Have you ever seen the movie Pollyanna? Child actress Hayley Mills starred as the orphaned daughter of missionaries who becomes the ward of her rich, embittered aunt. Pollyanna's infectious habit of being thankful transforms the crabby aunt, the crochety household staff, and the whole town!
These days, people use the label "Pollyanna" to suggest someone childishly naive in her ability to look on the bright side. But being happy doesn't require us to turn a blind eye to troubles such as gangs and crime and Columbine. Neither does it mean we chant shallow platitudes such as "Don't worry, be happy."
Like most attributes we long for (peace, patience, goodness), a happy heart takes root in the discipline of giving thanks. It's the secret weapon of the joyous Christian! But what is it about gratitude that creates a happy heart?
Happy in the Lord
Of course I was madly in love with my husband, David, when we got engaged. But that's nothing compared to the love I have for him now, after nearly 11 years of marriage. The difference? Gratitude! I'm thankful for the hundreds of times David's scrubbed the pots after dinner, for the times he's instantly forgiven my crabbiness, for the willing spirit he shows about helping my single-parent friend, for the amazing enthusiasm he brings to parenting our kids. As I think about the multitude of actions that prove David's love for me over the years, I'm filled with joy.
That's the way I feel in my relationship with God, too—and the reason I believe the Old Testament is loaded with verses that instruct God's people to "remember" his goodness, such as 1 Samuel 12:24: "Be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you."
Whenever I struggle to feel joyful, I choose to reflect on how God always meets my needs. Time after time, I've seen God put forgiving love in me right where angry resentment had been half an hour before, simply because I asked him to.
As my relationship with God grows, my love for him becomes more deeply entwined with my gratitude to him. The more I remember his goodness, the closer I feel to his comfort, peace, and presence.
Happy with Others
It's easy to recognize how integral gratitude is to experiencing joy in God. It's less obvious to see how it affects my other relationships—but it does!
When I'm tempted to keep score with others, or resent a friend who talks more about herself than listens to me, gratitude helps me remember how "full" my cup is—how well God's caring for me. Then I'm better able to reach out to my friend without becoming bitter.