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Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

When I was a young girl, my family lived near Chicago in a three-bedroom, one bath home. One car parked in the driveway; there was no garage. My brother and I dreamed of owning an in-ground swimming pool but had to settle for the crowded, over-chlorinated conditions of the community pool.

 

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If someone had told me, “Nancy, when you grow up you will get married, have three children, and live in Florida for forty years. Every home will have two bathrooms and a garage. You’ll eventually own two cars, too. But, best of all, three of your homes will have a swimming pool in the backyard.”

 

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(Sometimes we enjoyed a bigger pool — the Gulf or Atlantic.)

 

I would have thought, Unbelievable! When all those heavenly things happen, then I’ll be happy and content.

Ah, but during those forty years in Florida I remember thinking on more than one occasion: If only this heat and humidity would let up. It’s like a furnace out there. Or, Why can’t these kids just get along with each other and give me some peace? Or, Houseguests are coming; gotta clean those bathrooms today. Ugh.

Contentment can be an elusive quality. No sooner do we possess one long-desired item, we discover another acquisition to wish for. No sooner have we achieved one level of success, we’re already reaching for the next—with a sideways glance at our neighbor who’s acquired or accomplished more than we have.

We know what scripture tells us: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

 

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Our spirits sense the truth of it and recognize the gain to be had when craving, grasping, and unrest give way to peace of mind and tranquility of spirit.

But how?

Contentment is a choice of perspective. I can choose to affirm and celebrate my:

  • Possessions.  I have more than enough.
  • Position.  I have experienced more than enough.
  • Personhood.  I am more than enough the way God made me, with my particular personality traits, gifts, and abilities.

Like Paul, I can learn to be content by choosing again and again the proper perspective (Philippians 4:11).

 

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However.

There is one area where contentment is not desirable: in the spiritual realm. I never want to become content with what I already know about God or be satisfied with the current level of intimacy between my Heavenly Father and me.

I want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18).

 

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That’s an opportunity for a lifetime. Think of it: we never reach the end of his magnificence and influence. There is always greater knowledge to understand, more wonder to explore, more splendor and growth to experience.

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Lord, God, may I not look right or left at what others have, or what others have accomplished, or what gifts and talents they display. Keep me mindful of my utmost desire: to know you more intimately, follow you more closely, and live in the contentment of your sufficiency for everything.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.ancestory.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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According to research, guess what percentage of our happiness is based on circumstances.

A. 10%?

B. 25%?

C. 50%?

D. 80%?

 The answer? Just 10%.

Now why would that be? My guess is, our perspective matters more than our circumstances.

 

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 (“Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want,

but the realization of how much you already have.”)

 

Ah, yes. Gratitude. Definitely an important attitude, contributing to the sweet, even-keel life of contentment. But it doesn’t come naturally to most of us.

Our thoughts, if left untended, can easily fall into a dark hole of:

  • Self-centeredness. “Yeah, the budget’s tight, but I really need a new car. It’s downright embarrassing to drive around in our old clunker.”
  • Self-pity. “It’s not fair that I’m not paid what I’m worth. I work so hard.
  • Self-justification.  “I deserve that new car.”

Note the focus on self. And half the time (or more) we don’t even realize how much of our thought life spins around in that dark hole.

How can we possibly climb out?   Time and attention are required to develop a mind that frequently contemplates thanks-giving and praise instead of complaint-making and dissatisfaction.

Even the apostle Paul said he had to learn how to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:12).  And like any new skill, developing contentment requires a bit of knowledge and a lot of practice.

 

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The best place for knowledge on such a topic is scripture. Several passages can inform our understanding of contentment.

  1. King Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23).

Not that reverencing God protects us from trouble and every day is glorious. Bad things still happen to good people. But those who reverence God and worship him see life from a different perspective. They can be content even when catastrophe strikes, knowing that God will see them through.

 Think about Daniel in the lions’ den, or Peter and Paul in prison.

  1. Paul said he didn’t really care if he was living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12).  How is that possible? He answers in the next verse, and it’s a familiar one: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Living in plenty–with God–taught Paul how to keep his priorities straight.   Living in want–with God–taught Paul to detach himself from “things.”

  1. Paul told Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

 When we think of a man with “great gain,” we imagine a person with a large, beautifully decorated home, designer suits, two or three cars (for his own use—family members have their own cars), and the capability to go on expensive vacations.

But what about the young Christian father who thanks God every day for his loving wife and two precious kids? Who enjoys a circle of fun, supportive friends at church that also help him keep his priorities straight? This guy lives in a two-bedroom ranch, drives a ten-year old car, and spends vacations taking day trips from home.

Yet he’s rich, too–maybe even more so. It’s just that his riches fall into a different category. He’s rich in relationships, especially with God. “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth” (I Timothy 6:6, NLT).

 

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Now that we’ve absorbed a bit of scriptural understanding, it’s time to practice what we’ve learned. How can we foster contentment in our spirits?

  1. Cultivate a positive, faith-filled perspective by turning “I wish” statements into “I praise” statements.

Paul was under house arrest in Rome when he wrote to the Christians at Philippi. His days as an adventuring missionary were most likely over; the future looked bleak. Once his trial took place before Nero, Paul knew he could be facing execution.

