To give credence to what I’m suggesting let me relate several verses that helped me crystallize what I believe about happiness. They confirm my personal experience with happiness and are found in the Bible at Colossians chapters 3: 20 to 4:2. The setting was St. Paul, a follower of Jesus, writing his friends in the city of Colossae to offer them some final advice. In so many words he was proclaiming, “I’ll not see you again but always remember these last words from me.” Notice the word he repeats 3 times. “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts…and be THANKFUL.(3:15) Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord, Jesus, giving THANKS to God. (3:17) devote yourselves to prayer being watchful and THANKFUL.” (4:20) Paul was in effect admonishing, “Go through life giving thanks for whatever happens, whatever you do, whatever your deeds amount to, there will always be something to celebrate there, look for that, be thankful for that. If nothing more, when you have that indescribable “peace of God in your heart” you’ll feel at peace with yourself, with God and with your circumstances, stop and appreciate that moment. Don’t let that precious moment pass you by without acknowledging thanks.
This advice is more appropriate now than ever. With all the sensory overload, the computers, TV and other electronic devices the average person is forced to process billions of pieces of data daily, too much for anyone to meaningfully or humanly process. Stop and focus, even for a moment, on how special life itself is. What a privilege. I was fortunate to relearn the happiness lesson with my son Matthew and now my grandson, Adam. I really did need a refresher course. They forced me to stop and acknowledge the beauty and specialness of sights and sounds they were experiencing for the first time but I was just letting pass me by. All I had to do to enjoy was to take the time.
Here’s where the poverty stricken friends we’ve been talking about have the advantage. They have the time. They don’t experience the massive overload that blocks one’s senses. They can focus on what’s most important, being alive, being surrounded by loving family, and that’s the other area where they have an advantage. Community is extremely important where poverty is prevalent. Since community is a source of survival, family and friends are especially dear.
Again I stop, reminding myself they have so little and immediately I’m reminded of another paradox of life…the less we have, the more we appreciate. I’m sure you’ve experienced that like I have. My health is a perfect example. Once upon a time when I thought of myself as having near perfect health I didn’t wake up each morning ecstatic and thankful to think I was blessed with another day of vibrant health! Now that I have my own personal set of health issues I do awake each day feeling blessed and thankful for a measure of health. And when I go for a walk each day among the birds and trees you’d better believe I do exclaim, “Thank you!” At one time I used to run every day, now I can only walk, but I don’t dismiss that as insignificant. To me less is more. I may be doing less but enjoying it all the more.
Here’s an exercise I did that’s guaranteed to raise your “Happiness Quotient.” A few years ago when I started over from a low point in life, I initiated what I called my “Happiness List,” a list I’ve added to time after time since then. I started my list by reminding myself of the simple pleasures and incredible joys I’d experienced in the past and wanted to relive again.
The first thing I remember saying to myself, “Isn’t wonderful I can start over.” That’s one of the beauties of life, any day I can exclaim, “I’m going to choose to start over!” I can say, “I’ve gone through a slew of problems and things can only get better from here. I’ve got a measure of health, I’ve got a wonderful supportive family, a few special friends and many more friends with whom I’d enjoy keeping in touch.” But more than even that, even when I could only lie in bed recuperating, I realized I had a mind, a mind that had helped me work out a meaningful life for myself, and with that mind I’ve been able to enunciate what I belief in and why. I realize I’ve got more to do before my time runs to. I’ve got projects, hopes and dreams waiting to be fulfilled. I came up with the phrase, ”An Attitude of Gratitude,” as a reminder.