A woman in a Dallas suburb planned to camp out all this week – from Sunday on – to be first in line for Black Friday deals at her local Best Buy store.
Can you imagine?
Better yet, imagine this: Imagine the store was selling happiness. You’d be inclined to join her, wouldn’t you?
The good news is, happiness – as the Grinch learned about Christmas – doesn’t come from a store. You don’t need to camp out at all. It’s something you already have on hand; it’s something you can give to yourself.
And it’s the best gift you’ll ever get – well, the second-best. We’ll explain.
In all our research, reading, interviews and all our observation of the human condition over decades of chronicling the foibles and feats of the passing parade, our biggest takeaway may be this: The secret to happiness is gratitude.
When you’re basking in gratitude, it’s hard to let anything else get in the way. Troubles roll off your back. You press the “mute” button on mean people. And, in contrast to them, you’re like a lighthouse to those around you.
The wellspring of gratitude, of course, is understanding that life, itself, is the best gift you’ll ever receive. That means appreciating even the “little things” in life; it means paying attention, with your senses and your sensibilities, to the glory of life that surrounds you. It means letting anxiety and worry melt away, because you’ve already been given everything you really need. Everything else is just gravy.
The positive effects of gratitude have even been measured by science. Dr. William F. Doverspike of the Georgia Psychological Association writes that studies show that people who focus on gratitude feel better about their lives and even make more progress than others in working toward important goals. The studies have observed these outcomes in groups that have been tasked with doing such things as keeping “gratitude journals” – in which you write down three things every day that went well – and making “gratitude visits” – in which you thank someone in writing and in person who may have done something significant for you and wasn’t properly thanked.
“Compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events,” he wrote, “those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week.”
When you keep these things in the forefront of your mind every day, then you baste yourself in gratitude. Every day becomes Thanksgiving, just without as much food and football.
Yes, we worry about the economy and what the future may hold. Yes, we may be materially less well off than we used to be. But can we really lay claim to as much hardship and uncertainty as the Pilgrims? They had so much less comfort and so much more peril in their lives.
But they had two things in abundance: faith in and gratitude to God.
There’s a reason it’s called Thanksgiving, and not Wantlisting. And there’s a reason we celebrate every year, through good and bad. It’s because, no matter our difficulties, the gifts of life and love alone are enough to overflow with gratitude.
When you look back on 2011, from many years hence, you can choose to see your problems and heartaches. Or you can thank God in your heart that you were alive to experience it.
Give thanks now and always.