Observations From the Cheap Seats

One person's words on God and the world

Whatever Happened to “Thank You?” – Part 2 in our “have a little faith” sermon series

Being thankful - the key to happiness

Being thankful – the key to happiness

If I said, I have a surefire way of making you 10-25% happier with your life would you do it?[1]
As long as it didn’t harm you or harm anyone around you and it wasn’t illegal, would you do it?  The key to happiness in this lifetime is much more simple than you probably imagined.  So simple in fact, you will think to yourself, “Now why didn’t I do that before?”  Some of you, even after I tell you what it is, may not do it, and that’s all right.  But if you DO it, you will be happier.  Numerous studies have shown you will be happier.  In fact, you’ll be happier than if you won a million dollars in the lottery.[2]  It’s true.  Want to know what it is?  You’re going to have to wait.  We’ll get to that in a few minutes.

Last week, we began exploring life through the context of the book have a little faith.
In the book the author, Mitch Albom, follows the lives of two men who have had a powerful impact on his life – a rabbi and a Christian minister.  And through their lives he discovers answers to some of life’s hardest questions.  We talked already about having faith in difficult circumstances, about having faith in God when life is tough, and together we learned that faith is not a skill we master, it’s a map we follow.  Faith is not a skill we master, it’s a map we follow.  This week we are going to focus on the elusive quest for happiness.  How can we live a happier life?  When Mitch asked the rabbi this question, this was his answer:

“The things society tells us we must have to be happy – a new this or that, a bigger house, a better job.  I know the falsity of it.  I have counseled many people who have all these things, and I can tell you they are not happy because of them.  The number of marriages that have disintegrated when they had all the stuff in the world.  The families who fought and argued all the time, when they had money and health.  Having more does not keep you from wanting more.  And if you always want more – to be richer, more beautiful, more well known – you are missing the bigger picture, and I can tell you from experience, happiness will never come.”  So, have we solved the secret of happiness?  “I believe so,” he said.  Are you going to tell me?  “Yes.  Ready?”  Ready.  “Be satisfied.”  That’s it?  “Be grateful.”  That’s it?  “For what you have.  For the love you receive.  And for what God has given you.”   That’s it?  He looked me in the eye.  Then he sighed deeply.  “That’s it.”

That’s the key to happiness.  Be grateful.
Be grateful.  Studies show that being grateful increases your happiness anywhere from 10%-25% over a period of time.  10% to 25%!  Not just for the day or for the moment, but sustained happiness over a period of time.  Dr. Robert Emmons did an experiment where he asked people to write down once a week five things they were grateful for.  He compared their results and their levels of reported happiness and found that this simple exercise of recording your blessings increased their happiness by 25%.  Not only that, but they were more optimistic about their future, felt better about their lives, and exercised 1.5 hours more per week than those in either of the other two groups.  They did a similar exercise with a group of patients suffering from neuromuscular disorders, often a result of a delayed reaction to the polio virus.  They wanted to find out if their hypothesis held up even among people who had deeper challenges.  They found that this group also expressed more happiness and optimism than those who didn’t write down their blessings and that they even slept better than the other group.[3]  What was most astounding to me was another study done that showed over a six-month period you would be happier recording your blessings for five minutes a day than winning more than a million dollars in the lottery.  In that moment, winning the lottery seems pretty awesome, but in just six months your happiness increase is barely up 4% to what it was before, compared to 10% by people who simply journal their thanksgiving – 2.5 times happier than winning the lottery.  Want to know other ways that gratitude makes your life better?  People like you more.  You are generally healthier.  It can boost your career.  It reduces materialism and increases your spirituality.  It improves our sleep.  We live longer lives.  It makes us feel good.  It helps us to relax.  We have better marriages.  We have more and better friends.  And at work it can improve our productivity and decision making.  And those are just SOME of the benefits of being grateful.[4]

Waving "thank you" in traffic - does that happen any more?

Waving “thank you” in traffic – does that happen any more?

But gratitude seems to be going the way of the dinosaur.
If you have your Bibles with you or a Bible app on your phone, would you please go to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17, beginning with verse 11.  Luke 17:11.[5]  More and more we seem to have an attitude of entitlement or expectation rather than thankfulness.  How many times have you opened the door for someone and they just walk through without saying anything?  How many times have you let someone in front of you while driving and they don’t acknowledge you with even a “thank you” wave?  Whatever happened to the “thank you” wave?  How absent is our attitude of gratitude?  Well don’t worry.  This isn’t something new.  In fact, even Jesus had to deal with this problem.

