A few years back, I went to the taping of a Dr. Phil Show. (Long story) Before the show started, the guy that gets the audience all fired up before the show went around and asked people to name three things that make them happy. It was funny because I kind of panicked.
What if he sticks the microphone in my face? What will my answer be? Quick! Think of something! What three things could I throw out that would sum up my happiness?
Most people answered quickly with things like…my husband, my kids, my health, my friends, etc. My mind raced as I hoped for three things to rise to the top of my mind and the tip of my tongue.
To my surprise, I couldn’t come up with ANYthing. I was panicked. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I think of 3 things that make me happy?
Thankfully, the microphone didn’t make its way to me and I wasn’t forced to make something up, but it did make me ponder this question in the back of my mind for the next several days.
What makes you happy?
It should be easy to answer that question, right? After all, if you don’t know what makes you happy, how can you BE happy? Still, the answers just weren’t coming to me.
That’s when I remembered one of my dad’s favorite sayings… “If you don’t like the answer you’re getting, change the question!”
Maybe the reason I couldn’t name three things that make me happy is because I know it’s not things that make you happy.
I could say my kids make me happy, but they can also be the very thing that makes me feel my lowest. I could say my extended family makes me happy, but they can also be at the heart of my deepest frustrations. I can say that my health makes me happy, but I know lots of people suffering health issues. Are they not allowed to be happy? What happens if I lose my health? Will I also lose my happiness?
After further pondering the question of what makes me happy, I had a pretty profound realization.
You see, my husband doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is spending as much time as possible in a relationship with someone where we can both be totally 100% ourselves. My kids don’t make me happy. What makes me happy is knowing my life has meaning and that I have something to contribute. My health doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is the freedom to act without hesitation upon my own thoughts – to not be held back.
What makes me happy is ME! Self expression is the source of my happiness. It all comes from within me…not from outside.
It’s not those things (husband, family, health) that I can name that make me happy. In fact, I think it’s actually the opposite. Those things are not the SOURCE of my happiness, they are the RESULT of my happiness. They are the expression of my happiness.
So, the question shouldn’t be “What makes you happy?” A better question would be, “What is the manifestation of your happiness?” To which I would reply…healthy relationships, purposeful living, and internal stillness.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, it got me thinking about how the same principles apply to gratitude.
Much like my experience at the Dr. Phil show…there is always the inevitable moment at our Thanksgiving table when someone will raise the question, “What are you thankful for?”
What will my answer be? What am I thankful for this year?
Yep, you guessed it. It’s time for a different question.
Here’s my thought:
We tend to act based on our emotion. We wait for something to happen and then we are ‘thankful’ for it. But if we rely on things to make us feel thankful, we’ve just handed over one of our greatest powers…the power to generate thankfulness from within. After all, how can you be thankful that someone you know is sick? How can you be thankful that a hurricane just swept through your city? How can you be thankful that someone just cut you off on the freeway.
But what if you were thankful first?
What if this Thanksgiving rather than completing the sentence, “I am thankful for…” you instead finish the sentence, “Because I’m thankful, I…”
It really tweaks your thinking, doesn’t it?
Thanksgiving is a great time to practice thankfulness. It’s the time of year when we all stop to focus on what we are thankful for. But the true spirit of Thanksgiving is not in digging up things to be thankful for…it’s in looking for ways to express your thankfulness. It’s recognizing what you have and reaching out to others to give back.
Thankfulness is only as good as its expression. So, this year as you ponder what you’re thankful for…ask yourself a better question.
Ask yourself how you will muster up the spirit of thankfulness within yourself, in spite of what is going on around you.
Ask yourself what you’ll do to express thankfulness out in the world.
Find ways to finish the sentence, “Because I’m thankful, I…”