Did you know that the Christmas season is not just the most wonderful time of the year, but also the deadliest? More people die from suicides on New Year’s Day than any other day of the year. Why? I believe it is because, during this time of celebration of the most incredible gift ever given, we often realize we are chasing what feels like an impossible dream: happiness. The sparkle and lights tell us to be happy, but we find our hearts heavy and hopeless.
In this article, I hope to provide some insight to help prepare you for this time of year with a few words of encouragement. I, myself want to guard myself and as many people as I can by bringing the truth to light about why we find ourselves unhappy during the holidays – and how to guard against it. As you know, we at Good Success are not just about having success; we are about achieving “real” success, Good Success. The only way to reach that goal is to get past the surface issues and delve into the root of the problem.
I have spent a lot of time researching the concept of success. From all the books I have read, the seminars I have attended, and the people with whom I have discussed this concept in-depth and detail, I can tell you: People who are not happy find, at the root of their unhappiness, one or more of just five causes. Those causes are much broader and deeper than the conventional complaints, which tend toward unhappiness in relationships, career, or money. The root issues of unhappiness tend to stem from a lack of fulfillment at one or multiple levels. Face it: You can have money, fame, even a good marriage, and a great job, and still, be deeply unhappy if you lack purpose or hold the wrong purpose in your heart.
So, what can we do to become happy? First, examine these five core variables usually linked to the heart of the problem:
1. We do not look for happiness in the right places.
Eccl 5:10 He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.
If we look at happiness in our job, in money, or even in our marriage, we are looking for other people and things for happiness. Trust me: Looking for other people to do what we ask of them will never make us happy. They will usually disappoint us and if they do succeed we will want more.
Ask yourself: Am I looking to my kids, my spouse, my friends, my paycheck, rewards like a drink or social recognition, or even my academic achievements to make me happy? If the answer is “yes” (and it is almost always “yes”) then we are placing our faith in things that we can imagine happening to us rather than in things that are certain and true. Look at the word “vanity;” we tend to believe people are vain about things that have value, but when you examine more closely, those things really have little worth. That is why looking to anything in this world and beyond our control, like other people’s thoughts about us or behaviors toward us, will lead us only to temporary happiness. No matter what earthly possessions, toys, or success we have here on earth, it will all become old very quickly and the temporary happiness that we achieve will be gone.
2. We lack gratitude.
Colossians 3:14-17 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
If you follow me on Facebook, you know that last week during Thanksgiving I sent out a 7-Day Challenge. I challenged every Facebook friend I have to say “Thank you” to seven people each day, then reminded everyone in my audience to do so. It may sound simple to perform this task, but I personally found it much harder than I expected and heard the same from many other friends who took the challenge. While I liked the idea of the challenge, my true purpose in posing it was to try to help myself and others perform two basic gratitude actions in a way that would set us all up for success in being grateful every day of the year. Gratitude is not necessarily easy. Try to do the following two things every day to develop that “attitude of gratitude” we hear so much about:
First: Wake Up and Thank God
Before my feet hit the floor in the morning, I thank God for something. It doesn’t have to be a groundbreaking concept or a sermon-worthy prayer each day. You just have to do it each day. I may give thanks for my eyes or my ears, that I can see or hear or smell or taste, or that I have a gorgeous woman (my wife) next to me. I may give thanks for my three amazing kids, their health, or mine. Just making this list right now is filling me with joy and gratitude all over again. God has been so good to me; if I do not stop and think about the things for which I am thankful and also give thanks to the one who gave them to me, I fail in living a life of “Good Success” because I have success but fail to thank the One who gave it to me.
Second: Go Out of Your Way to Say Thanks
This means to think of a different person every day for whom you are thankful, then tell them directly. Of course, you should tell your close family, friends, and co-workers daily how much you appreciate them. This is not necessarily that. That’s too easy! Reach beyond the “given” thankfulness and look for the people you may not necessarily always think to tell how much you appreciate them. For example, it might be someone you have to text because you do not see them every day. It might be someone to whom you do not necessarily speak on a regular basis. Find that person each day and let them know – even if it feels a little awkward at first – how grateful you are for their presence in your life. This practice is meaningful not just for your own wellbeing, but for theirs as well. Knowing someone took the time and purpose to think about them and that they were part of the reason a person was full of gratitude is incredibly meaningful. Be the “cup that runneth over!” Live so full of gratitude it comes out of you the same way sweat comes out of your pores.
I confess: I am not a naturally grateful person. Having recognized this, I practice these exercises and challenges of giving thanks in hopes that I will become naturally grateful over time and be a model to others in the process. Furthermore, I benefit personally and directly from my gratitude practice, as it is truly impossible to be grateful and unhappy at the same time.
Any time I am not happy, I find I have chosen to let my focus be on something other than the things I am thankful for.
Gratitude Action Item:
Make a list of things that you know you will always be thankful for and keep that list with you. Then, every time you notice unhappiness in your life, just pull out this list and redirect your focus on these wonderful amazing gifts!
3. We Envy.
Proverbs 27:1-6, 14:30 Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips. A stone is heavy, and the sand is weighty, but a fool’s wrath is heavier than them both. Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous, but who is able to stand before envy? Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
A sound heart is the life of the flesh but envy the rottenness of the bones.
Let’s face it: If we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit we all struggle with envy.
