Happiness ≤ Gratitude

...you will never be happier than you are grateful. “Hallmarks of Happiness” by Gary B. Sabin, October 2023 General Conference

A few weeks ago I wrote:

H ≤ G

on the chalkboard in my Sunday School classroom before class started. We were talking about the plan of happiness and how we can follow that plan. When I got to this topic, I explained that H ≤ G helps me remember that I need to increase my gratitude to increase my happiness. One of the students asked, incredulously, “is that you think? In algebraic formulas?”

No. Not at all. I'm terrible at math and algebra. But I do like simple statements of truth, and when I heard this one in General Conference in October of 2023 it stuck with me. It's such a simple and profound truth.

I want to be happy. I think this is a fairly universal desire. So what will make me happy? More toys? More money? More food?

All three of those material wants are subject to a form of the law of diminishing returns. Eat enough food and eating more food becomes painful. Make enough money and making more money can lead to selfishness.

A line from a song by the band Train has stuck with me for years:

In a world that what we want Is only what we want until it's ours (Calling All Angels by Pat Monahan, recorded by Train)

The antidote to this problem is gratitude.

I've been teaching my Sunday School classes the value of journals for years. I have made each and every student the promise that I will supply them with little notebooks to use as gratitude journals until one of us dies. If they die, I'm sorry, no more notebooks. If I die it'll take me a while to get a notebook to them.

But Elder Sabin's talk gives us such a clear and understandable relationship between gratitude and happiness. I can never have more happiness than I have gratitude. Why not?

Comparison Is Sadness

There is an oft-quoted saying:

Comparison is the thief of joy. (Variously Ascribed)

And I think about it a lot. A lot of current research into the effect of social media on our minds verifies this statement. In general we are comparing ourselves at our worst to someone else's social media “best”. Our dirty living room right now to someone else's clean living room at some point when they managed to snap a picture. The concept of Keeping up with the Joneses is the source of a lot of debt and sadness.

So instead, we look at what we have. I have a home. I have a family. I have a job. I have a wonderful ward, full of people I love, admire, and respect. Do I need more stuff? It sure seems like looking for “more” leads to me only wanting more. Gratitude tells me that I have enough and now it's time to look to some other source to increase my happiness.

Gratitude Begets Humility

It's hard to be pridefully grateful. The sentence parses as English but barely makes sense. If we are grateful we are admitting that someone else did something for us, that we aren't the sole creator of our good fortune. If we are grateful to God and Christ then we are acknowledging them as being the source of all good things:

And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. Doctrine and Covenants 59:21

Each moment we are supported by God; He created this earth and gives us each moment upon it. We cannot acknowledge these things and still be prideful.

Gratitude Focuses Our Minds

How can we cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude? President Joseph F. Smith, sixth President of the Church, provided an answer. Said he: “The grateful man sees so much in the world to be thankful for, and with him the good outweighs the evil. Love overpowers jealousy, and light drives darkness out of his life.” (The Divine Gift of Gratitude President Thomas S. Monson, October 2010 General Conference)

We find what we look for. If we are seeking things for which to be grateful we will find them. Many of them! If we are seeking reasons to be miserable, we will find them. Too many of them! Our human brains are amazing at pattern matching. If we tell our minds to look for things that make us feel grateful, and we write those things down (writing things down is a way to tell your brain “this is important!”), we will naturally start to see more things that make us feel grateful.

I am an optimist by choice. I am aware of the problems in the world but I choose to look at the good. It's hard. But being grateful, cultivating this mindset of finding things for which to be grateful, has provided me a way to choose optimism. I'm not perfect at it, I still get depressed and sad, but I do find that as I increase my gratitude, I increase my happiness.

© Nathanial Dickson. All Rights Reserved. Discuss...