There was a man named Bobby McFerrin, who wrote a song back in, I think maybe, in the 80s? Maybe 90s. I can’t remember for sure. But what’s interesting about him is, he appears to live that theme in his own life. After his song became a big hit and the publicity all died down, he worked for years teaching children about music in meaningful ways. He did that at Carnegie Hall. So he’s a pretty well reputed musician. He also travels all over the world doing music concerts. And the driving purpose behind them seems to be to pull people together, to make peace, to find common ground. He talks a lot about that on YouTube. So, if you’re interested in that man, it might be a good thing.
So he says, “Don’t worry, be happy.” And you know, most of the time, it’s just as simple as that. Early in this series, we learned that genetics and circumstances have a lot to do with it, but we have forty percent control over whether we’re happy or not. So what do you do with that forty percent? Well, let’s take a look at that today.
First, let’s look at a few scriptures, so that everybody that’s here that’s a Christian will know that we’re on the right page.
Philippians 4:11 – Not that I’m speaking of being in need – Paul says – for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty, and hunger, abundance and need. Are you ready for the answer to that – the secret? I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. What’s he saying? Well, he’s saying that God takes care of us. He’s working a plan for each of us, so let’s let Him do that and not worry anymore. “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Let’s look at another one:
Matthew 6:25 – Therefore I tell you, “Do not be anxious about your life – what you will eat or what you will drink – or about your body – what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? You know, stuff and things – that’s what we think makes us happy. Jesus is saying, “That’s now how it works.” Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they? Skipping down a few verses to verse 30 – Matthew 6:30:
V-30 – But if God so clothed the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat or what shall we drink or what shall we wear?” for the Gentiles seek after all these things. And your heavenly Father knows you have need of them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Instead of fretting about the cares of life, control your mind. Find ways to engage in meaningful effort, like the Kingdom of God. “Don’t worry, be happy.”
I was listening to a young man talk at a summer camp one time to the teenagers. And he was probably in his mid-twenties. And he was telling them that when he was younger, he thought, “Well, I don’t have time to get baptized or to think about God. I’ve got to get an education. And I don’t have to think about God. I’ve got to get a job. And I don’t have time to think about all that. I need to find someone to marry and start a family.” Then he said, “I finally realized that, if I just put God’s Kingdom first, that other stuff would just take care of itself.” And, as he was talking, he had been to college, he did have a good job and he was married and had children. So there you go.
Another one – Philippians 4:8:
Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever’s true, whatever’s honorable, whatever’s just, whatever’s pure, whatever’s lovely, whatever’s commendable, if there’s any excellence, if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Instead of dwelling on the negative, griping about how bad everything is, instead of whining all the time, instead of blaming others for our problems, think on the positive things. It’s a choice we make.
Notice the tone of the biblical instruction that we read. Don’t worry. God will take care of you. So there’s a command there not to worry. So it is possible not to worry. Something we get to control. He says we have control over our minds. Have faith! Oh, okay. So that’s something we can do, too. “Be good. Seek His righteousness.” Oh, we can obey God. Okay, so maybe not perfectly, but Christ will forgive the mistakes, if we repent, so think positively and be good. Do your hardest and think positively about things. “Don’t worry, be happy.”
So we’re going to spend the rest of our time thinking specific things that we can do. You may find that I’ve quite preaching here and gone to meddling when I get specific. Sometimes, people don’t like that, because they don’t want to hear it, but sorry.
So let’s look at some of the things that social science has learned about our part in being happy. It’s also part of the Bible – sometimes by implication or illusion. People want to take pills to get rid of anxiety these days. There may be a time when that’s needed – at least for a time. You know, I tell people, “If you’re too anxious to get in the door and do your work, then you probably need some medication, if that’s what you want to do.” But before we do any of that, we ought to do all we can to avoid anxiety and its medication, because, for most people, it’s addictive. At the best, it only knocks the edge of it. Most of the people that come to me for anxiety are already on medication and it’s not helping that much.
So what’s the very first best thing we can do to relieve anxiety? Do you know what it is? It’s exercise! Take a walk. Take a trash bag and pick up junk while you go. You know, anxiety lives in our central nervous system. It produces a lot of fight or flight chemicals in the body. Exercise burns those off. You might argue, “Well, that’s just temporary. It’s not a real fix.” Well, is a pill a permanent fix? No. Exercise produces more relief than medication for most people. Did you hear that? Exercise produces more relief than medication for most people. And whatever kind of exercise you can do, do it.
