By golly, I've found it at last: the secret to happiness.
And I've searched high and low. I've looked for it all my life and now that I've stumbled upon it I couldn't be more surprised at how simple it really is. I've searched for this elusive happiness through many avenues, some good some bad. I've looked for it through my children, through my relationship with my husband, through running and working out, through shopping, through gardening, through keeping a home, and through different aspects of my faith, however there is one sure path I've found that makes everything else pale in comparison.
OK, OK. I won't leave you hanging. But one more thing before I reveal the revolutionary greatness (ha!) of what I've found. Some of you may be thinking, "well, the secret to happiness is Christ." And yes, it is, however our happiness lies not just in knowing our God, but in living in relationship with Him through a very particular act:
That's it. This is the secret to happiness. Gratitude. Gratefulness. Thankfulness. Appreciation. No matter what you call it, it's all the same: being happy with what you've got. And even more than that: loving what you've got so much that you don't desire a single thing more.
I have been searching for happiness and fulfillment all my life. And we all are. God wants us to be happy. Heck, Heaven is, like, eternal happiness. And if happiness is something God desires for us, of course Satan will try and confuse us about how to get there. As mentioned above, I have been looking for happiness through a lot of different things. Some of these things good, some of them destructive. But all of them fall short.
I "discovered" gratitude after having Levi. Before he was born I prayed and prayed that God would give me grace to handle a baby and two other children. Patience, selflessness, sacrifice, and being content are virtues that do not come easy for me. Knowing that a baby would throw our routines and way of life off, I was more than nervous. I tend to fly off the handle when I'm overwhelmed and tired and I was worried that I would take my stresses out on my kids and my husband. Plus, I didn't just want to "get through" the newborn stage and I knew it wouldn't be right to blame a bad attitude on having a baby. So, again, I prayed that when Levi came, God would help me to live one day at a time, to recognize that He only gives us grace for the present moment, and to be happy through it all.
And God answered this prayer along with giving me one more thing: gratitude.
Right after Levi was born, the tornadoes happened all across the Midwest. Many people lost their lives. Babies were found in fields - miles away from their families. I imagined all the women who had 2-week-olds like me and instead of complaining that I was up every 45 minutes at night or sleeping on the couch, or couldn't ever fit a shower in, I was grateful for the couch and the fact that I still had a bathroom I could take shower in. And as the days went on, I never ever allowed myself to focus on what I didn't have.
And I'm telling you, despite the trials we have been though with little Levi's reflux and the ups and downs of having a newborn in general, I have never been happier.
Of course I will never be "perfect" at gratitude, however, I no longer desire what I don't have. I no longer want things to be different or better because what I have is oh. so much. In choosing (because gratitude is ultimately a choice) to be grateful, I find that I yell at my kids less, I don't get overwhelmed as much, I don't vent or take my frustrations out on my husband when he gets home from work (OK, maybe sometimes I do). I could go on and on about how gratitude has changed me but truly it has given me a peace and happiness on a whole other level than I have experienced before.
One quick thing about what gratitude is not: it is not a comparison game. It's not saying to ourselves, "man, my life is awesome because other people's lives are crappy." (sorry I couldn't put that more eloquently. I'm still running on broken sleep...) Gratitude is not just being appreciative when others are going through hard times. Gratitude also means giving glory to God for how He blesses others. I once heard from some wise person that just because God chooses to bless someone else doesn't mean He won't ever bless you. It's not like He has some finite amount of "blessings" to go around. I now rejoice when others are blessed instead of secretly harboring resentment or jealousy. And what a happier place to be!
As I look around me, I see floors that desperately need to be vacuumed, yet instead of complaining about them I look at the sun outside and say "thank you, God!" Instead of complaining about a baby who got me up 3 times last night, I look at his adorable little smile and say "thank you, God!" Instead of complaining that I am living in "Groundhog's Day" (you know, the movie where the same day happens over and over and over and over...?) I am reminded of the break I got this weekend and I say "thank you, God!" For these little things are all God's way of saying "I'm thinking of you today, Kristine."
As I move forward I pray God will help me to live this Eucharistic life. For Eucharist means thankful. I pray he helps me to complain less and love more. I pray that He will always keep my blessings in front of me so that I never lose sight of them or take them for granted. And I pray that he blesses us all today with gratitude, the secret to happiness.
(*Want more? Check out this great article: Stop Whining and Start Living: Understanding the Power of Our Words.)