People have been trying to figure out the key to happiness probably as long as humans have walked the earth. Today, I will toss my two cents into that discussion. In order to be happy, I believe that we need to change how we approach life by moving from Frustration → Acceptance →Gratitude.

Let me explain. Some of us live in a constant state of frustration. If something unpleasant happens, we automatically become sour and irritated. If we miss the train, it ruins our day. If a friend or family member is rude to us, we obsess over the unkind words that were said. If we get an unexpected bill, we immediately feel stressed out. When we live like that, not only are we frustrated, but we are unhappy. Why? Because we expect life to be perfect, and it never will be.

Acceptance is the first step in leaving the world of frustration. When we accept life, we accept that it is imperfect. That is hard to do! But realize that no one’s life is perfect. I know that some people seem to have the perfect life. However, you would be surprised by how deceiving appearances can be. I know of marriages that look terrific on the outside, but in reality they are cold and distant. And then there are those people who seem to have everything – a beautiful home, luxury cars, expensive clothing. However, what you don’t know is that they are up to their earlobes in debt. Very little is as it appears. The only thing that we can know for sure is that no one has the perfect life.

People who have accepted life’s imperfection know that it isn’t what happens to them that matters as much as how they handle it. So if they miss their train, they shrug their shoulders, read their newspaper, and wait for the next one. If someone is rude to them, they remember that other people have personal issues and ignore the behavior. Their days aren’t ruined by matters outside their control. And as a result, they are content.

Once we have accepted that life is imperfect, we then can learn to live in gratitude. The challenge is how? Sure I can accept the missed train, but how can I be grateful for the missed train? How can I be grateful if someone has hurt my feelings? How can I be grateful if I lose my job? How can I be grateful, even though everything in my life isn’t as I would like it to be?

The reality is that we aren’t going to be grateful for the bad things that happen to us. Perhaps in the future a lost job might lead to a better opportunity, and in retrospect I will be grateful. However, at the time I lose my job, I’m not going to be grateful, no matter how spiritually evolved I am. Likewise, if someone hurts my feelings, I’m not going to be grateful for that person, even if down the road, that experience results in my being stronger and more compassionate.

The key is to view the unfortunate things that happen to us in the context of gratitude. For example, if I am grateful for all the good things in my life –a place to live, my health, financial security – then a missed train is not a big deal. Or if someone insults me, it doesn’t matter to me because I am grateful for all the other positive relationships in my life. Gratitude allows us to view occasional problems as merely a small part of an otherwise blessed life.

When we live in gratitude, we, in effect, are insulated from the frustrations of life. Grateful people almost have a suit of armor which no person or event can penetrate. Unkind words and unfair circumstances are no match for a mind that lives in gratitude. For the grateful person, the bumps in the road of life are just bumps. They aren’t roadblocks.

Making the transition from frustration →acceptance → gratitude is hard. Some people live their lives never getting out of the frustration zone. Others end up in acceptance. But if we want to create a life of happiness, that means approaching each day with a spirit of gratitude.

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