When my husband was doing his medical residency, he had an attending physician who truly seemed bewildered by Doug’s happiness.
“Why are you always so cheerful?” he’d ask. “You’re poor. You live in a ratty apartment. Your son has diabetes. What do you have to smile about?”
The contrast was even more irksome in light of the attending’s personal unhappiness. He lived in a mansion. He had a high paying job. And he was well-respected in his community. Yet he remained miserable and dissatisfied.
So what could explain this huge difference in their attitudes?
Bottom-line, it was the Lord.
Yet even Christians can have a difficult time cultivating contentment.
On a day-to-day level, much of the difference lies in our mindset. We tend to find what we look for. If all I can see is the negative, I may need to change my focus.
Look for good things around you
When I walk into my backyard, I can see dirt, weeds, bare patches, and slugs. But I can simultaneously find green grass, singing birds, towering trees, and vibrant blooms. It all depends on what I’m hunting.
The same is true of my child’s room. Depending on how I view it, I’ll notice dirty socks on the floor, dust bunnies in the corners, and an overflowing trash can. But by slightly lifting my eyes, I’ll spot the neatly made bed, the beautiful artwork-in-progress spread across the desk, the pile of books on my voracious reader’s night stand, maybe even the uneasy teen herself who’s watching me inspect her space and hungering for my approval.
Look for good things about you
When I consider my body, do I bemoan the wrinkles gathering on my forehead? The bladder that refuses to do its job any time I laugh or sneeze? The baby weight that stubbornly clings to my middle nearly a decade past my last pregnancy?
What if, rather than perseverating on my perceived shortcomings, I rejoice over my strengths? What if I thank God for strong arms that can carry grandbabies, groceries, and garden clippings with ease? Or praise Him for eyes that can see the smiles on my children’s faces, the glory of a beautiful sunset, and (with a bit of help from my dollar-store readers) the soul-stirring words on a written page? What if I feel genuinely grateful for a sound mind that can easily recall the names of my grandchildren, construct a rational argument, compose a letter to a friend, or pen a column for the local paper?
Look for good in your loved ones
Probably one of the most important places we should hunt for the good instead of searching out the bad is in marriage. The fact is, if you are married at all, you are married to a sinner. There’s no other option! And if you go looking for offense, you’re sure to find it. A hurtful word. An irritated tone. A forgotten anniversary.
After more than three decades of living with my husband, I’ve realized that most of the habits most prone to upset me are relatively minor. He looks at his phone instead of listening, so I’m forced to repeat myself. He forgets to buckle his seatbelt, and the car alarm drives me crazy. And he spends money on frivolous purchases (defined as anything I don’t think he needs).
If I stewed on such trivial offenses long enough, I could work myself into a state of frustrated annoyance. But why do that? Especially when, by shifting my focus, I can change my whole perspective.
When I actively search for the good in my husband, I easily find it. I see an incredibly hard worker who comes home from 12-hour shifts at the hospital and launches immediately and cheerfully into doing multiple loads of laundry – just to help me out (and possibly to ensure his drawers stay stocked with clean scrubs and underwear). A man so incredibly generous that he routinely tips 30% or more on the meals we eat out and willingly gives to worthy causes, even if it means sacrificing to do so. An animated storyteller who can send an entire roomful of people into fits of hysterical laughter. A loving father who prays daily and earnestly for his children, having dedicated his life to helping them succeed while also understanding that success isn’t possible apart from God’s blessing.
When I look at my husband this way, I don’t feel annoyed or exasperated. Far from it! Instead, my heart fills to bursting with love and respect and admiration.
Yet in every one of the cases cited above, my circumstances remain unaltered. Only my perspective changes. But what an amazing change such a mental shift can make!
You’ve Got a Choice
To be sure, you can make yourself miserable if you choose. That’s entirely within your rights.
To do so, simply dwell on what you don’t have. Give place to bitterness, resentment, and disappointment. View the glass as half empty. Refuse to look on the bright side of anything – or to even believe such a bright side exists.
But you’ll be better off if you look instead for the good. Take notice of God’s abundant provision: air to breath, food to eat, clothes to wear. Start counting your blessings. Keep a running list of them.
And follow the sage advice of Scripture: “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)