I could feel it coming on — an overwhelming sense of heart-pounding panic, difficulty breathing, dizziness.
There wasn’t any one thing that set me off, just a long train of emotional rail-cars carrying the cargo of daily demands, losses, and this impending feeling of doom in our world. I could hear the newscasters on the television in the living room. The day’s stories sounded like yesterday’s stories — and none of it was good.
Before the anxiety swept over me, I spoke the three words that have saved me again and again:
“Thank you, Lord.”
And then I kept saying those three words; it felt like I was calling down the power of heaven. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord.
The words formed a defense in my mind, pushing back the panic.
In the last two years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to cultivate happiness in our lives. Nothing has been more effective than simply saying thanks.
The richest form of happiness always begins with the words: “Thank you.”
It begins by recognizing the gifts we’ve already been given, and then taking the time to be grateful for them.
Gratitude is more than a nice gesture acknowledging the gifts in our lives. It is the stubborn refusal to be held hostage by fear and despair. It’s saying to the world — and to ourselves — that despite everything, this old world is still a beautiful place. No matter how hopeless it all seems, there’s always, always something to be thankful for.
We can be grateful in times of hopelessness because we are gripped at all times by God.
Cicero said that gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. If that’s true, then my happiness does not cause me to be grateful for what I have. My gratitude for what I have causes me to be happy. Gratitude births the virtue of happiness.
On that awful day when panic swept over me, I chose gratitude.
A Challenge for You
Gratitude often plays a starring role in the talks I deliver at retreats and conferences. Why? Because thankfulness works.
I often issue a challenge to those in the audience: Count three blessings a day, for one week, and then go back and review all 21 blessings at the end of the seventh day.
When we do that — count our blessings, and then review them — we experience two extra kinds of happiness.
1 – We experience “anticipatory happiness,” when we begin to scan our environment for the good. We train our brains to focus on what is right, instead of what is wrong.
2 – We experience “residual happiness” — an after-the-fact happiness — when we take the time to write it down and review it later.
So many women have taken me up on that challenge. And now, I invite you to do the same!
For the next seven days, let’s count our blessings — and invite a friend to join you.
7-Day Challenge: Choose Gratitude & Find Happiness
Thanksgiving is a few days away. What if we got an early start? What if we joined together, and committed to 7 days of choosing gratitude? Furthermore, what if we invited a friend, a granddaughter, a mother-in-law, or a sister to take the challenge with us?
It’s so easy to be a part of this!
2 – Invite someone to join you. Who? Your mom, your prayer partner, everyone in your book club, your whole office!
3 – Every day, for seven days, each of you will scan your world for the good that is already there. Each person records her three daily blessings on her own list.
4 – Hold each other accountable. Text, call, or Facebook message each other every night to report in with your blessings!
5 – Practice “residual happiness” by reviewing your list every night.
(Bonus points when you share your thankfulness on Instagram. Be sure to tag us @incourage and @dukeslee so we can find you and share in your happiness!)
Why It Matters
Gratitude has changed my attitude, even on days when panic sets in.
True gratitude says, “Blessed be His name anyway.”
True gratitude says, “He is always good and He is always working.”
True gratitude says, “God, YOU are my ultimate happiness.”
All human beings — no matter what they believe about God — have the built-in potential to experience profound gratitude. When I wrote The Happiness Dare, I read a lot of scientific research about happiness. Repeatedly, researchers pointed to thankfulness as a foundational piece of happiness. But imagine what it would be like if you had to direct all of your thankfulness to fate or to the thin air or to your “lucky stars.” Without God, you have nowhere in particular to guide your gratitude.
But if we know God, we have a tremendous advantage when it comes to gratitude and happiness: We know where to direct our thanks.
And for that we say, “Thanks be to God.”