Saturday, April 21, 2012

The link between gratitude and joy

If you wake up every morning loving the people you do life with and you get to do work that you love whether you get paid for it or not, you are blessed.

If you wake up every morning with deep rooted contentment and gratitude, you are blessed and your life is filled with joy.

Joy in my opinion and in my personal experience is directly connected to contentment and gratitude. I’ve learned that joy is very different from happiness. And while happiness feels absolutely wonderful, we must admit it never really lasts. Happiness comes and goes like the things we buy come and go. And although “things” are nice and some are very necessary, joy is rarely found in the things we acquire or how much we acquire.

I’ll be the first to admit that I super love shopping and I love beautiful things and decorating and creating beautiful spaces and love things that make my life comfortable, convenient, beautiful and happy. But happy is very different from joy. And it's important to recognize the difference. 

Sometimes or a lot of times, we shop when we’re bored and that’s always a dangerous thing. Been there, done that ... a lot! More often than I care to admit. When we shop like that, we’re often trying to fill an emptiness that lives deep inside of us. We rarely recognize it as emptiness but it's a real void, a void we try to fill with "stuff." And that emptiness could never be filled with “stuff.” That kind of emptiness is something only God can fill. It's only His love and His healing touch that can fill that God shaped hole. 

The things we acquire may bring momentary happiness but happiness is not joy. The things we purchase and acquire lose their novelty after a while and when that happens, those things no longer bring us happiness as we once knew it. And so what do we do? We go after the next best thing to make us happy. And so the insanity continues. And whether it's shopping or something else, we find ourselves repeating the same behavior over and over and over hoping for lasting happiness but happiness is always short lived. Happiness is fleeting, it comes and it goes. It was never intended to last because happiness is a momentary emotion. What does last is joy. And what we need in life is joy. And while happiness is wonderful and beautiful, joy fills us up. It lights us up and sustains us in ways happiness can't. 

Joy is very different. I’ll start by telling you what joy is not: Joy is not happiness because happiness is fleeting. And joy is not ridiculous and copious amounts of happiness which is what I thought it use to mean.

The definition of joy is deep rooted contentment and gratitude.  It’s contentment and gratitude for God, life, people and self.

If I had to summarize joy, I would summarize it in two words: God and gratitude. Without God in my life, I could never experience gratitude the way I do today. Gratitude bestows reverence for a holy God and for His goodness and kindness in our lives. And the result is joy

Gratitude for me is just one of the many ways I cultivate joy in my life. Running to and reading God's promises in the Bible produces great joy in my life. Re-reading old journal entries and recognizing that I have a long history of His faithfulness in my life and in the lives of others produces great joy for me. And praising God in prayer and in song also produces joy in my life. It just lights me up. 

I believe many people flirt with gratitude but not everyone lives with it daily. And it’s not because they don’t want it. I think it’s because there’s a huge misconception out there when it comes to gratitude. I think people have come to believe that life must be good, like all the time to live with daily gratitude. Life won’t always be good or feel good but God is good, like all the time. He’s the only constant in our lives and God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. And because we can count on Him and His promises, we can experience joy. And because we have a future in Him, we can experience joy. 

If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve learned by now that adversity visits each of us at one time or another but that shouldn’t stop us from living with gratitude. In the midst of our difficulty, we can still be thankful and hopeful because God is in control and God is for us. That truth brings me great comfort and I pray that it will bless you and bring you comfort too. 

I’ve learned that living with gratitude doesn’t “just” happen. It didn’t just happen for me. It came from a genuine desire to live life differently, a real desire to experience joy and a genuine desire to connect and cultivate a relationship with a living God not just sometimes but daily. Gratitude requires desire, intention and practice. Jeremiah 29:13 says, "If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me." And Matthew 7:8 says that those who seek, find. 

I have learned to be thankful and to live with gratitude in spite of life's difficulties or the hardship I've experienced in life because God is good. He’s full of love and mercy and has poured out His grace on my life over and over and over. Living with gratitude not only produces joy but it's healthy. It creates positive energy that flows through our body and shines through our eyes.   

I’ve also learned through the years that joy is experienced through giving, giving to others and giving to self. And in order to be good to others, you must learn how to cultivate being good to yourself. I've learned that people can't give what they don't have so learn to be good to you so you can  be good to others. 

And when it comes to giving, we can give in tangle and intangible ways but the most memorable and lasting gifts are rarely tangible but deeds done with love and the words we leave behind when we love and connect with others

In 2004 I read a book that helped me realize and learn that we’re hard wired for connection. I had never really given that topic much thought until I read that book. That was quite eye opening for me. I learned that God created us for community, to connect and to love. That’s why we’re here and so it makes sense to give. Giving is a natural part of community, connecting and loving.

My exhortation to you today is to practice gratitude. And while you’re at it, cultivate and practice compassion, compassion for self and compassion for others. Practice, grace, play, rest and stillness in your life. These are the things that will produce joy in your life. 

If you’re not practicing this with regularity or at all, start today. It’s never too late to start. And it’s never too late to be good to you and to others.

Rehearse this and re-rehearse it as often as you can. Practice and never give up because practicing gratitude and self-care is a gift to self and a gift to others. And when you practice that kind of goodness, it makes you well physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

As always, many thanks for stopping by. Wishing you joy and wholeness always,   

xx, Ruthie

Give thanks in all circumstance; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.                    ~1 Thessalonians 5:18 

Did you notice that the above verse doesn’t say give thanks “for” all things but “in” all things?

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. ~G.K. Chesteron (English writer)