Which of the following do you think has the biggest effect on your happiness?
- your circumstances
- your genes
- your attitude
SOME would choose “circumstances,” perhaps saying, “I would be happy . . .
- “if only I had more money”
- “if only I had a great marriage”
- “if only I had better health”
In reality, though, attitude often trumps circumstances and genes when it comes to happiness. And that is good news. Why? Because unlike your circumstances or your genes
—over which you have little or no control— you can control your attitude.
A Bible proverb states: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit saps one’s strength.” (Proverbs 17:22) In other words, your attitude makes a difference! It can affect whether you attain a goal or give up or whether a tragic event brings out the best in you or the worst.
Some people might be skeptical of that idea. They might reason:
- ‘Why hide my hardships behind a mask of optimism?’
- ‘No amount of positive thinking will change my situation.’
- ‘I would rather be a realist than a dreamer.’
Those thoughts might seem valid. Still, there are benefits to adopting a positive outlook. To illustrate, consider the following scenarios.
At their place of employment, Alex and Brian each work hard on separate projects. After analyzing their work, the supervisor points out key errors in each project.
- Alex: “I put so much time and effort into this project, and I still didn’t get it right! I’ll never succeed at this job. No matter how hard I work, it’s never good enough. Why do I even try?”
- Brian: “My boss highlighted aspects of my work that he liked, but I made a few fundamental mistakes. I’ve learned some valuable lessons that will help me do better next time.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
- Six months from now, which one will be a more capable employee
—Alex or Brian?
- If you were an employer, which of those two men would you be more likely to hire or keep on your payroll?
- When you face disappointment, which of those two men do you react like?
Andrea and Brittney suffer from bouts of loneliness. Each of them has a different way of coping with the situation.
- Andrea focuses most of her attention on herself. She refuses to do things for others unless they do things for her first. She reasons, ‘Why should I waste my time on people who give me nothing in return?’
- Brittney makes a concerted effort to be kind to people and to do things for others, whether they seem appreciative or not. She lives by the Golden Rule
—to treat others as she would like to be treated. (Luke 6:31) For Brittney, doing good is its own reward.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
- Which of these two women would you rather have as a friend?
- Which one is more likely to feel satisfied with her relationships?
- If you suffer from bouts of loneliness, is your approach more like Andrea’s or more like Brittney’s?
You probably know people who fit the profile of Brian and Brittney. You might even feel that you are like them. If so, undoubtedly you can see that your attitude can make a difference in your life. On the other hand, what if you are more like Alex or Andrea? Consider three ways the Bible can help you to adopt a more positive view of life’s struggles.
1 AVOID PESSIMISM
THE BIBLE SAYS: “If you become discouraged in the day of distress, your strength will be meager.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Pessimism will sap you of the strength you need to improve your situation or to help you deal with it.
EXAMPLE: Juliza’s childhood was anything but happy. Her father was an alcoholic, and her family was poor. They moved from place to place. At first, Juliza was pessimistic about her lot in life. But that changed. What helped? “Even before my parents overcame their difficulties,” Juliza says, “the Bible helped me to improve my outlook. And to this day, thoughts from the Bible keep my thinking from spiraling downward. Now, when people display traits I don’t like, I try to understand why they behave the way they do.”
As Juliza learned, the Bible is a book of sound principles. Its advice can help you to cope with negative circumstances. For example, Ephesians 4:23 says: “Continue to be made new in your dominant mental attitude.”
As that verse implies, your outlook is not set in stone. You can “be made new” in your thinking. However, making such a change is an ongoing process. That is why the verse says that we should “continue to be made new.”
2 FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE
THE BIBLE SAYS: “All the days of the afflicted one are bad, but the one with a cheerful heart has a continual feast.”
WHAT IT MEANS: If you see everything negatively, you will feel “afflicted” and every day will appear “bad,” or gloomy. But if you focus on positive things, you will have “a cheerful heart” and even feel joyful. The choice is yours.
EXAMPLE: After several surgeries to remove a brain tumor, Yanko had physical limitations that affected his movement and speech. Feeling that these would stop him from reaching his goals, Yanko was deeply discouraged for years. Then he changed. How? “Instead of focusing on my limitations,” he says, “I learned to occupy my mind with encouraging subjects.”
One way Yanko does this is by reading passages from the Bible. “This keeps my thoughts positive,” he says. “I haven’t totally put aside my long-term goals, but I’m focusing on the smaller goals that I can reach now. When discouraging thoughts creep into my mind, I reflect on the many reasons I have to be happy.”
Like Yanko, you can confront your pessimistic thoughts and replace them with something positive. If you are dealing with negative circumstances
—perhaps a health problem, as was the case with Yanko— ask
yourself: ‘Is the situation really hopeless? Have I reached a dead end,
or is this merely a roadblock?’ Learn to keep negative thoughts out by
concentrating on something constructive.
3 DO THINGS FOR OTHERS
THE BIBLE SAYS: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Unselfish giving brings deep satisfaction to the giver. Why? Because we were created to do more than simply look after our own needs. (Philippians 2:3, 4; 1 John 4:11) Experiencing the joy of giving can do much to help us cope with negative circumstances in life.
EXAMPLE: Josué suffers from spina bifida, a severe defect in his spinal column. He is often racked with pain. But Josué enjoys a productive life helping others. “Rather than say, ‘I can’t do that,’” says Josué, “I enjoy thinking of practical ways to help people with their daily needs. I find ways to do things for others, and this fills my life with happiness.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Look for opportunities to be self-sacrificing. For example, can you prepare a meal for a sick neighbor? Do you know elderly ones who need help with tasks around the home?
Care for your attitude in the same way you would cultivate a garden. Root out the poisonous weeds of pessimism and negativity. Sow seeds of realistic optimism, and fertilize your life with actions that produce positive emotions. You will reap an emotional crop that will make your life much more rewarding. And it will confirm the fact that attitude makes a difference!
For the sake of their health, some people learn to say no to certain foods; you can do the same with negative attitudes