Years ago my boss told me a story about a neighbor lady of his. She was ninety-five years old. She walked an hour every day. She could touch her toes and do all kinds of exercises. She did all her own house work. And he asked her how she was able to do all that at her age. And she said, “One day, when I was younger….” He said, “How old were you?” She said, “Seventy-five.” She couldn’t make it out to the mailbox to get her mail and that frustrated her. So the next day, she counted the steps she could take toward the mailbox. And the day after that, she tried to go two or three more. She kept doing that until she finally made the mailbox. And after she got done with that, she decided she wanted to be able to go for a walk. So the next day, she made it to the edge of her property. And she kept going and going and going until she could walk for an hour. She just took tiny steps toward the goal. And twenty years later, at ninety-five, she’s still going strong.
So “I’m not in good shape” is not an excuse. “I’m too old” is not an excuse. Now there may be some legitimate ones. But you know, I know people that are paraplegic and they still exercise. They just use their arms. You can get your heart pumping really good by using your arms.
Okay, so what else is important? Well, the second thing I want to mention is to spend time in nature. I spend a lot of time in an office four days a week and the rest of the time, it seems, I’m on a computer. But I have a reminder to get out in nature the four days I’m at work, because every night when I pull out from my office, at the end of the day, the sun is shining on the Sandia range to the east of town. They’re right at the edge of town. The sky is ablaze with evening sun and all the pink clouds and the sun is at my back and the mountains are a beautiful red. Sandia means watermelon, by the way. And in the evening, we can see how the mountains got that name. It’s so uplifting just to gaze on them. It motivates me to get out into nature. So on Sundays, during the summer, Elaine and I go up to the crest of the Sandias and walk a few miles in the woods. We smell the pine and the spruce and revel in the cool air that you can’t find in Albuquerque in the summertime. It’s so nice to have a mountain range handy when you live in the desert. But it doesn’t have to be mountains. It can be the beach. It can be outside anywhere. Outside anywhere is better than inside anywhere. So we’ve been reading a lot about the lack of vitamin D that most people have and that makes depression worse. The best way to get vitamin D is to be outside. And if you exercise outside, you get a double bonus, don’t you? You’re killing two birds with one stone. So don’t think it doesn’t work. Just do it. You’ll be happier.
Another thing I want to talk about – the third area – is it’s good to know one’s weaknesses. It keeps us in balance. It keeps us out of trouble. But we don’t get anywhere just thinking about what we can’t do or what we don’t have. To make contributions and find meaning in life – and that’s a big factor in happiness – we’ve learned that, right? – we have to focus on our resources – what we can do and what we have to use – to help other people.
I remember a sermon I heard once. The man who was giving it was a plumber before he was a minister. He told about a time he was approached and asked if his plumbing company could plumb a high-rise building. He said, “No, I can’t. I don’t know how.” Later he was telling a friend about his experience, and his friend asked him, “Could you have plumbed the first floor?” And the answer was, “Yes.” And then we see that he gave the wrong answer to the other question. So part of this is learning what we can do. He didn’t know everything he could do.
After I got out of college, I remember that I took an accounting course, and all these years later, I wonder, “What was I thinking?” You know, I can do accounting. I’m okay at math, but that’s not really my strong suit. I’m a big picture person rather than detail minded. I live in the right side of my head, not the left. So I do better with people stuff. And I’m also spacial – a lot of hand-eye, mechanical – that sort of thing. So not knowing that about myself early sent me down a wrong track for a time. I had to go take a test to find out what I was good at. Fortunately, I did take that test. It was an interest inventory. Did you know that they give you an interest inventory to find out what you good at because, usually, what people are good at they’re also interested in and visa versa. So I learned where my strengths were that way. And as long as I stick to those things, I seem to do better. I think knowing that has helped me to zero in on the gift that God has given me. If you don’t know what you’re good at, it’s never too late. I know people that have made job – career – changes in their late sixties and still had a full career in a new field. So don’t ever sell yourself short. So, if you can find what your gift is and put it to work, then happiness lies ahead for you.
