Happiness

The Healthiest Habit of the Happiest People

There are some very chipper people in the world who just radiate joy. You know them when you meet them: they’re smiling, kind, and content. They’re sure of the goodness in their lives, and the goodness in you—even if you’re still a stranger. And they just don’t seem to see the gloom that simply must be around them.

Sometimes we see these people and envy them. How can anyone be so positive all the time? How can life feel so easy to them? Why can’t I feel like that?

We’ve all heard (and maybe told) the anti-sunshine-and-rainbows jokes. Because the fact is that, much of the time, life isn’t pretty. And that might make us think that viewing the world “with rose-colored glasses” is rarely the best idea.

But this tendency is, in fact, a very positive quality. Studies find that people who foster a positive outlook on life (in a realistic way, of course) are happier, more successful, and even healthier.

Gratitude as a Virtue

Anecdotally, every one of those joyful people I’ve met in life have one thing in common: thankfulness. Simple gratitude goes a long way, it seems, in building a happier, healthier mindset; a more meaningful spiritual life; and a more positive outlook with which to enjoy the good things in our world.

For me, gratitude is a habit. It’s the best habit, because it works on your heart in so many ways. Gratitude forces us to recognize the wonderful things around us. It encourages us to hold onto our respect for others, and to speak positively to them. It fosters a consistent, positive prayer life. It humbles us. And it inspires us to be better people.

Though not listed among the Cardinal or theological virtues by Catholicism, the concept of thankfulness has been top-of-mind for many of our saints, and it is all over Scripture. Christ Himself gave thanks to God many times, often during some of the most pre-eminent miracles and moments of the Gospels.

Gratitude is part and parcel of many of our cardinal virtues. It is woven into justice, in that it acknowledges and rewards the rightness and generosity of others; it is a part of prudence, in that it requires mindfulness, care, and wisdom in practice; it is supportive of temperance, in that it shows us how to be selfless; and it is rewarded by fortitude, in that a thankful person is often a courageous and strong person.

And what better way can we supplement our practice of the theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity—but by expressing gratefulness to God for those gifts, and to our neighbors for practicing them along with us?

The Wisdom of Giving Thanks

What makes thankfulness so important to us, as humans? We are responsible for so much in life, and yet so little. We are gifted with so much in life, and yet deserve so little of it. The least we must do is acknowledge this generosity and show our thanks for it. We must take nothing for granted, lest we learn the hard way how fragile our lives truly are.

Here are some bits of wisdom I love:

“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” – St. Ambrose

 “Remember the past with gratitude. Live the present with enthusiasm. Look forward to the future with confidence.” – Pope St. John Paul II

“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” – St. Gianna Beretta Molla

“Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve You as You deserve.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola 

How to Be More Thankful

I have met so many beautiful people whose positivity is unwavering. Their secret, I think, is that they always find something to be thankful for. They always choose to acknowledge and lift up the good that surrounds them, rather than focusing on their struggles. They know that, in the end, we can control very little—but we can be grateful for very much.

In learning from them and from my own experience, here are five ways I try to make thankfulness a habit in my life:

  1. Always acknowledge the little things. When you come across your favorite number by happenstance, give a little thanks for the small smile it brings. When someone holds the door for you, always thank them out loud and with a smile. Upon learning to recognize the tiny moments of every day for which we can say “Thank you,” we become much more grateful for the bigger moments, too.
  2. Pray with proper order. There are several key elements to prayer, and thankfulness is one of them. It should come before we make requests to God. Remember ACTS when you pray: Adoration, Contrition, Thankfulness, and Supplication. My humility and penchant for gratitude improves greatly when I keep prayer in perspective this way.
  3. Share your gratitude with people you love. Regularly telling your family and friends about what you’re grateful for in life can help you and them be more thankful day to day—but do it humbly, and not to brag. For example, try going around the dinner table to have everyone share one thing they’re grateful for more frequently than just once a year at Thanksgiving.
  4. Hold yourself accountable to say thanks. I recently heard a lovely suggestion that’s specific to marriage: each night before bed, thank your spouse for at least one thing they did for you that day—something that made you feel more loved. It might also help to keep a gratitude journal, or to fill up a jar throughout the year with notes on what you’re thankful for each day, week, or month. The important thing is to set a goal and be consistent. It’s excellent for your mental health!
  5. Resist gossip. I find that gossip and judgmental thinking tend to become habitual—and that’s really too bad. The way we think and speak of others is influenced by paradigms. If my automatic reaction is to say, “Boy, that barista was sloooow today,” I might not even notice that the person behind me paid for a stranger’s drink while I was waiting just as a random act of kindness. I’d be too busy dwelling on my coffee’s delay.

There’s Always Something

Although certainly there are some trials in life that, when we emerge from them, remind us in no uncertain terms that we have a lot to be thankful for. Perhaps you’ve survived a horrific car crash. Perhaps your loved one beat cancer. Perhaps you got the job that makes providing for your family straightforward instead of stressful.

But if gratitude is truly a habit, then it’s the in-between times that call us to be most thankful—the times when no apparent miracle has occurred, but the simple pleasure of a 70-degree day in March left you feeling just a little warmer (inside and out). That’s something to be thankful for.

Individual Roles, Mutual Subjection, and Equal Respect in Marriage

My husband and I are two exceptionally different people. I love chocolate; he likes vanilla. I could spend entire days reading; he gets bored after a few pages. He enjoys hunting (for food, not sport); I can barely carve raw meat without cringing. He finds peace in woodworking; I relax while I write.

