I read an interesting article rather recently that was quite surprising. Researchers often do studies on the idea of “Happiness.” They track how the perception of our own happiness level may change over time. Numerous studies have shown, for instance, that in general in the United States the population is not as happy as they were fifty years ago.  The reasons are probably obvious to most of us.  But this is what is especially fascinating in some recent studies with results totally unexpected.  When sociologists carry out surveys in African countries where the population lives in extreme poverty, they discover the level of population happiness on average is higher than the average in America.  I know that seems unbelievable. I find this hard to believe myself but the research methodology appears accurate.  Apparently these seemingly destitute people may have something to teach our society which may be far advanced technologically but found wanting in what we desire most, happiness.

Wouldn’t you like to know what their secret of happiness is? What about the secret of the happiest of past, diverse civilizations.  The fact that our relatives living a hundred years ago,  living when the average person survived to the ripe old age of about 50 years yet suffered from diseases routinely cured today, where mothers often died during childbirth and their children often died prematurely, yet were still quite happy, seems to be amazing.   I’ve often pondered “What are we missing?”  Long ago I began a personal search for answers.  Fortunately during those years I personally had been quite happy with my life as it unfolded, happy enough that, not infrequently, I found myself feeling guilty.  I’d exclaim to myself, “Is this fair? I’m so happy and people around the world are starving, why am I so lucky?” Years later when I heard of the third world country studies, I was relieved a bit.  All this time, though, I made a quest for the secret of happiness (I didn’t even know my own secret!)  Being a Christian, I knew that this had something to do with my own high happiness level.   I have discovered by founding Simple, Practical Christian my happiness level soared. But that didn’t explain happiness in third world countries.  Many of them aren’t Christians themselves. But we had to have something in common. One obvious similarity is that they are part of the same human race.   And that’s not a little thing. There appears to be a mechanism within all humans that gives us the capacity to be happy and that’s something we can be grateful for and can’t to be taken for granted.  But guess what? I found something else all of us happy people have in common, at least in my estimation.  But before I give my thoughts, please take just a moment to consider in your own personal estimation what you think that secret might be…

The simple answer I found was confirmed by the Bible millennia ago, but you don’t need a Bible to confirm personal experience.  However I want you to read a couple Bible verses to assure you these aren’t just my ideas but for thousands of years the secret has been well enunciated, though most of our ancestors knew it intuitively, just like our third world friends appear to.  The simple answer, the secret, in my opinion, is one word…THANKFULNESS. What I’m suggesting is not the perfunctory “thank you” we’re taught as a child.  What I mean is the kind of “thank you” you say if you’ve lost your sight and a doctor gives it back to you. How would you say “thank you” then? That’s the kind of thankfulness I’m talking about.

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. That is SIMPLE, PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY. 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.

One other thing I’ve taught myself to do each morning on awakening is to remind myself what happened yesterday that I’m thankful for.  For example, yesterday I was able to complete some of the research work for an important project  I was able to take a long walk in the sun, I finally got a chance to talk to my brother Mark on the phone and he’s well, Marlene made a fantastic dinner (it was just mac & cheese, just wonderful). I’ve often averred, to me the most special days are the most unspecial days. I hope you can understand what I mean.  An average day may at first appear to be anything but special but once I’m attune to what’s happening around me, the day is transformed into a most special day.

I learned once with my son Matt at age 2 to look through the wonderment in his eyes at a new color, a new shape, a new word.  I almost forgot but now have a new opportunity with my grandson, Adam, to be dazzled by new sound, brand new colors. I’m relearning the lesson of being thankful for the little things.

The tendency is to think of such a simple lesson as being less than profound. From my perspective the seemingly inconsequential and self evident truths are really the most profound.  The wisest or simplest, the richest or the poorest have no advantages here. As we’ve seen, our poorest fellow humans in third world countries seem to have grasped the secret of happiness rooted in the act of thankfulness more readily than some of us have.  A similar phenomenon appears to be at work in the dynamics with the seemingly wisest of men who are so busy searching meaning way out there somewhere when meaning might be close at hand.  As many of you know, the paradox is presented in scripture at Matthew 11:25 where Jesus remarked, “I praise you Father…because you hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The principal expounded here is that the simple ideas that even children can comprehend are the most meaningful. This is the SIMPLE, PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY I keeping exclaiming over. Less is more and by extension the simple things when appreciated bring true joy.

Now to put it all in perspective. I personally hypothesize that thankfulness is one of the primary ingredients of happiness.  How else can we explain why rich or poor, wise or dunce, even Christian or Non-Christian have no special privilege when it comes to happiness. As members of the human race we are all endowed with the ability to find happiness and that in itself is something not to be taken for granted. I believe being able to find meaning in life itself is a capability humans can also be especially thankful for.   Meaningfulness coupled with thankfulness can lead to the pinnacle of happiness.  I’m hoping you feel resolved to increase your own happiness quotient by being aware of the little things you come across in life that can make you ecstatically happy. Remember “AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE.”


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