I know what you’re thinking. How can gratitude be the road to happiness when life is so challenging? Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve had periods in my life when gratitude was nowhere to be found. And in times of tremendous loss or change, these durations can turn into seasons of challenges. I’m not sure why, but they seem to be grouped together—one after another. But at some point, the tide changes in your favor.
About ten years ago, my husband unexpectedly died and then three weeks later a fire broke out in our home, forcing my sixteen-year-old daughter to move out for seven months while it was being rebuilt. This happened a couple weeks before Thanksgiving so, no, it was hard to be thankful for anything. The fire stole the visual triggers of seeing him grilling at the barbeque or working from his desk, the smell of his cologne in his clothes, and the comfort of grieving in my home. It was all just too much, and I fell into a deep depression.
Then, about four months later, I woke up one day and said to myself, I’ve got to live again and try to find a little joy, if not for me, then for my daughter. I started looking for joy in simple things, like seeing a hummingbird, making the green light, or hearing a song on the radio. Sometimes I would find joy and then something would knock me back down. For a while, it felt like I was making one step forward and two steps back. But I discovered that gratitude was the quickest way to joy.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” — Henry David Thoreau
Instead of focusing on what was wrong or what I lost, I started to be grateful for what I currently had, like family, friends, health, and a home. And I was lucky enough to have shared and created a wonderful life with my late husband. Not everyone gets to experience that and I’m very thankful for that. When I turned towards gratitude, joy appeared and stay.
“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.” — Germany Kent
What I realized was that my perception of what was happening, not necessarily the situation itself, was causing my troubles. For example, getting stressed about simple things that were not in my control, such as if I was stuck in traffic or the line moving slowly in the grocery store, I would think, “Come on, let’s move faster.” But faster for what? Was another minute or two going to truly going to make a difference? No. I was creating my distress and worrying about things that were out of my control. So I let things go and accepted what is, my happiness increased.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James
Life is always changing, and there will be times when it’s hard, and times when life flows more easily. But even in the struggles, we can find some small thing to be grateful for. And when we do, our burdens seem a little less heavy and happiness starts to emerge.
“Joy is not in things; it is in us.” — Richard Wagner
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be thankful for what you have—family, friends, food, a home, a job, good health. So let’s show our gratitude by saying thank you and helping others. And show yourself some gratitude by doing something that brings you joy, such as walking, cooking, having coffee with a friend, or reading a book. When you find gratitude, you understand that gratitude is the road to happiness.
Happy Thanksgiving! I’m grateful for you!