The theme for the third week of Advent is Joy. One thing that I’ve thought about this year is the relationship between gratitude and joy. I started off thinking that we are grateful as a result of joy. For example, I have a great family that brings me joy, and because of that, I am grateful. Or my boss just praised me for doing a great job on a recent project which brings me joy, and as a result I feel grateful.
But it seems I may have been mistaken.
Researcher and author Brene Brown says that in her 12 years of research and 11,000 pieces of data she has discovered this, “I did not interview a single person who described their life as joyful or joyous who did not actively practice gratitude.” She goes on to say that these people had a tangible practice of gratitude in their life. There is a powerful quote by a Catholic theologian David Rast who says,
“It is not joy that makes us grateful. It is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
At first I was surprised by this statement. But the more I thought about it, the truer it seems. Joy is not the result of a positive outcome or circumstance in life. If that were the case, then our joy would be tied to external circumstances which we have minimal control over. This is closer to a description of happiness.
Rather, joy is something deeper and from the heart. It comes from living a life of gratitude. And this is not natural; being grateful is a decision and something that is practised. When we can be grateful in all circumstances, then we can be joyful in all circumstances.
Perhaps that is why the apostle Paul says in one phrase,
“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes 5:16-18 NIV)