Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happiness Roadblocks

I read an article yesterday on AOL titled “Happiness Roadblocks” (You can read the article here), which stated that happiness is largely up to us. The article claims that “…50% of our happiness is cultivated in ourselves, and 50% is innate,” and that we can learn ways to be happier.

Learn to be happier? I’m all for this! Tell me more!

The article went on to describe “common roadblocks to happiness and a guide for getting around them.” What resonated with me when I read these was the fact that I have heard all of these guidelines before. In scripture. It reminded me that the Bible truly does tell us how to live.

Here’s the recap, of the happiness roadblocks as listed in this article, to which I’ve added corresponding scripture references.

1) Expecting the worst: According to this article, pessimism and expecting the worst elicits a stress response, that wears us down, prevents us from enjoying the moment, and robs us of our happiness. Perhaps this is why In Matthew 6:25-27, Jesus teaches us not to worry, saying “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” and in Matthew 6:34, he says again, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

2) Passing the buck: I struggled to understand this one the first time I read it in the article, but what it boils down to is this: we cannot expect someone or something to be responsible for making us happy. And if someone or something does make us happy, it simply won’t last. Lasting happiness does not come from our circumstances. It simply cannot. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew this all too well. In Ecclesiastes Chapter 2, he declares pleasure, wisdom, folly, and toil meaningless. Happiness, he said, comes from God. Ecc 2:24-26 says “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness.”

3) Thinking life should be perfect – and yours is not. Oh boy. This is a huge stumbling block for me. I would so love for my life to be perfect, and believe me, it is a long way from perfect. But rather than focusing on what’s wrong or missing from our lives, the article suggests that we focus deliberately on what is good and right in our lives. Gratitude, the article goes on to say, has been found to decrease depression. Scripture tells us this in so many places. Ephesians 5:20 tells us we should be “…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And scripture reminds us of the many things we have to be thankful for! First and foremost, for the indescribable gift of Christ (2 Corinthians 9:15), and Psalm 106:1 tells us to simply be thankful for God, that He is good and His love endures forever. Scripture also tells us to be thankful for the material things we do have. In John 6:11, Jesus gave us the example when he took the loaves, and gave thanks. I’m trying to be more deliberate in remembering and counting my blessings, and encouraging my children to do the same, as I know we have so much to be thankful for.

4) Not thinking of others. Ever. Acts of kindness, both big and small, make us happier. The article claims that “…in doing these things, we activate the part of our brains that give us a little endorphin boost so we feel better.” Jesus told us that next to loving God, the greatest commandment we are to follow is to “love our neighbor as ourselves”, which encompasses loving, caring, giving, and doing for others. Can we be truly happy, completely isolated from ever doing anything for anyone? I don’t think so….

5) Expecting life to be fair. News flash for anyone out there that is still expecting fairness out of life: LIFE IS NOT FAIR. It’s just not. Good people suffer. Good people hurt. But even thought we know better, don’t we still expect fairness? In many ways, I know I still do. Years ago I read somewhere that over 90% of fights between siblings could be boiled down to two things: a perceived unfairness, or a need to prove oneself to be right. I see this all the time in our two children. When they were younger, it was over little things, like, who got the bigger cookie, or whose turn it was to pick a TV program. But now, as they have grown older, they are still arguing over what they perceive to be unfair. In the book of Job, we see a dramatic illustration of how horribly “unfair” life can be. Despite the fact that Job was an upright and blameless man, terrible things happened to him. In Job’s case, the unfair calamities that beset him were orchestrated by Satan, but Job didn’t know that. From Job’s persepctive, I think it must have seemed that life was just one horrendous unfairness after another. Yet despite the unfairness he experienced and his subsequent temptation to blame and curse God, Job remained faithful. Aren’t we to do the same? To not look at the unfairness of life, but instead, to look at the goodness of our God? And along the way, to alleviate some of the unfairness and suffering of others that we see? And if life was fair, we would bear the burden of our sins and Jesus the sinless savior would never have died for us. So along with being grateful even though our life is not perfect, we need to bow in humility and not demand or expect that life treat us fairly.

