Most Americans define themselves as distinctly unhappy. Why is that and what can be done about it? Is there really a “secret” to happiness? This week in our series Course Corrections, Greg explores one small tweak that may have the biggest impact in our lives – gratitude.
In a 2013 Harris Poll, 1 out of 3 Americans considered themselves as more happy than unhappy…which suggests that 2 out of 3 Americans characterized themselves as distinctly unhappy. Greg asked the question, “What if there was a magic pill that possessed the secret to happiness – would we not sell all for that pill?” Yet, we have something similar at our disposal every day. This message is titled, “The Secret” for that purpose.
*Side Note: There is a new age book titled, “The Secret” – which is basically a “new-age book that makes the universe our own narcissistic playground” …this sermon has nothing to do with that book
Greg read a few Scriptures and asked the congregation to notice the common thread:
1 Corinthians 1:4: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…”
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3: “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Thessalonians 1:3: “We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing…”
Colossians 3:15: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful…”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Notice 3 things in these verses, (1) there is a connection between experiencing the peace and joy of Christ, (2) the “be thankful” statement in this verse is an imperative – a Divine command, and (3) in every season, the Apostle Paul found reasons to be thankful, and turned that into praise to God…he had incredible gratitude.
Gratitude is the secret to happiness. There is mounting scientific evidence to confirm and support this, resulting from an entire scientific branch devoted to the the subject of happiness – and although it was once called “The Science of Happiness,” it has now been coined as “The Science of Gratitude.” Greg cited three studies from this stream of academia:
- Robert Emmons (Author of the book, “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier”)
Dr. Emmons Conducted a 10-week study that took 411 random people and put them into 3 groups. Those in the 1st group were asked to write down anything they were thankful for throughout the course of the 10 weeks. Those in the 2nd group were to write down anything that irritated them throughout the 10 weeks, and group 3 was to write down anything that affected them for better or for worse. After the 10 weeks, group 3 noticed no change in their overall happiness. Group 2 actually became less happy than they had been prior to the study, and group 1 had incredible benefits. Group 1 (the thankful group) noticed overall increase of personal happiness, they were more optimistic, they had less anxiety and stress and were able to sleep much better at night. They also experienced an increase in empathy, relationship, and the quality of those relationships were much better.
- Martin E. P. Seligman (Psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania)
Seligman also studied the effects of gratitude on happiness, and asked participants to recall events in their past when somebody impacted them positively. Then, they were asked to write a letter expressing thankfulness to that person and deliver it to them – regardless of how long ago the positive events took place. Participants reported that the experiences were so powerful that they were still resonating with them well into the following month.
- The 3rd study took 65 adults with severe muscular disease and separated them into 2 groups. Over the next 21 days, the 1st group was instructed to make observations about their disease, health, and sense of well-being and record them, while the 2nd group was to record everything they were grateful for. During this time, their care givers were also instructed to monitor them and make observations about their progress. At the end of the study, not only did those who wrote down their thankful thoughts happier themselves, but their caregivers also noticed a huge bump in emotional/psychological vitality as well.
Gratitude and expressing thankfulness is the key to happiness. But it will take intentional discipleship in order to walk this thankful life out, because everything in our Western (American) culture tells us to do the opposite. Capitalism, for one, rests on people’s discontentment – it depends on us wanting more and more instead of being thankful for what we have. If people began being intentional about being thankful and content, the entire US economy would collapse! Some Christians elevate capitalism to the same level as salvation, and it is indeed clever with regard to an economic plan for generative wealth. But as Kingdom people, we need to recognize the downside of this system. Advertising, for another example, is everywhere. Its’ basic premise is, “If you just buy_______, THEN you could/have/do/be/get/feel_______…you need this…” Capitalism and Advertising rest on your insecurities and your lack of gratitude and contentment.
This is exactly the same sales pitch given to Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3 – “Eve, I know that you aren’t everything you wish you were…so take some fruit off of that beautiful tree over there. It has everything you need, and it will make you just as smart as God, Himself.” Greg pointed out that “the Fall” happened after the worlds’ first advertisement.
In the same way, the serpent is still whispering to us – even now, but we have become so accustomed to it that it has become part of our normal every-day inner-dialogue. But it is going to take intentional discipleship to escape this vicious cycle. And making the initial tweak/adjustment isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part of this “secret” is staying on the path over the long-haul once we’ve embarked.
The thing to remember is to never take anything for granted.
John 3:27: “John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.’”
James 1:17: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
We can’t take anything for granted. Our culture teaches us entitlement, and nothing kills gratitude more than a spirit of entitlement – thinking that we are owed something. You may not have a lot of things, but you still have an eternity of things to give thanks for. Do you have: a roof over your head? Clothes in the closet? Food in your belly? Friends and family? If so – then give thanks to God for that with joy! Give thanks for your eyes, ears, and working limbs…because not everyone has those.
Greg closed by giving 3 tips and a challenge to keep in mind as we set out to live a life of gratitude.
It takes time to change the neuropathways in our brains, so do whatever it takes to remember to be thankful. Discuss it in your relationships (everything in the Kingdom works better when done in relationship), write yourself post-it notes, and/or set watch timers as reminders for yourself.
- Don’t Just Think It – Say It!
Research shows that saying something out loud deepens that thing and helps reinforce it and make it more concrete.
- Watch Out for Negative Talk
Although there are legitimate contexts for critique and venting to a safe and trusted person, if you find yourself whining, complaining, and gossiping…then (Greg instructed us to) SHUT UP!
Greg closed the message by issuing a challenge to all of us, to be mindful of that which we are thankful for and keep a record of them for 21 days (as this is how long it takes, it is said, to change a habit). Greg called this the 21-day Boyd challenge.
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