A few years ago, Peggy asked to meet with me. Life had taken a bad turn, and she needed to talk. When we got together later that day, Peggy explained what was going on and told me how mad she was at God. With anger in her voice, Peggy recalled how her family faithfully attends Mass every Sunday, sings in the choir, and volunteers in several church ministries. “What more do we need to do?” she shouted. “Where is God now when we really need him? I feel like God just left us to deal with all of this alone.” Pausing to dab a tear from her eye, Peggy sighed and said, “Well, thank God we have our friends. They haven’t left us. They’ve been so good to us during all of this, bringing us food, driving us to doctors and spending time with us.” After a moment of awkward silence, Peggy turned to me for my response. I said, “Thank God, indeed. Who do you think sent them?”
I feel so blessed to live in a country that sets aside a day to give thanks. There’s no shortage of things to lament about in our lives, so it’s especially important to take a moment to focus on what we’re grateful for. Gratitude isn’t just saying thank you every once in a while. Gratitude is having a positive attitude about a benefit we’ve received. It’s an immediate, crystal clear sense of how fortunate we are. As jazz great Lionel Hampton once said, “[g]ratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.”
You know, there’s a reason why the word thanks, thanksgiving and related words appear in the Bible over 150 times – gratitude is downright good for us! Studies have shown that people who express gratitude experience deeper levels of happiness, fulfillment and well-being. Gratitude reminds us of the positive things in our lives. Every time we’re grateful, we relive the benefit we received over and over again. Gratitude helps us discover the good that always seems to arise out of bad and reminds us of what’s important in life.
The key to experiencing the benefits of gratitude is making the conscious choice to be grateful. It’s all too easy to cling to the negative things in our lives because to some extent we find a little comfort in them. A “woe-is-me” attitude often attracts the sympathy and attention we seek. But after a while, that attitude gets old. Like the Saturday Night Live skit, people ultimately run away from the Debbie Downers in our lives. It’s a survival instinct. Grateful people, by contrast, have the opposite effect. We flock to them and can’t let them go. Grateful people bring God’s blessing and grace into our lives, and when we’re grateful, we do the same for others. When we’re grateful, people want, no, need to be around us.
Choosing to live a grateful life begins and ends with God. All good things come from God – our lives, our family, our friends and everything we need to live a happy life – so we owe God our unending gratitude. As the German theologian Meister Eckhart so aptly put it, “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” I’ve personally found that beginning my day with a small prayer of gratitude – usually as simple as, “Thank you!” – is just what I need to face life’s challenges armed with a glass that’s at least half full. And I’m a happier person for it, because “[y]ou cannot be simultaneously grateful and unhappy.”
That’s what happened to Peggy. On hearing my words, Peggy froze and stared at me intently. I didn’t know if she were going to slap me or hug me. Slowly, a wry smile graced the corners of her mouth like a phoenix rising from the ashes. She said, “I guess you’re right. God hasn’t left us after all. Thank God!”