Have you ever been around a person who constantly complained? How did you feel? Did you get sucked into the vortex of negativity and start complaining right along with them? Or did you nervously look around, searching for some way to get away from the person? Whichever of these options you chose, one thing is for sure: people who complain are not happy.
There are myriad things to complain about. The weather. The government. The ex-husband. The children. But there are also myriad things to be grateful for. Air to breathe. Friends who care. Sunny days. We get to choose what to focus on. It’s up to us to decide if our lives are cursed, or blessed.
In Ephesians chapter 5 in the New Testament, we are given counsel. Verse 20 exhorts us to be grateful. It says, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice it didn’t say to only give thanks for the good things–it said “all things.” An incredible example of this is found in the life of Corrie Ten Boom, a survivor of the Nazi prison camps. She and her sister were interred in Ravensbruck in barracks designed for 400, but housing more than 1400. The conditions were filthy and smelly, and the room was overrun with fleas. Corrie and her sister Betsie managed to hide a Bible, which they read from frequently. One day, they read in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” After reading this passage, her sister said:
“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
‘Such as?’ I said.
‘Such as being assigned here together.’
I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’
‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.
‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’
‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.
‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’
‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘
The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’
‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.
And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas.”
During their weeks in the barracks, they shared the Bible with all who would listen, never being found out by the guards. They always wondered why there was so little supervision. One day, it became clear as Corrie met her sister waiting in line for food:
“‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.
‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’
That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
‘But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?’
Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!'”
My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”
(You can read Corrie’s moving story in her book, The Hiding Place).
Jen from Carlsbad Cravings shares this inspiring personal story:
“To me, happiness means being grateful for all your blessings despite imperfect circumstances. I heard it said once, “You can only be as happy as you are grateful,” and I couldn’t agree more. Growing up with a chronic disease, cystic fibrosis, and being saved by a living donor lung transplant at age 16, and today having an unknown life expectancy, I have learned not to base my happiness on expectations, worldly success, fashion or approval. Instead, being grateful chases away despair, negativity and hopelessness and instead transforms ‘what we do have into enough and more.’
It can be so easy to focus on what’s wrong or on what we don’t have, that we no longer appreciate what we do have. The ironic truth is that happiness does not come from the accumulation of our wants. It comes from wanting what we have. Until we choose to be grateful for everything we have, accepting there will always be a gap between our real circumstances and our “ideal” circumstances, we will never be content and therefore we will never be happy. It is only by liberating ourselves from our selfishness and self-inflicted pity that we can become free to count our blessings and add to our happiness. A favorite proverb of mine reads, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” No matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. Be grateful that they aren’t, and you will be happy.
Even when it seems we have lost everything, we still have all that matters. We have an infinitely loving and merciful Savior who suffered for our sins so that we can repent and be made clean again, worthy to live forever with our families in the kingdom of our Father. Always remembering and being grateful for this exquisite gift makes superficial wants fade away and eternal wants made right when viewed with an eternal perspective. We always have Christ to be grateful for, we always have the reason to be grateful–the reason to be happy.”
(You can read Jen’s miraculous story in this article).
Lisa from the blog Wine and Glue sums up the whole matter when she says, “I think there are a lot of things that will come your way in life, including chronic conditions, or in my case the death of a child, that are unavoidable. And at a certain point, happiness is a choice. You can choose to live as though you are a victim of the universe and feel sorry for yourself forever, or you can be grateful for the blessings and the good things that you do have in your life.”
I have three challenges for you.
1. Make a list of everything you are grateful for, from the sunshine to the rain and everything in between. (I suggest you put this list on your phone where you can easily access it). When you find yourself feeling depressed, or just a little down, pull out that list and remind yourself of every blessing you have.
2. Interrupt negativity with positivity. The next time you are around a constant complainer, interject with something you are thankful for. Turn the tide of the conversation. If the negative person won’t play along, politely excuse yourself in a cheerful way.
3. Pay attention to your own thoughts and words. Notice when you are being negative and stop yourself. Try to replace the complaint with a blessing.
I have never met a constant complainer who was happy, and I have never met a grateful person who was chronically sad. The question is, which kind of person will you be?
If you missed any previous installments in the Happiness series, you can find them all on my Happiness page.