“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last week, we shared the story of Laura Lavigne’s “Big Gratitude Project.” Laura is a remarkable person whose work explores the intersection of happiness and gratitude. Her recent projects create channels through which people are reminded to reconnect with their own sense of grateful abundance. I’m reminded of a story of Laura’s which I love.
In 2018, Laura took a holiday with no real itinerary or agenda. She found herself on the Greek Island of Lesvos, volunteering at a community center for refugees called “One Happy Family.” Due to its proximity to Turkey, the island sees people of many different nationalities fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa. One day, looking at a blank wall in the center, she had an idea to paint a giant chalkboard with the question “What makes you happy?” written in many different languages.
As she painted, she wondered if this was a wise idea. “What do I know about being a refugee?” she asked herself. One man observed her work and told her it was useless; there was nothing for the people at the center to be happy about. Yet she continued until the board was finished, and when she returned soon after was amazed to find that the space was entirely full of responses in dozens of different languages. She erased the board from time to time, and each time she did it didn’t take long before the wall was again covered with colorful messages of joy and gratitude.
Many people believe that happiness is connected to your circumstances. If this were true, then Laura’s board would have been blank. If happiness was a measure of comfort or material accumulation, I’m not sure anyone could achieve it. This type of thinking requires that we come from a perspective of comparative lack.
Happiness is activated gratitude. It costs nothing and requires nothing, other than that we pause in presence and notice goodness, even when it coexists beside pain. There is always something to be grateful for; even in seasons of hardship, and even if it is only for the wisdom those experiences impart, or the future path they are leading us towards.
What powerful healing; what good medicine!
And how fortunate we are to have people like Laura whose work reminds us to stop and drink it in.