“Grateful” to “Happy”

This past week I came across the teachings of David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. The talk below reminded me of Oliver who focused so much on being “happy.” I’ve written about Oliver’s attitude a great deal, but it is worth hearing in this context.

Oliver doing his happy dance.
Oliver showing his happy dance in 2012

When Oliver was little he would stop what he was doing to announce he was “happy!” He could be playing with toys or walking with his mom when he would announce “happy” and then continue on. I was struck by his acknowledgement of being happy since most of us focus on when we are not happy. When he was diagnosed with cancer there were wristbands with “Happy” made up to show support for him. He kept his happy attitude throughout the three years, sometimes entering and leaving his chemotherapy weeks with his “happy dance.” He was always thanking the medical staff, even when they were poking and prodding him.

Brother David’s talk gives some insight into why Oliver may have been so happy. He points out that people think they are grateful for things that make them happy. However, he turns it around says that being grateful leads to happiness.

Early in the talk he asks you to look at your own experience for confirmation of this. We know people who have what they need to be happy, but they are not happy. They want more of the same or something else, but they are not happy because they are not grateful for what they have.

Then you have people like Oliver who are grateful. Oliver was grateful for life before he was diagnosed with cancer, and he was grateful for every moment after being diagnosed with cancer. Brother David says we know people who have great misfortune and have every reason to be unhappy, yet “they radiate happiness.” Why? Because they are grateful. “Radiate happiness” is a great description of how Oliver lived.

Even (if like me) you’ve reached your Ted-talk capacity, I encourage you listen to this short and interesting talk. Brother David is engaging in the most simple way and his message is strong. [He is also 87 years old when giving this talk so consider it wisdom from your elders!]. You can learn more by visiting his gratefulness website.

So it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.

Brother David Steindl-Rast

And allow me to leave you with a poem…
This poem came my way this week and it captures some of what we hear above. The poet, whom I had never heard of, was a 19th Century American Indian writer.

Life
By Emma Lowrey Williams

We can not tell what happiness 
We might on earth possess 
If in singleness of heart 
We would strive to act a proper part. 
‘Tis true we see the effects of sin
All without and all within. 
We long may live a life in vain, 
Much good possess, but still complain. 
We may appear to other eyes, 
To be extremely rich and wise; 
But if our hearts are not right, 
Life will not be beautiful and bright. 
Oh! may our life, day by day, 
In love and duty pass away; 
And at last when our bodies die, 
We may live in that world above the sky; 
Where free from sin, death and pain, 
The good will meet and love again. 

2 thoughts on ““Grateful” to “Happy”

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