Remember way back at the start of this year when we all pledged to have our happier than happiest year ever in 2020? It seemed like such a good idea at the time. In hindsight, we couldn’t have picked a worse year to make happiness our aim. I don’t know about you, but I am failing miserably.
I feel like the guy in the movie Airplane! who said, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up…” and then inserted smoking, drinking, amphetamines, and sniffing glue into the line as the movie progressed. We most definitely picked the wrong year to give up unhappiness.
Early on I gave you my happiness formula for consideration; Happiness = Reality ≥ Expectation. That is, we are happy when our reality in life equals or exceeds our expectations. The greater the reality exceeds the expectation, the happier we are.
We can therefore control our level of happiness by working to improve our reality, adjusting our expectations, or better yet, doing both. Basically, my working theory was that happiness is a state of mind that we can create for ourselves at any time we so choose.
Wishful thinking it turns out. I so wanted to believe it was true. I was certainly determined to give it a try. But it didn’t work. While I still believe that it is true to some extent, my current level of personal unhappiness has caused me to reconsider.
At first I did try lowering my expectations. It was obvious that conditions in the world had changed drastically. Reality had no chance of living up to my initial expectations. This worked for a while. But as time went by it became clear that no amount of expectation lowering would be enough to meet the constantly deteriorating reality being imposed upon us. I needed a new strategy.
I decided to depend upon gratitude. I started every day by reminding myself how good I have it. I have everything a person could ever hope for. I have done everything I have ever wanted to do, and accomplished more than I would have ever thought possible. I am truly blessed. This helped me to be feel satisfied, but fell short of happiness. Why? Empathy and guilt. I wish everyone had it as good, I know most don’t, and I feel helpless to do much about it.
So while I do believe that an attitude of gratitude is absolutely required in order to achieve a state of happiness, it is not enough. There is something beyond thankfulness that leads to happiness. But what? Since having embarked on this happiness journey nearly a year ago, and reading and thinking about it daily, I have now landed upon what I believe to be the key ingredients to a happy life. Here they are for your contemplation:
Faith – in God and the promise of eternal life.
Gratitude – for who we are, what we have been given, and the opportunities available to us.
Purpose –something meaningful and interesting to do which provides value to others.
Community – people to support us, and for us to support.
Hope – something to look forward to.
Eureka, hope is what has been missing for me this year! It seems like every time there is a little hope, someone comes along to throw a bucket of water on us to keep the misery going. This situation reminds me of the immortal words of the Wicked Witch of the West as she melted away in the Wizard of Oz, “What a world, what a world.” Well I refuse to melt!
Hope is faith looking forward into the future. Hope gives us something to look forward to. Hope keeps us moving ahead. Hope fuels us to face the inevitable challenges in life. Hope overcomes fear. Hope encourages us to keep running the race. Hope reminds us that we have a savior who set us free.
I have made it a practice for decades now to make my plan for the upcoming year over the Thanksgiving holiday. It helps me get over the gratitude guilt that I can’t seem to shake at this time of year. Deciding what I will do in the coming year to give back and make the world a little bit better gives me hope.
For a long time I didn’t like using the word hope. I equated it with a wish which is outside of our control. I want some ability to make things happen versus merely hoping they will happen. But the hope I am talking about here, and which is the hope I have come to known in the bible, is an action oriented hope. It is a hope that contains the following elements:
Here is what I urge you to do sometime during this holiday weekend in order to go beyond thanksgiving and boost your hope. Find a quiet spot and allocate one hour of uninterrupted time to this exercise. Ask God what His plan for your life is for 2021. Specifically, pray about what you will have done and achieved, as though it has already happened and you are looking back on it. Sit in silence. Try not to think, just listen. Write down what you hear. We are just looking for the compelling vision of the future here, don’t worry about goals or required actions yet.
Here’s the hard part, do not think about what it will take to achieve the end results. Most of us get discouraged to quickly by getting into details. This is especially true if what you are hearing is actually God’s plan, not yours. Here’s my test to know the difference. If it seems really difficult to believe, but deep down you know it is possible, it’s probably His. He will push us, we rarely do that for ourselves.
I will be doing the same and will reveal what I hear to you next week. And here is one last hope related thought I will be taking into consideration when contemplating my 2021 plan. It is a quote by Saint Augustine:
Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.
This is a really interesting way to look at determining what you should be doing in the world. It seems a little un-Christian. We are taught not to be angry. It’s a sin, right? Well maybe only when it is uncalled for? Even Jesus got angry, calling leaders hypocrites and turning over tables.
All I know is that I am angry about the state of many things in the world and sure would like to work to change them. Maybe anger is a good place to start in order to reveal what you are passionate about improving in the world. That passion will serve to fuel a desire to take action. Give it a try and see what happens.
I’ll share my vision next week. In the meantime, have a Hope Filled Happy Thanksgiving!