So the next point – the fourth one – is dispute negatives. What does that mean – dispute negatives? Well, there are about ten or twelve negative thoughts that cause most of us our unhappiness. I’ll have to talk about that one of these days. The way I work with these in therapy is to go back and find out where these ideas come from once I detect them. They’re usually instilled by negative events in a person’s past. That’s the devil at work in our young lives. So we go back and uninstall as much of that as we can, and then we go to the idea itself and dispute it. Would you like an example?
You may recall my mentioning the lady who thought she was God? I mentioned her several times in this series so far. I asked her if she saw the movie, Rudy, and the priest, in the movie, said, “There are two things I’ve learned: there is a God and I’m not Him.” And she said, “You mean to tell me I think I’m God?” Now, she really didn’t think she was God, but she thought she should be able to control things that only God can control. She didn’t have any control over the thing she wanted to the most, which was her daughter’s poor grades. Remember that story? Okay, so her thought was that she would be safe if she could control everything in her environment. And I approached that one from the point of view that God tells us that we only have control of self, not others. Our job is to control self and not others. Just think how the world would be different if Hitler had known that – that his job was to control himself and not other people. So I helped her craft a meaningful statement of that false notion and then a meaningful disputation of it. And it ran something like: “I’m not God. I only have control of myself. I can support my daughter, but I can’t make her get good grades. And that’s okay, because God is on job, working His plan for her. But it’s by His timetable, not mine.” So every time she caught herself thinking that false idea about control, she was to meditate on the real truth. Now, when she came in, that wouldn’t have done her very much good, because she was out of control herself. But once we got to the root of where the idea came from in her childhood, she was able to make good progress and what remained of her anxiety left her.
So where did that false notion come from – her childhood? Well, how did that work? Well, she grew up in a family where the father and mother were unhappy with each other. She wondered a lot if they would divorce, felt insecure a lot because of that, wondered if she caused the problem between her parents – like kids often do. And her solution to that anxiety in childhood was the same solution so many people who are anxious employ. She tried to control as much stuff as she could to feel safe. She was very organized – everything had a place and was in it, she worked hard at school, she tried to be a good girl. So when she processed that experience, she saw, in a real way, that she didn’t cause the problem, that she was taken care, in spite of a divorce, and much of her anxiety abated – just evaporated.
Do you suppose there is scriptural support for disputing false notions? There is. So, as a Christian, are you doing that every day? Let’s look at some of it.
2 Corinthians 10:4 – For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds. What are strongholds? He’s going to tell you. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God. You know, this lady’s idea that she could control her daughter was kind of like a fort in her mind and it was very hard for her to take that down. She had to take it down block by block almost. So we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
Now, I used the word dispute where the Bible uses the word destroy. They’re both relevant. So what’s divine about that is, we use God’s values and principles to dispute falsehoods held in our heart. It was not true that the lady could cause her child to get better grades. She could only help. To know that was liberating – took a big load off of her, because what she was doing wasn’t working anyway. It couldn’t possibly work.
Okay, fifth point: we’re going to emphasis relationships and experience in our lives from now on, instead of stuff and things. This is a very insidious issue. Most of the parents in our culture think that buying their kids stuff and taking them places proves that they love them, but it’s never about that. But I see so much of it. I’m moved to do a series on it soon.
What should parents be doing instead? Well, they should be spending positive time with their kids. That’s probably the biggest part of it. And that’s having a positive experience, isn’t it?
I was talking to a boy at summer camp some years ago and I was asking him about his family. He said his father worked a lot to take care of the family. “He was a good dad,” he said, “but at night he would go in his cave and play video games.” He said, “He bought me a new X-Box, but I would rather play with him on his.” It’s such a sad thing. So, as I said, more later on that.
Where else can we talk about relationships? Well, I was talking to a young single mother recently. She lamented that she had no friends. It was just her and her fifteen-year-old daughter. She had a good job. She was very responsible, good work ethic, loves her daughter, but she just needs more peer time. And, instead of getting discouraged, buying a PS4 and holing up in her bedroom with it, she needs to get out there and make some connections. So I went through all the things we covered in the part of this series that deals with relationships and, you know, the big opportunity was right under her nose. She takes her daughter to soccer practice several nights a week, where there are a number of single dads her age, who care about their kids. By the way, ladies, if you’re looking for a good man, a single dad that spends time with his kids is a really good indicator. So I asked her to take a look around the soccer field.
