Think less, smile more

The other day I posted about counting your blessings as the key to happiness. This post is about my frustration with practicing what I preach.

I have much to be grateful for…I have a wonderful family; we are all healthy and doing well. We have a nice home in a safe neighborhood. God has consistently provided through my husband, parents, myself, and others enough income to meet all our needs and more. The church body I belong to is very close by and faithful to God’s Word. There’s a lot more…548, to be exact. No, I have not actually counted every single blessing…but one of these days I will.

And I am grateful, and do not take them for granted, and thank God regularly. But does that make me happy? (How do I insert a grunt here?)

I have a pretty good sense of humor, but generally speaking, I’m the serious type. I think because I’m a thinker. That’s profound, isn’t it? What I mean is, I suppose part of the reason I tend toward seriousness is that I have learned the value of contemplative thought. Not that I regularly just sit and do nothing but think, though I can and have done that. But that I mentally process everything, and ponder and try to understand. I feel like I’ve been this way since I was a child, so maybe it’s my gift…or my curse. Because the result is that my mind is occupied with things that aren’t as they should be, or as I would like them to be, more than it is with counting my blessings.

We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect people…like myself. BUT I WANT PERFECTION! I want a perfect family, perfect marriage, a perfect complexion, a perfectly fulfilling lifestyle, a bottomless barrel of cash (perfect!), and a perfect world where everyone knows and loves God and obeys Him…perfectly. At least that part I know is coming someday.

In the meantime, I become dissatisfied and moody pondering all the imperfections. Should I choose simply not to think about family members who reject God, a culture that is increasingly doing the same, persecuted believers in faraway lands, my persistently stubborn selfishness and pride, or my consistently meager checkbook balance from living our financial life on the edge?

I think not. But I do think (see…I think a lot) that “choose” is the operative word here. Just as I can choose what and what not to think about, I can choose what my attitude is in light of those things. Worry is an attitude I often find overtaking me, but it’s really not a force outside my control like I might suppose. I can choose not to worry but instead live each day as it comes and trust that God’s got it covered. Self-doubt and insecurity also tend to sullen my mood, but I can choose to line up my attitude with what I believe to be true – that I have some talent, some wisdom to offer, much worth to God and my family, and gosh darn it, people like me! And they’re probably insecure too.

So if I’m not happy today, I must say I do believe it’s my own fault. My dear mother would often respond to her children’s moanings and groanings with “Smile. You’ll feel better.”  She was famous for it. Worldwide. Not really. But we did come to expect it, though I’m sure very few of the ten of us took her advice. But as an adult I realized how smart her suggestion was because of the magical Serotonin Endorphin Effect. “SEE…I told you so,” she would say. Not really.

But now I’m thinking(!) Mom was even smarter still because she knew, and exemplified, that happiness is not only good for you, but a choice. We could choose to moan, or we could choose to smile. It was up to us. And those of us who smiled got double portions of dessert and could stay up till midnight.

Not really.