With iPhones, iPads, 4K TV’s, Entertainment on Demand, Air Conditioning, International Cuisine and so much more, one might reasonably think that we would be the happiest generation ever. We work less, have easier lives and are exposed to more self-help resources than anyone could have imagined just a few short years ago.
My friends in Kenya – you know the land of hakuna matata (”No Worries”) – have a very hard time contemplating why ANY American would ever feel sad or depressed. The truth, however, is far different. Our generation has possibly more cases of depression, suicide and stress than any before.
This indicates that the cause of unhappiness is not as much found in external factors and it is to internal ones. Here are a few to consider:
We spend our early years getting all our needs met from Mom, Dad and others. We get in the habit of receiving without being thankful. If we get it, it is expected. If we don’t, we are offended. Some authorities say that entitlement is the number one enemy to happiness. We could learn a lot from the Apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” – Phil 4:11
A downward spiral begins when we take our eyes off the things God has blessed us with and start focusing on what we do not have. Eve set her focus on the one tree she couldn’t have instead of the plethora of ones she could have. Lucifer was discontent that he didn’t rule all of Heaven instead of being grateful that he was one of the three most powerful and respected angels. God tried to give Acan his own little piece of the promised land but instead he focused on trinkets from Jericho. Jonah should have been excited that his preaching caused a whole city to turn to God. Instead he was angry that the city was spared and his little shade bush died. Epictetus a former slave turned Philosopher during the time of the Roman Empire said, “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.”
When we forget to be thankful for what we have, we turn negative. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has concluded that it takes three positive emotions to replace a negative one. Baseball Hall of Famer, Leroy “Satchel” Paige, provided some great advice, “Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”
Almost everyone has heard about the Placebo effect where a patient gets better because they believe in the medication even though the pills are actually simple sugar. Many though have never heard of the Nocebo effect. This is a phenomenon where people die younger than others simply because they think they will, or when medical students start displaying the symptoms of the disease they are studying. Negativity is a powerful anti-drug. Psalm 63:6 has sage wisdom, “If I’m sleepless at Midnight, I spend the hours in grateful reflection.”
While a little competition can be helpful when reaching for new goals, it can be negative if taken too far. Pastor/Author Rick Warren suggests, “Envy is based on a myth: I must have more than you to be happy.” James 4:2 says, “You desire but you do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” By the way, coveting is the final entry in the Big 10 (commandments that is.)
One sure way for us to be unhappy, is to spend too much time focused on ourselves. Booker T. Washington had it right, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” The Bible tells us, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Phil 2:3-4
Eric Hoffer said, “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” Truly we all have a lot to be thankful for and should practice it as often as possible. Studies show that the opposite action – gratefulness – has a ton of health and personal benefits. Richard Bach suggests that gratefulness has nothing to do with circumstances. He said, “There is no disaster that can’t become a blessing…” We just sometimes need to look a little harder.
So now that we know what causes unhappiness, we will try to spend a little time in an upcoming blog on what makes us happy. Next time, however, we will plan to explore a little deeper into personal fears – specifically what we call stress. Don’t forget, You are Blessed!