What else can be considered relating to experience? Well, education and travel. Those are experiences. The best money I’ve ever spent was the money I spent on my bachelors’ and masters’ degrees. Education can make us happy, if we educate ourselves in our area of strength, and, if we use it to make contribution to a greater good, or, if it raises up into that financial area where our fundamental needs are met.
I know a young woman whose mother committed suicide when she was fourteen, leaving her, essentially, alone in the world. Now this young woman is a very practical person. When she graduated from high school, she found a job at a restaurant, an inexpensive place to live, got a little car, a low-priced cell service and went to a community college. She had a lottery scholarship and a Pell grant that helped. She worked very hard at her community college and job and her goal is to become a nurse. That’s a career that produces fair income, is in high demand and was within her reach within a short period of time. Then later, once she has a way to make money, she can decide what she might want to do beyond that – so good money well spent. And, as she moved into adulthood and finds her own strengths and powers in the world, she’s rebounding from her mother’s death and blossoming as a person. It’s inspiring to watch.
Let’s talk a little bit about the travel part of it. There’s a TV program called No Reservations. You may have seen it. A guy named Anthony Bourdain goes all over the world meeting people and eating their food and talking with them. It’s interesting to see all those places. But I’ve been watching and noticing that something’s happening. At one point in the program, they asked the public for places to go, and they asked people to take them to their favorite place. And of all the people that responded, they picked this one woman who was born in North Dakota, but she was actually from a family that came from Saudi Arabia. She went there often. So she promised to show Anthony some interesting things there. He said he had some apprehension about it, since so many people in our country have such a low opinion of Saudi Arabia – you know, fifteen of the eighteen 9/11 hijackers came from there, right? So he commented several times about how friendly and funny and genuine the people were that he met – her family and also the people that served them food and fixed the food that they ate while they were there. And I think he’s learning and teaching all of us that people are people everywhere. In fact, that’s the thing that he said he learned – totally different culture, but we’re all wired the same way. The trouble doesn’t come from everybody, it comes from the leadership. That’s where the enemy focuses all his efforts. And doesn’t it say that in scripture? You know, it seems like, if you ever wind up in a leadership position in big government, or of a nation, you’re targeted.
So travel can open our hearts and our minds to the real people of a place and make us feel at one, like we really are in the mind of God. We can never walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes if we don’t know where to find them.
The sixth thing I want to talk about is altruism – to strengthen it in our lives. Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus assumes that we love self first and that that love is the foundation of love for others. It’s the model. How do you love others? The way you love yourself. So, understand how God feels about you, what He’s done for you, what He has in store for you and then you can know how God feels about other people. From there, you’re equipped in your heart to reach out to others.
We have a series on Spiritual Renewal in which much of the material a person would need to learn true altruism is presented. If you want to check it out, it might help. One of the most powerful things we’ve covered there is random acts of kindness. Interesting, isn’t it? Something so small. Why is that so powerful? Well, I think we just find out what we can do, and if we do enough of it, it becomes habitual. It becomes us. And then we’re making a positive impression on people.
You know, the first place to practice that love we have for ourselves – the love of God – the natural place to practice altruism – is at home with parents, children and siblings. I have a touching example of that recently. You know, we think of the parents comforting the kids. Some time ago, a woman brought her thirteen-year-old daughter to me because she thought she was rather cold and unfeeling. So a year or so after her daughter finished her treatment, the mother came for help. She’d just suffered a terrible breakup and she was so anxious she was shaking. She was a very busy lady and I asked her if she’d had time to grieve the loss and if she had anyone she could be with that would comfort her. She said, “You know, it’s really strange. I was in my room last night crying and my daughter came in and saw me crying, and she laid down on the bed beside me and snuggled up to me. She didn’t say anything, but she just knew what to do.” So there’s a girl that’s learned to be empathic, hasn’t she?
So we don’t often think of altruism as a family thing, but it needs to be. How can you take better care of the people in your home? What can you be sensitive to? What can you do to show them how you feel? That goes back to helping one at a time, doesn’t it? It’s all connected.
