I’ve decided my New Year’s resolution will have nothing to do with achieving goals. That’s not to say that I don’t want to accomplish specific things this year. Surely I do.
This year I will not make a resolution to lose weight, or to change a habit, or to begin a new healthy habit. I’ve decided to take a different approach and I invite you to join me. How about this year we resolve to be happy? Truly joyously happy. The kind of joy and happiness that really floats your boat. The kind that makes you feel light as a feather.
Each and every goal we make and attend to in life has an underlying core desired feeling we wish to experience. We want to lose weight not because we want to be thin but because we want to feel attractive, healthy, or energetic. We don’t make money goals because we want to be rich, we make them to feel free or to feel accomplished or because we think that fancy car will make us feel happy. We make resolutions because we want to feel happy.
Ultimately, we all want to feel happy and research has shown that those of us who practice gratitude daily are the happiest. This year I resolve to practice gratitude purposefully and to do it daily. I resolve to feel joyful every single day this year even in the face of whatever hardship may come my way.
In his book Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer, Brother David Steindl-Rast states, “Ordinary happiness depends on happenstance. Joy is that extraordinary happiness that is independent of what happens to us. Good luck can make us happy, but it cannot give us lasting joy. The root of joy is gratefulness. We tend to misunderstand the link between joy and gratefulness.We notice that joyful people are grateful and suppose that they are grateful for their joy. But the reverse is true: their joy springs from gratefulness. If one has all the good luck in the world, but takes it for granted, it will not give one joy. Yet even bad luck will give joy to those who manage to be grateful for it.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
We hold the key to lasting happiness in our own hands. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., who is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and also the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, talks about many particular reasons to cultivate gratitude in your daily life. I’ll highlight 2 of those reasons today.
He says Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. It magnifies positive emotions. Research on emotion shows that positive emotions wear off quickly. Our emotional systems like newness. They like novelty. They like change. We adapt to positive life circumstances so that before too long, the new car, the new spouse, the new house—they don’t feel so new and exciting anymore.
But gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted.
In effect, He says gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness.
Dr. Emmons also says Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret—emotions that can destroy our happiness. There’s even recent evidence, including a 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality, showing that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression.
This makes sense: You cannot feel envious and grateful at the same time. They’re incompatible feelings. If you’re grateful, you can’t resent someone for having something that you don’t. Research he’s done suggests that people who have high levels of gratitude have low levels of resentment and envy.
So every evening before bed get out your gratitude journal and join me by writing down 3 things you are grateful for. Let’s start cultivating gratitude so we can be truly joyful and spread it into the world as a calling. Let’s approach the New Year with concern for our hearts because we want to feel joy. The kind of joy that uplifts you, the kind of joy that comes from gratitude for this life we have. The kind of joy that makes you feel light as a feather.
Here is a prayer for gratitude. Please pray with me.
Adapted from: Prayer of Thanksgiving by Vienna Cobb Anderson
God of all blessings,
source of all life,
giver of all grace:
We thank you for the gift of life:
for the breath
that sustains life,
for the food of this earth
that nurtures life,
for the love of family and friends
without which there would be no life.
We thank you for the mystery of creation:
for the beauty
that the eye can see,
for the joy
that the ear may hear,
for the unknown
that we cannot behold filling the universe with wonder,
for the expanse of space
that draws us beyond the definitions of our selves.
We thank you for setting us in communities:
who nurture our becoming,
who love us by choice,
for companions at work,
who share our burdens and daily tasks,
who welcome us into their midst,
for people from other lands
who call us to grow in understanding,
who lighten our moments with delight,
who offer us hope for the future.
We thank you for this day:
and one more day to love,
and one more day to work for justice and peace,
and one more person to love
and by whom be loved,
for your grace
and one more experience of your presence,
for your promise:
to be with us.
For these, and all blessings,
we give you thanks, eternal, loving God,