Turns out the shape of happiness is a U.
According to an article in this month’s Atlantic, our happiness levels have a U shape over the course of our lives: higher in our twenties, lower during midlife, and rising again in our late 50’s and early 60’s. The What struck me as I read the article was story after story of people struggling with happiness in midlife because life hadn’t turned out like they thought it would. They hadn’t advanced in their careers or written the great American novel. They had divorced, their children were struggling, or they were caring for aging parents. Somehow at midlife they looked around and found themselves wondering is this all there is?
And discontentment crept in.
I came across this sentiment in a last minute search for a children’s sermon this week: Look at the donut and not the hole. If someone gives you a donut, you enjoy the donut—you don’t focus on the hole. Yet, when we look at our lives sometimes we look at the hole instead of the donut. I see the lumpy couch in my den instead of the three children curled up on it. I see the pile of dishes in the sink and not the laughter of the family gathered around the table. I see the extra pounds on the scale instead of the blessings of health and security. There’s a dozen donuts in front of me, and all I see are the holes. I focus on what’s missing, and discontent seeps in.
Thanksgiving has the power to shape our happiness by redirecting our focus to the gifts and the Giver. Cultivating an attitude of thanksgiving trains us in attentiveness. It forces us to notice the beauty in the small things we might otherwise miss like the crunch of red-gold leaves beneath our feet or a child’s syrup-sticky morning kiss. Thanksgiving shifts our thinking from mourning what we’re missing to celebrating what we’ve already been given.
Thanksgiving helps us see the donut, not the hole.
Thanksgiving also reminds us that we are not just grateful for something, we are grateful to someone. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). The good things in our lives are not accidents; they are gracious gifts from our heavenly Father whose love for us does not change like the shifting shadows. It is good for us to pause, to be thankful, and to celebrate our God who lavishly showers his blessings on us.
In this season of Thanksgiving, don’t miss the donut by looking at the hole. So the cranberry sauce spilled on the tablecloth, the piecrust burned, and the turkey’s just on the edge of too dry. Focus on what you have. Be attentive to unexpected blessings.
And let thanksgiving shape your happiness.
How are you shaping your happiness this Thanksgiving?