My friend Jim kept a small slip of paper taped to the shelf above his desk, with six typed lines:
Remember the five simple rules to be happy.
- Free your heart from hatred.
- Free your mind from worries.
- Live simply.
- Give more.
- Expect less.
I don’t know if he consciously read these rules every day, but that would probably be a good way to start the day.
I, though, would add a sixth rule: be grateful.
Gratitude is the path to contentment for me, and contentment is the foundation for happiness. When I focus on what I have and am grateful for it—no matter how meager it might be—my expectations are automatically lowered and I can see that I actually have quite a lot. When I pay more attention to what is rather than what isn’t, I see how abundantly God has blessed me.
Living in gratitude has been my prayer for as long as I can remember.
Before receiving communion at Mass, I pray, Lord, help me to be grateful. Being able to freely practice my faith and to receive nourishment from my church and the sacraments is a starting point for a litany of gratitude for all I have—and prayers for those who have less.
Many different factors have helped move me along the path to living in gratitude, especially the opportunities I have had to travel to communities where people have fewer material goods than I have.
One memory that stands out for me is from a trip to Swaziland, Southern Africa, when I was the director of a lay mission program. St. Phillip’s Mission has a medical clinic and on one of my visits, I was standing near the clinic when a man came walking out of the surrounding bush.
On his back, he was carrying his brother, a grown man so weak he could not walk. I had only once before seen someone so emaciated, and seeing these two men emerge from the bush brought back memories of my Uncle Steve just before he died from stomach cancer many years earlier.
I don’t know how far this man had walked through the bush with his brother on his back, but the nearest homestead was probably a mile away. His search for medicine for his dying brother painted a compelling picture. His love and dedication were obvious and poignant. In what seemed a hopeless situation, this man still held hope that someone could help his brother. Tears filled my eyes, and I prayed for these two men, even as I could see that the brother was near death.
Fortunately, the clinic was able to help the brother, and on my return visit a year later, I saw this man who had been emaciated almost to the point of death, now standing strong and healthy—and joyously grateful for the help he had received at the clinic.
How can I not thank God for this miracle and all my blessings!