He might well have said, “I wish I could be back on the road again preaching the gospel. It makes no sense why God has let this happen. I wish he’d get me out of here!“

But Paul’s response was far removed from wishful thinking. He actually praised God that his circumstances were advancing the gospel (Philippians 1:12-18).

  1. Feed our confidence in God, not our comparisons to others. Contentment wells up in our spirits when our thoughts are grounded in scripture, praise, worship, and gratitude.
  1. Focus on the present—look for the blessings of right now. “We will become content as we enjoy each day for what it is rather than moan about what we imagine it could have been” – Bruce Goettsche.

 

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An airline pilot was flying over a lake when he turned to his copilot and remarked, “See that little lake? I used to fish there a lot when I was a kid. Every time a plane would fly overhead I’d think, “Boy, I sure wish I was flying that plane. It must be so wonderful to soar through the sky and see for miles and miles. Now do you know what I’m thinking? How I wish I was down on that lake fishing!”

I don’t want to be like that pilot. I want to be like Paul.

 

 

(Art credits:  www.covgrace.org; www,janellenichol.com; http://www.quoteimage.com; http://www.ponderingtheheartofjesus.com;  www.i.mobypicture.com.)

 

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On January 17, 2005, this title emblazoned the cover of Time Magazine:  “The Science of Happiness.”

On December 5, 2008, the Associated Press released this article:  “Smile!  Study Says Happiness is Contagious.”

And the entire January/February 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review was dedicated to:   “The Value of Happiness.”

For over a decade now, a large group of scientists and researchers have turned their attention to the study happiness.

Some of their findings are valuable to know:

  1. Happy people live longer.  In one study, the happiest group lived nine years longer than the unhappiest group.  When you consider that cigarette smoking can shorten one’s life three to six years, depending on how much a person smokes, it becomes clear the effect of happiness is huge.
  1. Once the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter are taken care of, extra riches do not make people happier.  Scientists think it’s because we adapt to pleasure, and it quickly wears off.
  1. Relationships are key.  The wider and deeper the relationships, the happier we’re going to be.

As the researchers have studied happy people, they have discovered common characteristics.  Happy people tend to:

A.  Notice more of the positive details of their lives. These people have learned how  to savor the small, joyful moments as well as the memorable euphoric ones.

B.  Appreciate more.  Grateful people even sleep better!

C.  Think optimistically.  Those who have a sense of purpose, who look forward  with hopeful expectation to the future, are more satisfied with their lives.

D.  Give generously of their time and resources.  Researchers discovered that it was the giver who actually reaped more benefits than the receiver.

E.  Empathize with others.  They have learned to put themselves in the place of  others, in order to understand their situations.  They genuinely care about others and demonstrate compassion.  Researchers found that compassion     contributes to health and more productive living.  The side effect?  Happiness.

As I’ve perused these findings, I couldn’t help but smile.  Everything secular research is “discovering” about happiness is already laid out in scripture!

Take the three findings mentioned above.

1.  Happy people enjoy a longer life.  God says, “With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:16).  Also, “Do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity” (Proverbs 3:1-2).  In other words, long life and prosperity come to those who know God and obey his Word.  In fact, as his children (those who have received Jesus into their lives), we have eternal life to look forward to!

2.  Riches do not guarantee happiness.  Solomon figured that out eons ago.  “I denied myself nothing,” he said.  “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).

3.  Relationships are key.  The most important and valuable relationship we can have is with Jesus.  When we accept him into our lives, he calls us friends (John 15:15).  Jesus wants to give us life to the full (10:10) so that our joy may be complete (15:11).  Relationships with other Christians can also be highly gratifying.  The bonds of faith and friendship forge a deep familial connection (Proverbs 18:24b).

Scripture also verifies the five characteristics of happy people:

A.  Attention — to the positive details of life.  The psalmists were masters at drawing our attention to the beauty and grandeur of creation, God’s amazing ability to engineer circumstances, and His glorious attributes at work in our lives.  We would be wise to do the same.

B.  Gratitude.  Paul instructed us, “Rejoice in the Lord always…In everything, by prayer…with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).  Is not peace of mind closely related to happiness?  Surely we cannot have one without the other.

C.  Optimism.  The Christian’s optimism is not based on wishful thinking.  We have a strong foundation for our hope:  God himself.  David affirmed that truth when he wrote, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him” (Psalm 62:5).  And what is the result of that hope?  “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God…the Lord, who remains faithful forever” (Psalm 146:5-6).

D.  Generosity.  The researchers almost echo word for word what Jesus taught:  “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

E.  Empathy.  Compassion is an extension of generosity.  As we give attention, understanding, and care to others, we experience a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in our spirits.  It is not only more blessed to give money or material goods, it is more blessed to give of ourselves.

One neuroscientist involved in the study of happiness said…

happiness could best be described as a state of contentment.

And A.W. Pink, author of Comfort for Christians wrote…

“Contentment is the product of a heart resting in God.”

That, my friends, is the key to happiness:  resting in God.

(Photo credits:  newpathwaytohealing.com ; lifeingeneral.blogspot.com ; rncentral.com ; zazzle.com ; my.opera.com)

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