Monday, March 23, 2020

If You’re Unhappy, Did You Know You Have a Choice?

Even though I’m not an expert, it seems there are a lot of unhappy people in the world around us. Maybe you’re one of them.

Whenever I feel like I’m suffering from an overdose of happiness, all I have to turn on the morning or evening news and voila, problem solved. The sky is falling! (Just as it was yesterday, and the day before that.) At least as far as we can tell by the incessant, fear-mongering news reporting. Chicken Little, along with the little boy who always cried wolf, would feel right at home in our day and age.

What happens when we succumb and start feeling overcome by fear? We start feeling unhappy. The calm, serene, predictable world we loved so much is stripped away, and we’re not pleased about it one tiny bit. 

Lest we blame the news media for pervasive unhappiness, let’s be honest. It’s not all their fault. We also have social media, where a bunch of angry, miserable people relish their daily opportunities to rant on whatever seems to be stuck in their craw. Misery loves company, they say, so if you’re miserable, why not try sharing your angst with others? It’s nice to share, right?

But even if we somehow manage to filter out the news, and social media, we can still find more than enough reasons for unhappiness. We don’t like our marriage. We don’t like our family. We don’t like our job. We don’t like our house – or our car. We don’t like the clothes in our bulging closets. Need I go on?

So, are we captives of unhappiness? Is misery destined to be our constant companion? Well, I want to let you in on a secret: You don’t have to be unhappy.

Years ago, I came across a book called Happiness Is A Choice. I don’t recall the author offhand, but just the title alone was profound. Because we can't control our circumstances, and we can’t control the world around us, but we can control our response to them. If you Google “happiness is a choice,” you’ll find that science and modern psychology confirm that indeed, we can decide to be happy. Even if the environment around us isn't happy, happy, happy.

I’ve written in the past about the commands from Romans 5 and James 1, stating we’re to rejoice or “count it all joy” when we encounter the inevitable challenges and trials of life. But the apostle Paul gave very specific instructions about how we’re to choose happiness, regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves. It’s not all that complicated, he said:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

He wasn’t saying that everything was “peachy keen,” or whatever the saying was back then. He was writing this letter to the believers in Philippi while in prison, so Paul certainly wasn’t being idealistic or delusional. No one called him “Pollyanna Paul.” He was simply pointing out the choice we have. We can focus on the bad stuff and let it consume our thoughts, dragging them downward. Or we can concentrate on the good, positive and redeeming things we can discover even at the worst of times – if only we’re willing to look for them.

Even in the midst of severe health problems, financial struggles and workplace challenges, we can choose to be happy and shed the mantle of misery. The best way to do that is never forgetting that we’re not journeying through this life alone, that the Lord is always with us and He wants what’s best for us even more than we do.

This is why we’re told, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). Paul told Christ followers in ancient Rome, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

I remember the words from the old Tony Bennett song, “Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face.” Because they always have – and they always will. And since it doesn’t take any less energy to maintain a frown than to make a smile, why not choose the latter?

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