Whether we are talking about an individual’s sense of satisfaction or an organization’s sense of purpose, the key to happiness in life is gratitude. Thankfulness is the most tried and true process for experiencing a life of fulfillment.
I know it seems cheesy and cliché. But gratitude is much more than those things. It is scientifically proven to make one happier, healthier, and more likely to express a sense of meaning.
And I also know life can be hard. We are in the middle of a fierce battle with infertility. The world is reeling from a pandemic. There is partisan politics, war, poverty, and the threat of violence around every corner. I know. I live in the same world you do and am not suggesting we deny reality in order to pretend at a half-hearted gratitude. No, I propose that we accept the reality of our circumstances for exactly what they are worth. And you might be very surprised to find how inherent gratitude already is in your life. You’ve just been ignoring it for far too long.
Our first and fiercest qualm with gratitude is that it doesn’t change anything. In fact, we fear it is a way of either pretending bad things are not happening or giving their negative effects some sort of permission/justification to exist.
It doesn’t have to be either.
The uncomfortable fact is that much of what happens is well beyond our control. We cannot change a lot of things, circumstantially. Yet, we hold ourselves accountable to being God. We cast ourselves as judge, jury, and executioner. We trap ourselves in the negative circumstances around us, tying our identity to our ability to “fix”, and frustrated with the world that is not responding as we’d hope to our advances.
The great lie in our world is that you need to change circumstances to create something better. We want to provide more money for our kids. We want to heal diseases. We want to squash oppression. And of course, these are all noble pursuits. What I am suggesting is that contentment and happiness are not dependent on these pursuits succeeding and our imagined future coming to pass.
The real stinker is that even when we do succeed, we find we are often trading one set of problems for another. The idea of a utopia is too grand, too impossible for us to truly envision, let alone live out. And so, waiting and struggling and fighting are a part of the human condition. An integral part.
We do not need to change things to be happy. We need to be grateful that we can try to change things. Grateful for a truth worth fighting for. Grateful that fighting is, in a sense, already a victory.
A Matter of Perspective
Again, I am not saying we should not grieve or lament or struggle for better circumstances. But our happiness will not be inherent within those better circumstances. It will be a choice we make along the way. Choosing happiness is just another way of saying “being grateful”.
There are happy people living in poverty just like there are miserable millionaires. There are happy people in challenging relationships and circumstances. Those who are happy are making the conscious decision to focus on what their relationship, circumstance, or setting is rather than what it is not.
Your relationship and the circumstances you face are imperfect. They always will be. But intimacy develops through struggle. Perseverance produces character. Love is not about making life easier; it is about the complicated joy of togetherness.
If you are searching for happiness, the best place to start is within your current reality. What do you have to be thankful for? We too often go out looking for happiness like it is some quest for an external treasure. Happiness is an internal issue. If you want to find it, you have to start by looking within and flaming the spark you find. No matter how small it may seem, with a little oxygen and attention, the fire is sure to spread.