What next? Well, once we know how to help people on a one-on-one basis – learned at home – and how God treats us, then we know how to help people one at a time. Sometimes it’s possible to help a lot of people at once, but not so in every case. But if the opportunity avails, why not go for it? LifeResource Ministries is the result of that kind of effort. We do what we do to share what we have with many other people. And it’s rewarding work. It makes us happy as well as helping others.
Okay, the seventh and final point – the last thing I want to mention – is clearly biblical as well as all of the six previous points, and that is cultivating gratitude. Gratitude is such a powerful thing.
You know, sometimes I go to the city Outdoor Shooting Range. The way it is set up, everyone has to work together. We can’t have someone down range fiddling with a target while the rest of us firing in his direction, so we all have to do the same thing at the same time. So, after a firing session, everyone has to step back from the shooting table until everybody is back. Then the range officers know that nobody is around any guns, right? So then it’s okay to walk by your shooting table down to the range and look at your targets. Until everyone comes back, those who are finished can’t be around their gun table, because if they’re not there, there’s no chance of a gun going off, right? Good rule, huh? So once everybody is back, then the range goes hot and we all step up, reload our guns and begin shooting. So, when the city first opened this range, they had a bunch of young range officers, who – I think the best way I can say it is – were drunk on power. They would boss people around, shout at people, act arrogantly, talk to them rudely. I hated to go there. So I didn’t go for a long time. But I went yesterday and was surprised to notice that things had changed in a major way. Every time I broke one of the rules, a range officer would come up and ask me to please comply, and thanked me when I did, and apologized for having to bring it up, which was really a good thing, because it drove into me that I was the one that had broken that very good rule. So all that gratitude and humility and appreciation created compliance and humility in me. Isn’t that interesting? Whereas before, their haughty, demeaning and impolite approach made me want to break rules and argue with them, just to spite them.
So, this is one area where parents need to take pause, isn’t it? If we’re getting a lot of resistance from our kids, we can always check our approach. I’ve heard it said that you should talk to your kids like they were each the President of the United States. You know, those of you that scoff at that, you really need to think again. So much would change in your house if you’d do that. You know, stop drinking so much and become respectful.
Okay, a proven way to become happier is to keep a journal of the good things people do for us – keeping track of kindnesses done to us. Just take note of it, focus on it, concentrate on it for twenty-one days and it will become the new you. And you will be a new attuned, more grateful person.
I have this twelve-year-old, whose mother was actually afraid of him at one point, he was so violent. And he would, when he first came in, stonewall me about all his issues. He wouldn’t talk about anything. Then he would only talk about stuff he wanted to. So I got him to drawing pictures and now he’s talking a bit more. But I know that the dam is about to break one of these days. How? Well, I have this sign that I hang on my door. One side says, “Welcome.” That’s the side that’s out when a client can come into my office – I’m not with anybody. The other side says, “In Session.” That means people shouldn’t come in because I’m with somebody. So, for a couple of weeks now, he’s been putting the session’s side out as he comes in, so that I don’t have to. And I always says, “Thank you, John.” (John’s not his real name.) And he gives me a big smile and says, “You’re welcome.” So he’s doing an act of kindness for me and I’m showing gratitude. He’s almost there, because his own kindful act and my grateful response is a bridge that’s going to lead into his feelings. It’s leading into a relationship that will lead into trust that will lead into his being able to talk about what’s bothering him.
Something else about gratitude: sometimes we focus so much on problems, we forget all the blessings we have. I was talking recently to a lady who lost a child. She was lamenting the loss, but then she started naming off all the good things in her life – her son, her education, her job, her friends, her health, her empathy of others. When I heard that, I knew that she was getting better. She was starting to put that loss in perspective – moving it away, placing it where it belonged, instead of right in front of her face. She was counting her blessings and the resources that she has. If you count your blessings every day for twenty-one straight days, it’s going to become a habit. And, as she does that, her problem is going to move out away from her and she’s going to become less anxious and she’ll be able to see the rest of her life, instead of just that terrible loss. And, if you do that, too – if you count your blessings every day for twenty-one days – it’s going to become a habit. And if you do that, you’ll be building the habit of happiness.
So, there they are – seven things to focus on, seven ways to take control of and use what you have to be happier.
I haven’t decided yet for sure, but right now, I’m considering talking about the four things adults can do to communicate care and love to children. And that topic, or possibly another one, is going to begin in two weeks, so be looking for that.