by Don Hooser
Just take a look at the list of “Topics” here on Breaking Free and it’s striking and sobering to see the big variety of serious troubles—mental, spiritual and physical problems—we humans get ourselves into!
Yes, variety, but what do they all have in common? They all indicate relatively unhappy people. We must face the fact that unhappy people are much more likely to make poor choices and get themselves into trouble.
A happy and contented person is not likely to be an angry abuser. He won’t need to “drown his sorrows” with alcohol. He won’t need to seek escapism. He won’t have the urge to get high on drugs if he’s already high on life. He won’t need an “upper” if he’s already up. He won’t need to self-medicate. If one’s heart is filled with joy, that person won’t continually fill his or her stomach with taste treats, resulting in an overeater’s addiction. A contented person won’t become addicted to gambling because of the desperate dream that “happiness is money.” People who feel loved won’t jump into some counterfeit of love, getting into some sort of abusive relationship or sexual addiction.
What happy people have in common? Gratitude!
Ingratitude is probably the most prevalent sin. It is easier to wallow in pity than feel appreciation. It seems easier to criticize than compliment. Griping, grumbling and being grouchy are just doing what comes naturally. They are part of our negative, self-centered human nature.
On the other hand, gratitude is known as “the mother of all virtues.” That makes sense. Gratitude—a grateful attitude—inspires and leads to other good attitudes. It’s hard to have a BA—a bad attitude—when you’re feeling grateful.
The reverse is true also. One BA leads to other BA’s, just like one sin leads to other sins. Self-pity, selfishness, self-centeredness, negativism, pessimism, suspicion, cynicism and a victim mentality are polar opposites to gratitude and they are major robbers of happiness and contentment.
Life has its ups and downs. Most situations have their advantages and disadvantages. So every person can choose whether he will focus on the half-full glass or the half-empty glass. The first group will be mostly happy and the second group will be mostly unhappy.
Gratitude is a major subject in the Bible
The Good Book greatly emphasizes gratitude and the need to express one’s gratitude by thanks-giving to God and thanks-giving to all who benefit us in any way. Thankfulness can be passive, a mere thought in our minds. Thanks-giving is active. Thank-yous are something to be given away—making everyone richer. To more fully understand this point, see another article, “Thanksgiving Day, Not ‘Be Thankful’ Day” at http://www.ucg.org/christian-living/thanksgiving-day-not-be-thankful-day/.
Jesus Christ said, “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). Even someone in poverty can abundantly give thanks and praise to others, which will bring joy to the giver and receiver.
In Ephesians 5:18-21, the apostle Paul summarized this subject wonderfully—“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.” Notice that when one is filled with God’s Spirit and is habitually giving thanks, he will not be nearly as tempted to get “drunk with wine.”
Satan and the demons are always at work trying to depress you!
Anyone can think of plenty of things to complain about—all the disappointments, frustrations, mishaps, obstacles and mistakes of life. And when someone dwells on all these trials, it’s hard not to be depressed. One is apt to think “woe is me” and have a pity-party.
That’s exactly what our arch-enemy, Satan the devil, wants us to do. He is totally negative, dismal and self-pitying. He’s jealous of the glorious future God has in store for human beings. So he hates God and hates all human beings. Satan means “adversary” and devil means “accuser” and his Greek name Apollyon means “destroyer” (Revelation 9:11). He is determined “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). He is full of anger and hate and is deeply depressed. And he is always doing his utmost to fill us with self-pity, anger, hate and depression.
Therefore, we put ourselves in grave spiritual danger when we indulge in self-pity, anger or hate because those mental states attract Satan and demons. When they detect that negativism, they want to pour fuel on the fire! If we harbor anger, we “give the devil a foothold” in our minds and lives (Ephesians 4:26-27, NIV).
Alcohol Anonymous uses a keyword--HALT. That stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. The idea is this: If you are considering making an important decision when you're hungry, angry, lonely or tired... HALT! Wait until you're clear-headed and unemotional before making the decision. Otherwise, a person is much more likely to seek some immediate relief that is very unhealthy, especially in the long run.
And when a demon sees that you’re tempted, he knows you’re vulnerable and will seek to exacerbate that temptation. Satan and his demons want to see everyone self-destruct with substance abuse, addictions of any and every kind, and any and all dysfunctional behaviors.
Count your blessings, not your complaints!
God’s Word, the Bible, shows us how to replace self-pity and depression with gratitude, peace of mind and true joy. In Romans 15:13, Paul wrote: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” So please read the Good Book and put it into practice in your everyday life, learning to “live by every word of God” (Luke 4:4).
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He emphasized how we should not worry about our needs but replace worry with prayer and faith in God to provide our needs. He also made clear that we should mostly focus on the present and not worry about tomorrow’s possible problems. He said, “So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:31-34).
Worry and sleep deprivation can be a vicious cycle. One is depressed and worried and that interferes with sleep. Then being sleep deprived makes him more mistake-prone and depressed.
Cole Porter wrote the classic song, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” Bing Crosby’s recording of it was quite popular. The first verse says:
When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.
Personally, I’ve tried many different techniques to quickly get to sleep, and this works better for me than anything else I’ve tried.
No matter how many problems you have, everyone also has lots positive things in his life, so focus on them! You can also think of all the bad things that could have happened to you but didn’t! So count your blessings, not your complaints!
And be sure to give thanks and praise to our merciful, generous and loving Creator and Giver of all blessings (James 1:17).
Back to the title: Gratitude is an Antidote to Dysfunctional Behaviors!
If you’re infected with self-pity, disinfect with gratitude. If you’re septic (toxic) with self-pity, choose gratitude as your antiseptic. If you’re poisoned with self-pity, fill your life with the antidote of gratitude.
The apostle Paul was severely persecuted during his ministry and suffered terribly from many kinds of hardships. And yet he consistently emphasized the blessings from God and how grateful he was for the hope of salvation. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, he wrote: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
The epistles he wrote while being in a miserable prison are the most uplifting, encouraging and joyful of all the books in the Bible. They are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. In Philippians 4:4, he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” And in verse 11, he wrote: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
We too can learn to be content. Don’t get depressed because this mortal life is not perfect. Our focus should be on preparing for the next life when everything will be perfect. And looking forward with anticipation to our future life in the Kingdom of God can bring us great joy right now.
Proverbs 17:22, NIV, says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Please never medicate yourself with anything addictive or that is bad for you in the long run.
Choose gratitude and a cheerful heart!