The happiness/gratitude formula

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“I’m feeling happy, and that’s a big deal… for me.”
This is decidedly my favorite line in finding Nemo, and it keeps playing through my mind lately because lately, I’ve felt joy in my life.  The real kind that’s not because of wine or the kids finally being asleep.

The kind I still feel in the midst of the dinnertime rush or the messiness of the play room floor.

It all started about a month ago with a very emotional ride home from church. I called Kel in tears after a trip to church had turned into a nightmare. I told him how the kids ran away from me while I was recycling their juice cups and I lost  them for about five minutes. Which felt like an eternity at the time. (found them in their kids area claiming loudly that their mom had left them. Thanks guys.)

I sobbed to Kel about how tired I was of doing weekends all by myself when everyone else was all together as a family. Then I went on about  how even when we were together, we were never happy about it. Someone was always angry or under slept, something was always not ideal, there was always a reason it couldn’t get classified as a “good day”

“I don’t know what’s wrong babe, but I feel like we’re missing something really important and I think it has to do with something Jesus said, but I want to fix it. Can we fix it please? I just want to be happy.”

We hung up and left things painfully unresolved. When I’d finally closed the garage door behind our dirty mini van I collapsed on our couch in desperate tears of frustration.

I texted a dear friend who immediately dropped what she was doing and called me.  I cried to her for what felt like forever, trying to put words to the churning feelings I was having in my life.

It sounded like: “Kel and I can’t stop fighting, we can barely pay the bills, the kids ran away from me in church and we’re never just happy together.  Ever!  It’s not going to change with our circumstances, it has to change with us but I’m so lost and I have no idea what to do next.  

This is the abridged version people, the real version was far more incoherent and dramatic.

She listened to me graciously for over well over thirty minutes. Then she added her advice and a hefty scoop of encouragement.  But I took away two very important things:

1) You can only change you, stop worrying about what Kel will or won’t do.
2) Gratitude changes everything

She texted me for the next few mornings to remind me of both these truths, “Don’t worry about Kel, just change you!  God can take care of him, I promise.”

Then she texted me a really helpful gratitude flowchart the gist of which was this: So many of the things I was unhappy about were above and beyond what God had promised me, or any of us for that matter.

I started asking myself: “Is the thing that I’m upset about over and above what God has promised me? If yes then I guess I don’t need it and I will choose contentment and gratitude”

Laundry day started to go like this: “I hate laundry, God how am I ever going to get through all this, why do we have to wear SO MANY clothes?!?  Wait, I could have to haul all this to the laundromat in the snow or have to wash it in the bathtub, but I don’t.  Thanks God for in home laundry that works like it should.”

At the grocery store: “I hate having to grocery shop with a calculator, I wish I was one of those people who could just throw stuff in their basket without worrying about it.  Wait, we have enough food to eat, period. We’re eating healthy stuff that i enjoy making.  Thanks for the content of this cart God.” 

And in these little moments of self talk, of counting gifts, or thankfulness I have started to feel happiness.

Then I watched this Ted Talk which confirmed everything for me:  

“It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it’s gratefulness that makes us happy.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

Happiness doesn’t come from having everything you want, it comes from wanting everything you already have.

It’s helping with my marriage and it’s making a difference in my parenting.  It’s reducing my anxiety and depression and it’s causing me to finally feel joy in the midst of the uncertainty of life.

I find myself breathing small prayers of gratitude as I move through my day
Thank you for a warm home, a safe place in the snow
Thank you for this box of clementines, easy snacks I feel good about
Thank you for this move night with my kids, together under one blanket.

Thank you for this simple life, for this profound truth and for filling my home and heart with good, good gifts.


  • Abby Norman

    Well. Thanks for the email. Could you maybe be my reminder? I need to reset something. Stat.

    • Leanne Penny

      Yes, about this or something else I’m forgetting? 😉

      • Mark Allman

        This seems all like some war code or some secret stuff here. Maybe you two have used invisible ink and I can’t read it. :)

  • Matthew Shedd

    Just what I needed to read today! Thanks for the reminder!

  • Mark Allman

    I do thank being thankful is an antidote at times for depression and general malaise. I do know a lack of gratitude sends me into a downward spiral at times. It takes work to cultivate a spirit of being thankful; of looking for the good; of recognizing how we have been blessed; to overlook those things that are beating on us.

    I think it is wise to reinforce this with our children often.
    Great post Leanne, I liked the video too.

    • Leanne Penny

      I know great video, right? Took me forever to nail down his accent though. I’m pretty sure it’s German.

  • Rea

    This is a beautiful reminder. I’ve started to count those small gratitudes again lately as well. Like when I took my car in for all 4 tires and found out it also needed some tie rod things that doubled the cost. “OK, God…I’m thankful that this mechanic has a lovely waiting area with a fireplace and comfy chairs (and cookies) on a snowy day…” And the more I practice gratitude, the more things I notice that are beautiful. And that feels like happiness.