Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Secret of a Happy Heart

The secret of a happy heart is gratitude. Entitlement -- to whatever extent we nurture it -- is toxic to happiness. If I feel I am owed, then getting what I want or deserve only puts me back to baseline. There is no overflow of joy. A temporary feeling of being "paid up" is as good as it gets. That has nothing to do with true happiness.

The happy in heart draw their happiness from a well of gratitude. They feel blessed because everything they have, no matter how little, is not something they are "owed", but is something grace has provided. The happy in heart stop to appreciate their blessings, even if troubles also abound. "In this world you shall have tribulation...", Jesus said. They know this is true. They have reckoned the fact that reversals, heartaches, disappointments and difficulties are part of the deal. So they focus instead at the miracles of their blessings -- great or small. They see these blessings as gifts from outside of themselves (unearned) and give thanks to The Giver that they have been so favored.

Happiness is totally a matter of perspective and gratitude. I met a man last weekend who has lost everything he once took pride in -- four houses, a marriage, abundant money -- all kinds of things people consider desireable. All gone. Losing all these things has been the hardest part of his journey. However, he reported to me that he is happier now than when he had them. Why? Because he is grateful for what he DOES have and knows that he is blessed to have anything at all.

If just having "stuff" could make us happy, then the most affluent parts of town -- Newport Coast, Beverly Hills, Coto de Caza (!) -- you name it, should be bubbling over with joyful people having excellent days every day. Look how much they have! Those should be the happiest neighborhoods on earth!! I ask you: is that your experience of these places?

And the poor neighborhoods should be places without music, without any joy, without appreciation for the simple things. Just hotbeds of dissatisfaction and entitlement. Is there no joy or appreciation among the poor? And the middle class areas should be full of people who are sort of happy but not fully because they know there are others who have more. Are there no happy middle class folk?

The reality is that we find both entitlement and happiness in all classes, in both sexes, at all levels, and in all parts of the world. The determinant factor in happiness is gratitude for God's blessings, not stuff or power or adoration or anything else. We're happy if we choose to be grateful, no matter who we are. We are unhappy if we nurture entitlement, no matter how much or how little we have. That's the seceret of a happy heart.

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