Are you looking to bump up your happiness level? (Boy does that sound like an informercial!!!) Well, I think we would all like to be happier. And we can start with being positive, recognizing that people or things cannot be responsible for making us happy, getting rid of our expectation that life should be perfect or fair, and taking our focus off ourselves and instead, focusing on doing for others. I’m happier already.

Have a wonderful day...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Treasure in Heaven

It’s been ages since I posted anything here. If you missed me at all, well, I’m sorry. It’s not that I’ve had nothing to write about; instead, I’ve just found it painful and difficult to write about the things that have been on my mind and heart.

Earlier this year, right before Mother’s Day, my brother-in-law died very suddenly. He and my sister had driven to upstate New York to pick up their daughter from college, and were driving back to their home outside Washington D.C., when he became very ill. As my sister described it later, he was fine in the morning when they set off for home, but within a few hours he felt terrible. So terrible, in fact, that she pulled off the road and called 911 for an ambulance. He was taken to a nearby hospital and died shortly after, of what the attending physician described as “heart trouble”. He was only in his mid-50’s, and without any apparent health issues. He wasn’t overweight, and didn’t suffer with high blood pressure, diabetes, etc, and he was not a smoker or heavy drinker. The loss was understandably devastating to my sister and niece, and shocking to our family as well as his friends and co-workers. It would be many weeks before my sister learned that the definitive cause of his early and sudden death was mitral valve prolapse, a genetic condition of which he was unaware.

I wish I could say with certainty that he is now with Jesus in heaven, but I just don’t know. When I traveled back to DC for the memorial service (aside – the service was held in a Unitarian church, which is worthy of another entire post), I learned that as a child, he had been raised in the Catholic church, but clearly, he was not a practicing Catholic. And from the choices he and my sister made forbidding the exposure of my niece to anything Christian, I had concluded he and my sister are nonbelievers. This has been heavy on my heart all summer. I am heartbroken for him, and I feel guilty for doing nothing to reach him. My siblings and I are not close, and we hardly ever see each other, perhaps only at weddings, the occasional family reunion, or as in this case, a memorial service. Sigh. So even though I think the last time I saw him was 8 or 9 years ago, I still feel guilty that in the times I did see him, I made no attempt to speak to him, or to any of my siblings for that matter, about the gospel. Although I have prayed for their salvation for years, the extent of my attempt to “reach” out to any of them with the good news has been my deliberate selection of Christmas cards, carefully chosen to emphasize what I believe - that Christmas is about the birth of Christ, not snowmen, stockings, Christmas trees, or ‘Happy Holidays’. But now that he is gone, I feel such guilt and shame for not doing more. Pathetic. Ouch.

Fast forward….

A few weeks ago, hubby and I were watching David Jeremiah’s show, ‘Turning Point Ministries’ on TV, where he was talking about his new book "The Coming Economic Armageddon". He quoted the passage in Matthew 6:19-21

19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This has been stuck in my head ever since..... So what exactly are treasures in heaven that we can (and should) be storing up here on earth? The only thing I know of that fits that description is relationships. My relationship with Jesus, and my relationships with people. To me this means reaching people for Jesus, building relationships with people here on earth that will continue and will be treasured in heaven.


I feel like I blew it with my brother-in-law, and am continuing to blow it with the rest of the lost in my family. All these months later, I still have NO IDEA what to say to my sister. Yet these things, these relationships with my relatives, reaching the lost, these are the treasures Jesus tells me to store up. But yet, in the case of my sister, my niece, my other siblings, I simply don’t know what to do or say. So, for now, I keep in touch, I tell her I love her, I ask her how she is doing, and I pray pray pray.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Self Control

My mind wanders... It dips and dives, chasing threads of random thoughts that drift into the forefront of my mind. I am reluctant to focus, wanting to avoid the dreariness and details of the work at hand. Work I am, nonetheless, being paid to complete.

Focus Adrienne! I chastise myself again. I want to be a good worker, worth my wage. Proverbs 18:9 (The Message) tells us "Slack habits and sloppy work are as bad as vandalism." Ouch.

But my mind is so difficult to control

holy experience