There is a secret key to happiness — even to joy — that is available to all but used by few.
It is one of those things that is hidden in plain sight — something that we know intuitively and yet do not focus on as much as we should. It is the fact that gratitude precipitates joy. In fact, gratitude is a form of joy, and joy is a form of gratitude.
The magic of the secret is that gratitude is the most obtainable kind of joy. Because unlike happiness, gratitude can actually be practiced. It is a skill that can be developed and a habit that can be learned. And it not only always attracts joy to its practicer but also always gives joy to whomever it is directed.
G.K. Chesterton made the connection this way:
”I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
When directed to God, a consistent and constant attitude of gratitude acknowledges his divine hand in every aspect of our lives. It ensures humility. It awakens wonder. It prompts perception and perspective. It builds empathy. It opens visions. It expresses love. It warms hearts.
As with all of the greatest gifts (such as love and faith and peace), gratitude grows as it is given, and its concepts can be joyfully studied forever. Each thing we learn of it suggests two things we do not yet understand. And the pursuit of gratitude, like the pursuit of joy, can go on forever and is the essence of what people of faith might call eternal progression.
Yet while it takes forever, its blessings and benefits begin to manifest themselves the minute we make gratitude our goal. Living in the atmosphere of gratitude can start whenever we want it to start. Gratitude is a gift that is always available. All we have to do is to learn how to practice it and how to receive it.
We can cultivate the joy that comes in moments and capture them — the eye-rolling happiness of a child’s kiss, the unparalleled joy of new life and moments that make everything else worth it.
Quoting Chesterton again, we are reminded of how constantly we can practice the skill:
“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner suggested that all gratitude takes is concentration:
“Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted — a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”
May we all practice gratitude more deliberately, and may we more effectively teach the skill to our children.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."