Human beings are not wired to be consistently thankful or content with where and what they are. Humans tend to be ambitious: seeking ways to be or get more than we are or have. This is the driving force that has made us (in our opinions) the top life form on this planet. But there is a down-side to this ambition: it fuels unhappiness.
To find happiness we must cultivate contentment. Contentment is an appreciation of or gratitude for our current situation. Every November Americans tend to think more about being grateful because of Thanksgiving, but it would be better if we could be thankful all year long.
As Thanksgiving approaches we are compelled to find reasons to be thankful, but having gratitude all year round helps us to appreciate what we have, who we know, and where we are in life. There is a saying: “The happiest man is not he who has everything he wants, but he who wants everything he has.” When we seek bigger, better, more we devalue what we have and foster an environment of discontent. When we value what and who we have in our lives, we foster an environment of contentment.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NKJV)
How Do We Remain Thankful?
Since this does not come to us naturally, we must make an effort to look about us and find things to be grateful for. Too many times we look at the fellow with a big house and wish we had one like that. Look instead at the guy living in a box under a bridge and be glad you have a home at all. That’s an extreme example, but it takes very little looking around to find people who are not as fortunate as you. Notice them. Be glad you’re not where they are. Help them if you can — because you ARE more fortunate.
As an exercise, get a large jar, a decorative box, or a canister and place it in a convenient location. Keep some slips of paper and a pen next to it. Then, at least once a day, make an effort to find one thing you are grateful for, write it down on a slip and place it in the jar. Have everyone in the family join in. Then on Thanksgiving take the slips out and read them. You might keep this as a reminder for when you’re feeling down.
For on-going happiness therapy, do this several times a year; maybe even a monthly event. This will help you learn to notice what you have and be grateful for it. You may still have aspirations, but by not focusing entirely on what you want you will become happier with what you have and the contentment level in your life will swell dramatically.
Read this study on the proven benefits of showing gratitude.