Each year, we host a Christmas party at my house. All the guests bring something of approximately equal value, and we play a game to determine what gift we all end up with. This party is an annual tradition that my husband and I put a lot of thought into, and we plan our gifts very carefully. Unfortunately, last year the gift I ended up with was a gift card to a place I never, ever go, and I learned the gift had been re-gifted, and honestly, it left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

A few days later, we went to my husband’s company Christmas party, and they held a raffle for a few random gifts. My husband won a gift card to a store that he’s never gone to and had never heard about—it turns out it exclusively sells items for women—but he was thrilled because he’d had no expectation of getting anything in the first place.

I expected to get something that I’d value as much as the gift I’d brought to our Christmas exchange, and I was disappointed. He expected nothing at all, so his gift was pure bonus and he enjoyed the experience. In life, the more we think we deserve something, the less grateful we are.

I read a quote that said that joy is found in having an attitude of expectancy rather than expectation. Expectancy is the excitement of knowing that something good might happen, but without a defined expectation of what that will be. Saint Paul demonstrated this when he said: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”1 His contentment wasn’t due to a certain level of success or comfort, but in knowing that God’s grace was enough for any situation.

I have a lot of things in my life that I never expected to have. When I remember that, I’m filled with gratitude! Unsurprisingly, those feelings can also fade a bit when I compare my situation to that of others, or I set an expectation for what I think I should have or achieve or receive or experience.

There are numerous studies on the practice of gratitude, and the evidence strongly shows that people with a grateful outlook live happier lives, are in more positive, long-term relationships, and they enjoy better mental health. The foundation for it all is being content with what we have and remembering that we aren’t owed anything.

  1. Philippians 4:11–12 NIV