I have suffered with an illness for most of my life. It causes excessive fidgeting and restlessness. It can make me feel anxious and disoriented. I lose focus and become forgetful. My blood pressure and ability to breathe are adversely affected.
The street name for my condition is called “wanderlust” or “rubberneck.” My eyes often veer off to what appears “bigger and better.” I am continually craning my neck to see what my friends and acquaintances are accomplishing and acquiring.
All this leaves me feeling frustrated. Left out. Ungrateful.
I can’t enjoy what I do have.
Somebody else always seems to have it better. No matter how hard I strive and abide by the rules, somebody else is outdoing me. Just when I thought I had reached the goal, it dawns on me that I forgot something.
So I either go back to the races to get what I think I need or, more often, simply sulk.
Overlooking and underappreciating my legion of blessings.
Which results in less happiness. Less contentment. Less peace.
A sure recipe for bad things.
Overeating. Compulsive spending. Binge watching. Workaholism. Obsessive compulsive behaviors. Hoarding. Gambling. Gaming. Pornography.
When we are not happy, we are sitting ducks for just about anything.
I am learning that the antidote for this disorder is relatively painless and cheap (good news for a Dutchman like myself!).
At the risk of sounding trite or oversimplifying drug addiction and alcoholism, giving thanks is one of the most powerful immunizations against all kinds of sinning, including popping pills and boozing.
How so? Practicing gratitude leads to contentment. It is that simple. Being thankful is the shortest distance between dissatisfaction and happiness. And when we are happy, we have resistance power.
Therapist and spiritual director Dr. Catherine Hart Webber writes, “The feeling and practice of gratitude is the single strongest predictor of life satisfaction. . . Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more than enough.” It is not how much we have that makes for happiness; it is how much we appreciate what we already do have.
Gratitude however, like manners, is something we must learn. Just as I had to teach my sons to say “Thank you” to their grandparents when receiving gifts, I have to develop the discipline of giving thanks so that this magical muscle grows stronger and becomes more and more second nature to me.
One of the biggest challenges against that is living in a highly consumeristic culture. There are lots of people paid lots of money to make us discontented, . . . unhappy. Our economy is built on people buying things. We are inundated daily by marketers who taunt us with tantalizing images of what we should drive, wear, eat, ad infinitude. Social media only acerbates this problem. I had to leave Facebook (old people’s digital forum) a few years ago because I could not continue to withstand the temptation to envy and be angry. It was just too exhausting. The posts of what my friends were doing, where they were traveling, and what they were achieving was more than I could handle.
I found myself less happy and, consequently, more vulnerable to unhealthy ways of living.
While being proactive and limiting my exposure to my neighbor’s “wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to (him)” is helpful, it is not enough to curb my lustful appetites. So God in his grace orchestrates suffering into my life. Oh, few things work like a little dose of difficulty or deprivation to remind one of the blessings one has and to take nothing for granted!
Suffering helps us appreciate what we have and, accordingly, becomes a significant pathway to happiness.
Practicing gratitude isn’t a game of make-believe, pretending all is well. There is surely plenty to lament in terms of both personal and societal ills, and we dare not make light of the wrongs before our very eyes. But even in the midst of all the pain and brokenness, we must find a way to still rejoice in God and the good we have graciously received. One dear elderly saint instructed me years ago, “Don’t just count your losses. Consider what’s still left.”
And thank your Creator.
Because of Christ’s life and work, we don’t get what we deserve and do get what we don’t deserve. To that end, St. Paul wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
Gratitude is a wonderful gift to God, others, and self. As we begin to practice thankfulness, we are changed and begin slowly turning from being ornery, self-absorbed persons into pleasant, generous, tender-hearted people.
Remember: Practicing gratitude is one of the best preventative medicines against addiction as well as one of the best treatments for addiction.
There’s a cute story taken from the late priest Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust, which captures the importance and basis of gratitude: “Let’s say I interviewed ten people, asking each the same question—‘Do you trust God?’—and each answered, ‘Yes, I trust God,’ but nine of the ten actually did not trust him. How would I find out which one of the ragamuffins was telling the truth?”
“I would videotape each of the ten lives for a month and then, after watching the videos, pass judgment using this criterion: the person with an abiding spirit of gratitude is the one who trusts in God.”
“The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness. Gratitude arises from the lived perception, evaluation, and acceptance of all of life as grace—as an undeserved and unearned gift from the Father’s hand.”