We’re looking at happiness. Modern psychologists tell us that happiness is the cornerstone of psychological wealth—we feel positive with new ideas, new hobbies, new relationships when we’re healthy. I guess that’s one reason why volunteers are so happy—they are serving others with no thought for gain or reward.
The problem is, most of us don’t know how to be happy or how to stay happy. We think that more money will make us happy or we think that things will make us happy. But we have already found the fallacy of that in our lives. Everybody seems to think that about 10% more income would take care of their finances. It doesn’t matter whether they make $20,000 or $200,000. Just 10% more would take care of it. It just isn’t so. Most of us have had a raise and found that the money is easily just eaten away. It simply disappears. So—just a little more money will not make us happier.
Neither will having something we really want. Just think about the last thing that you wanted and purchased. Whether it was a TV or clothes, a boat or tickets, a house or car. It may have brought temporary pleasure but it will never bring lasting happiness. Things cannot make us happy, because there will always be something else tempting us to want more. Desire, unchecked, leads to greed.
Think of the story of David and Bathsheba recorded in the Old Testament. Here is David, King of Israel—with wives, concubines and many children. He has it all. But he wanders out on his balcony one day and desires someone he cannot have. So he wants her all the more. And what does it lead to? Adultery, deception, and eventually murder because Bathsheba’s husband Uriah refuses to sleep with his wife, while his companions are on the battle field. (2 Samuel 11). David had everything. But he was still tempted to want more. And we are just like him. We will always be tempted to want more.
So what are we to do about such a quandary? We need to learn to appreciate what we have. The antidote to greed is contentment. Paul says, “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.” (Philippians 4:12) So how do we get there?
The first thing we do is we practise the art of gratitude. An attitude of gratitude helps us live happy lives. Wanting and appreciating what we have is the first step toward contentment. I will never forget when Christopher Reeve was first paralysed. He went into a deep depression. Who wouldn’t? But he came out of it, truly Superman. A man who knew what it was to be content with what he had.
He was able to be a brilliant spokesman for persons with spinal-cord injuries—that mattered to me because my nephew Matt had a broken neck, a spinal-cord injury. Reeve wrote, acted, and directed films. His remake of Hitchcock’s Rear Window was every bit as good and scary as the original.
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So every night before you go to bed, write down and say out loud at least five things that you are grateful for that day. Will you repeat things on your list? Yes, of course you will, if you do this exercise daily. But at least you will be reminded that you are thankful for them rather than taking them for granted.
Happiness is not so much a state that is achieved once and for all and then we have it, get to keep it and never leave it. Happiness is more of a process than a place.
When Jesus talked about us having abundant life (John 10:10) this is what he meant. He certainly wasn’t talking about the abundance of our possessions or the abundance of our monetary resources. He was talking about our internal resources, the resources that bring us happiness.
The first of these is the giving up of negativity and the practice of gratitude. It is a practice that has to do with a mindset. We need the mind of Christ. Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) We renew our mind by just such practices as these.
Do you think that Christopher Reeve really wanted to live the rest of his life in a wheelchair? Wouldn’t he have preferred to have been still active? Still riding horses? Still actively playing with his children? Of course he would. But when tragedy struck, he chose to make the most of his life. He chose not to wallow in self-pity. He chose abundant life. It was a mindset.
He realised that he was not brain-damaged. His thought processes still allowed him to do much. He could speak and write. He could direct and produce. He could be a positive influence in the lives of victims of accidents who thought their lives were over because of their paralysis. He could show them that it just was not so.
You and I have much to be thankful for and little, really, to complain about. We need to practise gratitude and give up our pity parties and complaints. We need to celebrate life and grant grace, to live abundantly. We cannot do that while we burden ourselves with a bag of complaints that we drag with us wherever we go. Many of us have been dragging stuff with us for years:
- stuff from our childhood
- stuff from former marriages
- stuff from former jobs
- anger and resentment and hurt
- aches and pains and perceived slights.
I hope you wrote all of that stuff down on your paper. If not, now is the time to do it. All the things we have to complain about, we’re going to get rid of in this bag. And we’re going to leave them there so that giving up complaining is easier for us because we will have chosen to set aside our complaints, to give them over to Christ Jesus and to leave them in his hands.
That will set us free to practise gratitude every day, to give thanks for a wide variety of people and things for which we are grateful—ones we tend to take for granted but that we would genuinely miss if we did not have them. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” So let’s try and practise having a joyful heart.