If You Want to be Happy, Learn to be Grateful

If you believe that you’re supposed to be happy, then you want to know this: if you want to be happy, learn to be grateful. It’s being grateful that puts you on the one-way

elongated head of lavender in bloom

It’s easy to feel happy about big things like a negative medical test result or a long-sought and deserved pay raise. If you want to feel happy all the time, learn to be grateful for the small things in life.

road to happiness. You can’t reach happiness any other way. And, you will never reach gratitude if you wait until you feel happy. This is true for the simple reason that happiness comes from within, not from what or who is around you or things that happen to you or that don’t happen to you.

Happiness isn’t the momentary feeling that comes from eating a warm cookie or from having an on-time gate arrival. Happiness is deep, ongoing, satisfaction and contentment.

Finding Happiness

Being grateful can be hard. It takes courage to let go of the things that make you unhappy long enough to receive things that make you happy. You may well have a lot of ugly things happening right now that no one could rightfully expect you to be happy about. Things related to loss of a job or marriage or health or a relationship. 

Or maybe the things that are making you unhappy are correctable, like a fight with your spouse or a bank overdraft. Or maybe even something that on another day wouldn’t bother you at all, like a neighbor who insists on mowing before breakfast on the one day you planned to sleep late.

It takes courage to admit that the core of your unhappiness is your expectation that your life should be free of unhappiness, free of disappointment or hardship or heartache, free of inconvenience, free even of the unexpected.

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is a form of acknowledging and accepting what is, not what you’d like things to be, but what is actually happening in your life.

Gratitude helps you see the connection between what you want in your life and what you currently have.

Gratitude helps you identify where you might need to make changes in your life, changes that only you can make.

Gratitude is a counter-balance to expectations, especially expectations about things that are beyond your control.

Where Does Gratitude Come From?

My mother tells the story of when I was three or so and we were all eating dinner. She had made chili macaroni, and it had just become my favorite dish. The conversation went something like this:

“Mommy, you got another can of this?”

“Honey girl, I made that from scratch.”

“Got any more scratch?”

Gratitude, like chili mac, comes from scratch. It comes from putting together some ingredients that you have on hand. They’re not expensive, or special, or hard to come by. They’re right there in your life if you just look for them.

The first ingredient is recognition of things that are going right. A quick inventory of the good things helps to put the bad things into perspective.

Yes, the insurance company declared your car a total loss yet their check won’t begin to buy a car as suitable as the one now resting in the junkyard. But you have the ability to drive (you weren’t more seriously injured) and you have places to go to, like to a job, to see friends and family, and you have a broader network of people who care about you.

This isn’t some sort of rationalization designed to minimize what’s wrong in your life. Being grateful is a way of shifting your perspective. Rather than looking at the one thing or those few things that are rotten, you’re looking at everything that is in your life, the good as well as the bad.

Practicing Gratitude Gets You to Happiness

You don’t have to wait for something bad to happen to practice gratitude. In fact, you shouldn’t. Just pay attention to your life at the moment. Use your senses to be open to what is around you. A flower in bloom, the smell of fresh coffee, that moment of quiet across the household just before you fall asleep that tells you all is well. The touch of a loved one.

The second ingredient is appreciation. Once you’ve identified a few good things, express appreciation, to yourself and to others, for them.

The third ingredient is to do something because of the good things you have. It can be as simple as thanking others for their cooperation. Forgiving someone. Being helpful. Expressing empathy.

When you regularly combine those three ingredients, you will have created gratitude, and from it, you will have happiness.

Live Honest, Open and True

If you want to feel happy, first work to feel grateful. Regularly practicing gratitude makes you feel happy, satisfied and content, with yourself and with those who are most important to you.

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Do you have story to tell about learning to be grateful? Tell me about it in the comments or tweet me @lifeishotblog with the hash tag #LifeIsHOT!

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