Gratitude and Happiness

I’ve never been happier. Over the past year my wife and I have worked to figure out how we got here. Whatever the formula for success is, we want to keep it up.

We eventually came to the conclusion that willful gratitude is what has brought us this happiness. People have all sorts of ways of indicating happiness. You might smile, say “I’m happy!” or in the early stages of a relationship, squee with glee, “I love you!”

All too often, we don’t focus on those signs of happiness. We’re happy; things are going well. Why do we need to analyze and dissect our happiness?

Yet our bodies, our minds, and especially our magic will focus on our reaction to repeated events whether we consciously react or not. That “I love you!” can easily become another background noise like the cars outside or the droning of the TV. Letting our happiness become part of the background may not inherently reduce it. However, we miss the opportunity to reinforce happiness. Instead we can capture this opportunity and decide to ritualize our happiness and all its signs.

“I love you!” or “I’m happy!” are just words; it’s just us flapping our meat. We choose what we feel when we hear these words. I hope they evoke a since of wonder the first time you hear them, although even that is not guaranteed. When we hear that someone loves us and we cannot return the feeling, it is easy to feel fear and concern rather than joy.

We can use the techniques of mindfulness and directed will to influence how we react to these words just as we would influence how we react to any symbol in a ritual. So, for example, when my wife says she loves me, I take the time to cherish that as the unique gift it is. I experience my feelings. Often, I feel warm and happy. I take the time to feel my gratitude for our connection and to reflect on some of the experiences that have brought me to the moment where I find myself. Above all, I actually live in that moment and work to be mindful.

Mindfulness sometimes gives surprising results. Once she told me she loved me and I realized I felt guilty. I was holding frustration and was doubting whether I was worthy of love. By taking the time to feel guilt and then process that feeling I was able to step past a block in connection.

Mindfully living in the moment and finding gratitude applies to more than expressions of love. When we are happy, when we smile, we can live in that moment and find gratitude. And when we’re sad or frustrated, we can accept that too and experience those feelings. If I feel loss, i can honor whatever or whoever is no longer part of my life. We can reassure ourselves and give ourselves space to feel and explore what needs are not met.

Amplifying What We Would Keep

For my wife and I, the biggest part of willful gratitude is building up those things that make us happy and bring love into our lives. When those things happen, we ritualize them and give them power. We welcome and cultivate them. So, they are more likely to happen in the future. We consciously work to avoid the positive things becoming routine even if they happen often. Billions of people have smiled before, yet each of those smiles is unique. The cause of the smile, the state of the one smiling, and the state of anyone receiving the smile all differ. In offering gratitude for a smile, I can focus both on the common elements: I'm connecting with all those who have smiled before or who will smile in the future. I can also focus on what makes this moment different.

When challenging things happen, we honor them, but the focus of our will is slightly different. we celebrate our ability to come together when things are tough and we cultivate our strength as a family. We honor and accept our feelings whatever they are. However, if we’re hurt or disappointed we might focus more on reminding ourselves that the goddess always lives inside even when we are hurt.

Over time, we build up those things that allow us to grow. When things are at our best, we take strength from that. When they are not, we take strength from our ability to face things together and to take away what we can from the experience.

Finding Gratitude in Why

My wife was in the habit of asking me why I loved her. When I first heard this question, I felt fear. I was afraid I was being asked to justify my love. What if my answer wasn’t good enough? I was frustrated because long ago I came to the conclusion that “Love is its own answer.” I felt I was asked to somehow explain how what we had was unique and special.

Somehow along the way, I heard the question differently: “Why do you love me now in this moment.” There is no right answer. Yesterday, I asked the question, and my wife answered, “It’s warm out and the weather is nice. You’re with me so I love you.” If that’s all there was to our relationship, it might seem shallow. However, our relationship is made up of many of those moments each special in their own way. Each such moment can be an anchor—a focus—for willful gratitude. I can remember that my happiness is part warm weather and sunshine, part wind pushing the boat along the water, part joy of accepting the divine, and of course some part that comes from the whole of each individual experience combined. When I wish to rekindle happiness I can focus on these anchors.

Gratitude and the Gods

Venus’s path has not been a slow, easy stroll for me. My life has been fast-paced and in some ways chaotic since at least 2004. I think the pace picked up significantly when I was introduced to Venus in 2011.

Her path involves a lot of opportunities for growth, love and connection. However, inherent in love is risk. As I watched people I cared about following her path, I grew worried. Things were fast and some of the challenges tough. It seemed like things would be fine so long as I never stumbled. However, I saw my friends get hurt when they fell behind—when they hadn’t managed to recover from the last challenge before the next came along.

I expressed my fear that I’d stumble and not be ready to a wise couple. As sometimes happens, they had a simple answer to a deep question: “Give thanks.”

That’s where willful gratitude started for me. At first I gave thanks as if somehow by being thankful enough Venus would remember I was there bobbing in the waves and not let them get too high. While I know she appreciates the gratitude, I quickly began to realize there was more to it.

Being mindful gave me the emotional awareness to understand what I faced. When I faced loss, I could connect back to times I had faced loss before. I knew it would eventually be easier. I knew without a doubt that I was happier having had a connection to lose than never having grown close.

When I was happy, I was more aware of my happiness. I could gain strength and validation faster because I knew what I was grateful for. When I doubt, I have specific awareness of times when I am strong.

Over time I’ve gained confidence in walking Venus’s path. The challenges are still real, the hurt as strong as ever. Yet I’ve seen myself grow, seen how I can help others grow. And so I give thanks!