It was one of those moments I was so thankful for and at the same time kind of wish never happened—someone explained to me what the key to happiness is.

Surprisingly, it’s not . . .
making more money
having everything go according to plan
living with your every need provided for

You would think all of that would make us thankful, but it rarely does. Rather than engender gratitude, it tends to only provide some acknowledgment that what we hoped would happen did happen. And then we hope for a little better next time. Gratitude rarely enters the picture.

So what’s the key to finding gratitude?

Low expectations.

The lower your expectations are, the happier you are with whatever you get.

If you come home one afternoon and expect the house to be perfect, you can have a melt down over three dishes left in the sink (well, at least some of us can given our wiring). Conversely, if you come home expecting the kitchen to be a complete disaster but your kids have emptied the dishwasher and set the table, you might actually be grateful for what they did despite the fact that the counter looks like a warzone. It’s all about expectations.

On a trip to Guatemala a few years ago, I was astounded by how grateful the kids were for even the smallest things we would bring with us. Our team brought out a soccer ball one night. The kids were almost delirious with joy. We played for hours and they would go on to play for days, weeks and months with it.

Back home I had at least three soccer balls in my overfilled garage. I’m not sure one of them ever produced a genuine smile on anyone’s face.

The only difference? The expectations of those involved.

Low expectations foster gratitude because they help us see everything that comes our way as a gift.

High expectations tend to suck the gratitude from us, because even when they are met, we tend to see what’s come to us as an entitlement.

Entitled people (and entitled kids) are never grateful.

So what do you feel entitled to?

A ‘perfect picture’ holiday dinner?
Kids who do everything as told when they are told?
Three football games in a row?
A Black Friday shopping spree with a minimum budget of ______?

Hang on to those expectations and you’re pretty much guaranteed a disappointing Thanksgiving. Release them, and you might be surprised.

By the way, this also works for Christmas. And your job. And your marriage. And life.

It’s also what allowed Paul to be in prison and sing songs of joy.

Lower expectations really are a key to gratitude.

What expectations have you lowered? How has that helped you?