I confess: When I was 19, I envied having a wife. When I bought my first house, I wanted a bigger house. When I bought bigger houses, I wanted a bigger house still. When I bought my first car (and by the way, it wasn’t a Cadillac, as the song goes, “but there ain’t nothing wrong with the radio!”), I wanted a Cadillac and the money that goes along with the ability to buy one. When I made that money, I wanted more of it. When I gave that money away, I even envied people who made more money and gave more of that money away. Yes, I manage to this day to know and envy people who give away $1 million every year! It is the human struggle, and we should not be ashamed, but we should also not accept that struggle as our lot in life.
King Solomon, in his proverbs, teaches us that envy is more destructive and dangerous than anger! Fortunately, just as gratitude and unhappiness cannot fully coexist, neither can happiness and envy. The key, then, is to find a way to deal with envy on an ongoing basis that leverages your happiness against the invading envy. Martin Luther King famously said, “You can’t stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can sure keep him from building a nest on it.” When envy lands, fight it with gratitude. The happiness gratitude brings cuts the legs right out from under envy, so it cannot take root and grow.
4. We are entitled.
Proverbs 21: 1-2 The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord pondereth the hearts.
In the end, everything is in God’s hands. Everything we have or don’t have is because of him! However, that does not mean we have an excuse to be ungrateful to God, which is becoming something of an epidemic in today’s society. No matter what we are given, we feel entitled to more:
• Husbands and wives feel entitled to more attention, respect, etc.
• Employers feel entitled to more and more of their employees, Employees feel entitled to more money or time off or benefits.
• People feel entitled to more and more from entities like insurance companies, the government, and the educational system. We find we feel entitled to succeed in life.
This mindset is pervasive in our culture and has created a society wherein it is not just acceptable but endemic to say, “I deserve better” without any particular associated action or justification for that declaration. It is as if simply by virtue of living, we deserve to be given everything for nothing. No. No, we don’t.
In the book “The Go-Giver” Bob Burg states if you don’t put wood in a fire, you don’t get fire or heat from the fire.” Such, also, is life. You will reap what you sow. You will not, no matter how entitled you believe you are to them, receive things just because you happen to exist. First, take your own actions, then trust in the Lord. Do not rely on your own understanding of life but instead, lean into God’s will and God’s understanding that he will direct your path. This gives you a true sense of security Work as if it all depends on you and pray as if it all depends on God, instead of a sense of entitlement! God giveth, and he taketh away. He is the greatest giver of them all.
Ask Yourself: Who decides what you reap when you sow? The only answer is: God does. As we learn to trust this truth, we stop having our sense of entitlement and create in ourselves a sense of eternal security. Security battles entitlement just as insecurity battles happiness. You cannot have both. Release the unrealistic expectations you have about other people and what they (and the world at large) owe you. You will find yourself not only much happier but also in possession of a much clearer vision that enables you to love and respect people unconditionally.
5. We Succumb to Foolishness.
Proverbs 28:26 He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.
The final barrier to happiness is the simplest and hardest to admit: We so often play the fool! A fool, deep in his heart, says, “There is no God.” He looks only to himself for help and refuses to look outside himself for wise counsel. Accept that your feelings are unreliable; seek others’ opinions. Ask advice from people who have been where you are not and have the patience and experience to speak with you on these topics. And, of course, seek God’s opinion on what you should do at every given time. It would be very foolish to not seek the one who has all the knowledge in the world, who owns all the cattle on a thousand hills, and is all-powerful and all-knowing, who is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end!
God tells us, “Come unto me all ye who are weary, and I will give you rest!” He tells us, “Ask, and it shall be given ye; seek and ye shall find.” James tells us, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” God has offered to work for our good, on our side. How foolish would it be to reject this offer?
Of course, foolishness often comes in more benign forms that do not even feel as if we are rejecting God’s counsel. Some of these things are not inherently sinful, nor are they inherently wrong. They simply keep us from our purpose:
• Do you drink too much or too often?
• Are you too proud?
• Do you tend to meddle in things that have nothing to do with you?
• Do you engage in unnecessary conflict?
• Do you gossip or criticize when you could be productive instead?
Anything not done on purpose for a purpose may and should be considered foolishness.
So How Do We Become Happy for the Holidays (and Beyond)?
I heard a great quote from a good friend of mine this week: “Rid yourself of everything in your life that does not matter.”
Think hard on that statement: There are so many things in our lives, homes, and businesses we need to get rid of. Sometimes, the best growth can happen when you get rid of the waste in your life because that waste is what blocks you from being happy and living a fulfilled life.
Today, I urge you: Look for happiness in the right places. Develop a grateful heart. Put on gratitude and work the “gratitude muscles” that often we permit to become flaccid. As you do, you will lead yourself to a place of gratitude that enables you to habitually focus on the things you are grateful for. You will no longer need that gratitude challenge or schedule because gratitude and happiness, not envy, insecurity, and foolishness, will be inherently part of your life and your heart. When you find yourself becoming envious (and you will, it’s okay), remind yourself you do not know the whole story. You can never know all the burdens others carries. Remind yourself of the things you know you are grateful for.
Now, here’s a hard one: Eliminate your sense of entitlement. Take responsibility for everything, remembering you will eventually reap what you sow and God is the giver of all. Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life! Be humble enough to seek help and don’t waste time!
Above all, I wish you all a Merry Christmas Season and A Happy New Year!
I encourage you to not go into the holidays with false expectations of people or things or circumstances. Be very careful not to have any kind of sense of entitlement! Love one another, be grateful, have grace, patience, and mercy. Practice gratitude for what you do have: your families, your jobs, your employers, your employees, and your church. Don’t expect too much from people, and don’t let jealousy and envy creep in.
Live wisely and seek wisdom. I believe if you do these things you will truly be prepared for the holiday season and end up having a truly merry Christmas and, at last, a truly happy New Year.