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Ten men all had the same affliction – leprosy.  Ten men were healed.  But only one came back.
Only one came back to give thanks.  They might have wondered why Jesus was sending them to the priest, but as they walked, the answer became obvious – to be welcomed back into society.  Only the priest could declare someone as having been cured of leprosy.  And being cured was a big deal because having it meant you were ostracized from society.  You were banished not only for fear that your disease might spread, but because people thought you were being punished by God for some sin that you had committed.  The disease was a mark of God’s wrath upon you.  So to be suddenly cured of something that had kept them away from family, friends, and the rest of society would have been a miracle to say the least.  But only one of them returned.  Maybe the others were in a hurry to get the approval of the priest.  Maybe the others never put two and two together that through Jesus, God had cured them. Maybe they never even thought about it and were just glad that it was over.  But one did.  One of them realized that this gift came from Christ and came back in gratitude.  The irony here is that it was one of the least likely person to have done so – the Samaritan.  The Samaritan people were looked down upon by the Jews.  They were considered unclean because most of them had intermarried with others in the area so the Jews looked down upon them as unworthy.  The Samaritan, more than any other, would have reason not to come back – out of spite, out of anger, out of loneliness.  But instead, he realizes who the source is of his many blessings, and comes back to give thanks.  Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us how many foreigners were in this group, but likely there were at least as many Jewish people as there were others.  But none of them came back except the one.  How much is that like us today?  We take for granted that God provides.  We take for granted that Jesus offers salvation.  And we do little to appreciate it.  Instead we get angry at God when things don’t go our way instead of being grateful for what we do have.

Best red velvet cupcakes - ever!  At Milk in Los Angeles

Best red velvet cupcakes – ever! At Milk in Los Angeles

We live today in an age of entitlement.
People EXPECT to have things given to them.  People EXPECT to have things go right.  We live with the philosophy that I’m a good person so good things should happen to me and we equate “good things” with “things we want to have happen.”  We equate “good things” with “things we want to have happen.”  Even if we don’t do anything to deserve them.  And we get mad when they don’t.  On one of our trips to Los Angeles, my daughter Emma and I went to this little food place called Milk where they serve the best red velvet cupcakes I’ve ever tasted and these really yummy morsels called Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Don’t get me started or we’ll never get out of here.  But as we left the car and walked to the place, there was a homeless woman asking for money from anyone who passed by.  And seeing her really bothered Emma.  She felt bad that this woman was without a home and without a place to call her own, so as we walked back she asked me, “Daddy if that woman is still there, can I give her my money?”  She reached into her pocket and pulled out what little change she had, and I smiled at her and said, “Of course, honey.  That would be nice.”  And sure enough, the woman was still there, so Emma went up to her and gave her every last cent in her pocket.  I know it made Emma feel good to do what she could to help her.  Emma will often give her own money to Sunday School or the homeless or whatever else she feels compelled to give towards.  So the woman took her money, looked up at her, looked up at me, and said, “That’s it?!”  I was shocked.  “That’s it?!” she said again in a loud voice, looking at the coins.  “Can’t you do better than that?  Come on I want to go buy some stuff.”  It crushed Emma.  It made me mad.  Now, I know it wasn’t a huge amount, but this was coming from a woman who had nothing and was begging on the streets for a handout.  Yet when a little child gave her all she had, she spat on it like it was nothing.  I offered to take back the money, but the homeless woman held on to it anyway.  I guess she didn’t feel that badly about it.  Emma, however, felt horrible about it all the way home and would mention it again and again.  “Daddy, if I had more I would have given it to her.”  We talked all the way home about how we can only be faithful to God and where God leads us, but it’s up to others how they react.  Still, how ungrateful can we be?  And it made me think, are we sometimes that ungrateful toward God?

In Jesus, we have received the greatest gift of all – forgiveness.
He died bearing the sins of the world, and WE PUT HIM THERE.  He suffered because of our sinful nature.  And still asked for forgiveness on our behalf.  And because of that, we have been given a chance at eternal life with our Father in Heaven.  But do we thank God for that?  Do you take time to reflect on all of your blessings?  Or are you more like the nine lepers instead of the one – just going about your business as if somehow you deserved his grace?  We’ve talked about all the benefits that being grateful does for us, but perhaps we should acknowledge why we should be grateful.  Because God deserves it.  Because God deserves it.  Take time out of your day each day over the next month and simply spend five minutes listing the things you are grateful for.  They could be minor, they could be life-changing, but spend just five minutes each day listing the things you are grateful for.  When we take time out to be grateful, it changes our perspective on life.  It helps us to appreciate the people around us more and to appreciate the blessings we have.  We begin to look at life not as a series of things we don’t have, but instead for the many things we do.  And it changes us as well.  It changes us to be more like the one than the other nine.  It changes us to look at a child’s gift with grace and gratitude instead of spite.  And it offers to the world a better place to live.  On top of all that?  It will make you a happier person.  As a wise man once said, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”[6]  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[5] I was inspired to use this passage because of a devotional I read at Christianity Today.  Thank you to people with a heart of gratitude. http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/faithandlife/devotionals/9c3010.html

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This entry was posted on August 18, 2013 by in Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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