing to do with the offender — I can't change him or his offense — it has to do with my own salvation. Forgive us our debts, as . . . .

  • Webster Bull

    Hey Rick, Father Barnes said recently that sometimes when saying the Lord's Prayer, we sail along easily until we come to "Forgive us our trespasses, as . . . " and suddenly we realize that God is asking for something big. He then said, When the offense is big, it's OK to say the prayer and think, "YOu know, God, I really can't forgive this whole thing right now, but I think I can do without 10 percent of it." Then, he said, we sometimes just have to chip away at forgiveness. I found this very helpful.


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