For most of my life I have struggled with negativity. I wanted to be positive and life-giving, but kept falling into negative traps I had set for myself – traps I didn’t even realize were there. I grew up in a broken home and my life was tumultuous as a child and teenager. I concluded that the world was full of idiots and most people were not to be trusted. And that view carried into much of my adult life. It was terribly destructive to me and those I cared about.
I wanted to change, but to do so, I had to come to a place where I took personal responsibility for my life – every aspect of it. As I press into becoming the person God wants me to be, I have to remember that I’m a work in progress. And one of the first things I had to do was accept that God might want me to be happy.
When you think about your faith, have you ever wondered if God wants you to be happy? Does our happiness matter? And what is happiness anyway? When questioned about the greatest commandment, Jesus said,
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Is that passage showing us the key and giving us permission to be happy? It speaks to the wholeness of a person – heart, soul, and mind. It follows with a perfect definition of healthy relationships and self-regard. It also describes the happiest people I know .
Let’s dig deeper. Much of our “happiness” deals with two main issues in our lives – (1) Finding and fulfilling our purpose and (2) Living a life centered on (in this order) loving God, others, and oneself. When we choose that path, we bring incredible gifts into our lives such as joy, love, fulfilling relationships, compassion, meaning and freedom. I use the word “choose” on purpose because we are free-will creatures with the ability to choose. Now, I’m not talking about happiness in terms of personal tragedy and tornadoes. Those are different subjects all together. I am speaking to the God-given capacity we each have to influence our own life experience.
Some of us are uncomfortable with the word “happy.” Let me expand the definition. By happy, I mean an overall sense of well-being or flourishing. I like to call it a sense of ‘shalom,’ a Jewish word which is about completeness – prosperity, tranquility, contentment, deep relationships and peace with God.
As I’ve studied leadership, personal potential, and happiness, I’ve been greatly affected by the field of Positive Psychology, a movement launched by a man named Dr. Martin Seligman who was elected President of the American Psychological Association in 1998. What I’ve learned is that positive psychology uses what are essentially baseline Christian practices to help people lead lives that are filled with ‘flourishing’ and well-being. It focuses on things like gratitude, positive relationships, thankfulness, meditation and forgiveness to help people live better and happier. Honestly, I used to think that psychology and Christianity were at odds (much of it is). I find it incredible that the latest research on human thriving affirms words written thousands of years ago. “Just as Aristotle’s natural theology bolstered Christian theology, today positive psychology provides an empirical justification and aid for Christian practice, a kind of natural moral theology,” says Dr. Christopher Kaczor who wrote a book called, The Gospel of Happiness – Rediscover your faith through spiritual practice and positive psychology.
If you take the “Shalom” meaning, the answer to whether or not God wants us happy is a resounding, “Yes.” But your ability to be happy – or receive happiness – lies in your hands and is an inevitable result of how you choose to live. Let’s start with how you use your free will to filter what comes in and out of your life. What do I mean?
Most of what goes in and out of our brains on a daily basis is subconscious. Many of us are not even paying attention to the vast majority of this information. In fact, research studies tell us that over 70% of that information is negative and leads to destructive and counterproductive issues working against our happiness – and our faith.
What happens next? We tell ourselves stories about this information we receive in the blink of an eye. We can hardly control it. Sadly, many of the stories are also negative and are derived from past experiences where we have been wounded and rejected – ‘that person is a jerk’, ‘why do bad things always happen to me?’, ‘there is no one I can trust’, ‘I’m a failure’. The list is endless. We speak words to ourselves and others that just aren’t true – and we do so because those words are reactions we have to the stories we tell ourselves. This happens because the unfortunate state of our lives is that we live with so much fear. Fear causes us to say and do things we would never do if we were walking in freedom, faith and wholeheartedness.
There are many verses in the Bible that speak to the power our words and thoughts have over our destinies. Proverbs 4:23 is a great example, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” How about, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he? ” I particularly like the International Children’s version of this verse which reads, “Be very careful about what you think. Your thoughts run your life.” We find other verses that talk about the incredible impact our words have in our lives and on those around us, such as Proverbs 18:21, “Your tongue has the power of life and death. Those who love to talk will eat the fruit of their words.”
Does God want us Happy? Yes. But we have a huge part to play. In order to have Shalom in our lives, in order for us to live with purpose and cultivate a positive lifestyle, we need to be mindful and proactive about what is coming into – and out of – our minds and hearts. In the words of Paul the Apostle we need to “take every thought captive.”- II Corinthians 10:5.
What can you do?
- Start paying attention to the thoughts that go into your mind (This is called your ‘internal messaging system.’ See your brain as a place you are sowing seeds. If you want a good harvest to emerge, make sure there are at least 3 positive things going in compared to every 1 negative – a 75% PQ (Positivity Quotient) ratio. Don’t be overwhelmed and try to count your thoughts everyday. Instead, make sure there is a healthy diet of positivity you infuse in your life. Start the day reading an encouraging passage or a leadership book, listen to encouraging music, GET MY FREE PDF HERE to learn how to start your day different.
- Watch the words that come out of your mouth. I’m convinced that much of life is what we speak (and therefore believe). Many times those words are self-fulfilling prophecies. Are your words filled with love, life, hope and blessing?
- Reduce the amount of time you spend with critical and negative people. You are like the 5 people you spend the most time with. Build relationships with people who are positive and motivated.
- Be PROACTIVE and focus on what’s really important to you. Spend some serious time writing out your vision and goals for the year. Hire a life coach, join a mastermind group, and invest in you! This is not something you do once and forget about it. It’s a lifestyle choice that you work through every day.
- Practice gratitude. Make it a habit to tell people you care about how thankful you are for them. When someone does something kind for you or your family, make it a point to personally thank them or write a letter expressing how their gift made an impact in your life.
- Do something for someone else. Sponsor an orphan, go on a mission trip, volunteer and your local homeless shelter, give sacrificially to someone in need.
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Don’t forget your free PDF (click here) that gives you practical tools that help you start your day right and infuse more positivity into your life. If there’s any way I can be an encouragement to you, you know where to find me. 🙂