The Declaration of Independence proclaims our right to pursue happiness, but Scripture promises joy. Happiness and joy are cousins – closely related but not identical twins. Happiness comes and goes with our ever-changing circumstances. Joy flows from the unchanging Source of our being. Happiness is awesome. Joy is priceless because it is the free gift of God. We can manipulate our circumstances to make ourselves happy, but joy is God’s alone to give, a work of the Spirit. Happiness and joy often feel much the same, but you’ll know it’s joy when nothing outside of you has really changed, but something inside of you definitely has.
Want more joy? Who wouldn’t! But as “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5) joy is Spirit work, not ours. So the question becomes, what is our work? What spiritual practices open us to joy? While there are several, in my experience nothing opens our lives to joy better than the practice of gratitude.
Gratitude doesn’t come naturally, which is why parents have to remind children over and over again to say “thank you”. That’s why we need to practice. And because we’re naturally bent toward negativity we’ll need to practice gratitude throughout our life. Gratitude literally re-wires our brains so that we see life differently, more abundantly. Scientific research shows that the practice of gratitude strengthens relationships, improves health and elevates mood. No wonder Scripture encourages us over and over again to give thanks!
Practicing gratitude is about more than just feeling grateful. It’s about expressing our gratitude. Here are a few ways to practice:
- Look for opportunities throughout your day to say “thank you” to someone for even the smallest of things.
- Call or write to someone who has blessed your life and thank them.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Write down one thing each day for which you’re grateful and commit to making it something different each day for a year.
- End each day with a brief prayer of thanks to the One from whom all blessings flow.
Go ahead and pursue happiness. It’s your right! And practice gratitude. It’s your privilege, and your doorway to joy.
Interested in the science behind gratitude? Watch this short video.
Today’s question: What is your favorite gratitude practice? Post your response so that we can learn from one another.
Jeff Marian is Lead Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN