We need three positive emotions to balance out every negative one according to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill. As a Pastor and Life Coach, I can’t help but believe that many people are living with a deficit. The good news is we don’t have to be stuck that way. We can “choose” good feelings.
I remember this principle coming home to me in a very real way when I traveled out to the remote village of Kakamega Kenya. When my friends and I got off the bus from Nairobi, we were greeted by enthusiastic children and adults. As two of us were white, we got special attention. Many of these children had never seen a white person before and were amazed as they looked at our skin.
One of the children looked at me with wonder in his eyes and asked, “What happened to you?” as if our skin condition was the result of illness or accident. I couldn’t help but chuckle and reflect that they see color as a wonder while too many Americans see it as a problem. As I looked at the children, I felt saddened by the state of their clothing. Many wore rags, many had no shirt or shoes. Many were nothing more than skin and bones.
I would later learn that many of these children were orphaned as a result of Aids. Others had lost their parents when they were locked inside a church and burned to death. As I looked at pictures of the charred remains of Christians and one of a child sitting and crying by his dead mother with a blood trail from the bullet wound in her head, I felt overwhelmed. I knew that the meager supplies and money we brought would never put a dent in the suffering of these people.
While I had traveled to minister to the needs of these wonderful people, in the end, I think they may have ministered more to me. There were smiles and warm greetings of “Hukuna Matata” (“No Worries”). When we saw the glee, laughter and long lines of children forming for just 1 piece of candy, we were amazed. There was no pushing, shoving or begging. They were delighted and thankful for what they received.
They sang, danced, and engaged life in a way that I have never before seen. More than money or things, the people there asked for me. They would seek me out and spend hours asking about the things of God. When I felt like I had given them everything I had to give, they asked for more and I was overjoyed that God kept the fountain flowing.
But they didn’t just ask, they gave lavishly through their service. Young teenage girls would get up about 5:00 AM every morning to walk and get water. They would then carry the water back to the house where we were staying and heat it over a wood fire so we could wash when we got up.
Women would leave church, walk back to the house, prepare the food (including killing and plucking a chicken if necessary), cook it over an open flame in the backyard and have it ready when we returned. The people there enjoyed serving and considered their reward the smile on our face from the delicious chicken or Pumpkin Greens. Though they didn’t have much, they were thankful for what they had and willingly shared.
I can’t begin to imagine how most Americans would respond if they suddenly found themselves in the situation that most Kenyans are in. I’m sure most wouldn’t be saying, “No Worries”. In fact, many Americans have Computers, Tablets, TV’s, Electricity, Health Insurance, Refrigerators, Nice clothes, Cars, and many other things that most Kenyans don’t have, yet they are still ungrateful.
So, I have learned that Thanksgiving is not necessarily a response to what we have been given, rather it is a decision to worship the One who gave it. When we make that decision and start counting our blessings, it will be easy to experience more than three positive feelings for every negative one. Give it a try this holiday season.