Every relationship is like this in one way or another. Each of us is a one-of-a-kind blend of nature, nurture, opinions, and habits. For that reason, no two people are the same—and wedding rings don’t turn husband and wife into a single-minded, tunnel-visioned creature. Two become one, but that happens because they complete, support, and accept each other without question.

Given our differences, practically speaking, one component of a healthy marriage is settling into a mutually satisfying set of responsibilities, checks, and balances. In our case, that means Erik pays bills while I go grocery shopping; he shovels the driveway while I do the laundry; he cleans out clogged drains while I toss the expired stuff out of the fridge. We have a pretty traditional approach to household tasks, but not every marriage does. Some men love cooking, like cleaning, and know nothing about home repair. Some women love yardwork, enjoy changing their oil, and have no clue how to patch a pair of jeans. There’s nothing wrong with that. Any combination of shared tasks will do.

The point is finding a balance in which both husband and wife contribute to home and happiness. No one likes chores. But when spouses compromise based on what’s more agreeable for each, they can define their roles easily. Of course, we all trade tasks here and there, when the mood strikes. Again, the point is a shared balance—not formality or normality. You fulfill your responsibilities not because you like it, but because it must be done and you love your spouse enough to share the load. This applies to small stuff like cleaning and setting up dentist appointments, and to larger things like career paths and home defense. That’s family. That’s the partnership that a strong marriage requires.

So, given that well-rounded approach to sharing individual but mutually necessary marital responsibilities, what does the following passage tell us about the roles of husbands and wives?

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24

Let me begin by saying it does not tell us to be slaves. We are not the unthinking, helpless creatures that pop culture has misinterpreted and twisted this verse into implying. We are capable, beautiful women—wives, mothers, sisters, daughters—and we are strong, so don’t get that wrong.

I recently read a wonderful article that sums up what this passage means. You can read it here. I believe it’s clearly and beautifully voiced the truth behind these verses, so I’d like to share it with you. The following analysis largely mirrors and learns from that article.

Ephesians 5 tells us to accept our husband’s role in our marriage. The Greek word for ‘head’ in this reading is kephale. It doesn’t, literally or figuratively, mean ‘boss’ or ‘king.’ It literally means that thing that sits on your shoulders. Figuratively, the Greek word kephale means ‘source or beginning or completion,’ or ‘one who brings fullness.’ From that perspective, if a wife cannot accept her husband as the one who completes her or brings fullness to her life, she isn’t looking at marriage the right way.

The family unit is where the Church begins, so each family is called to be a mirror of the perfect love exemplified by Christ and the Church, his bridegroom. Husbands fill the role of “head” for a number of reasons. His job is to be a deliberate, logical, and emotive leader. He is a provider and a caregiver, and he takes responsibility for his family’s health, happiness, and safety.

You might still argue that that’s an outdated, hyper-traditionalist way to look at the role of the husband. But being a provider doesn’t mean his sole task is to bring home a paycheck while his wife keeps house. It means doing what he can to make his wife and his children comfortable and happy, and accepting his responsibility for their success. That role can take many forms, and Ephesians calls all wives to be humble and loving enough to accept that role for their husbands.

The rest of this letter’s passage on marriage adds more color to the role of the husband:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the water of the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his own body loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes it tenderly and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ Ephesians 5:25-31

The added emphases are mine; they’re meant to call out the depth of humility husbands are called to offer for their wives. The love Paul asks from them here is not erotic or domineering—it is profound, selfless, and sweet. Nowhere in this passage does Paul tell husbands to dominate their wives, give orders, or put themselves first. Instead, Paul is calling for men to offer themselves as servants to their wives: love her, cleanse her, make her holy. Put her first so that she may be without blemish; nourish and care for her tenderly so that you may live your fullest life.

Given the practices of Paul’s time, this message is a radically humbling one for men in the Church. He calls each husband not to be a property owner or a monarch, but a loving, kind, and humble husband whose life’s work is to meet the needs of and support his wife. I don’t see anything misogynistic in that.

Women are blessed with the sublime and completely unique gift of femininity. Naturally, her heart is uniquely open to nurturing love, and that’s true even if she struggles with fertility. In that way, a woman’s role is biologically and spiritually unique to her: she is ordained to be a sister to her family, a wife to her husband, a daughter of God, and a mother to all children. There is no greater blessing than the outpouring and influx of love in a mother’s heart.

Husbands, though biologically separate from the birth of children, are ordained as fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands. Their role, though different, is no less and no more important.

To call men and women the same is an insult to both their geniuses. They look, love, serve, and behave differently. They were created differently, so that each might have their own characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. They were made to balance one another, to complement each other’s unique needs, and to serve one another.

So masculine and feminine roles in marriage aren’t defined by 1950s standards of social acceptability. It’s not about who cooks, who works, who cleans, and who decides. It is about the two of them becoming one cohesive, loving body—one union to live and share life as beautifully and fully as they can. The day-to-day breakdown of responsibilities isn’t what’s important; the love, selflessness, and balance of their relationship are. And where those priorities are in place, mutual respect will inherently dwell.

Marriage is not 50/50 or 70/30—it is 100/100. It is an equal partnership in which both spouses give everything they’ve got. What they each have is unique to them—that’s why it works. And that’s why we love one another.

Wedding and Marriage