Life is hard. But sometimes we needlessly make it worse.
In a dark season years ago, I found I was bringing myself down with a bad habit: I couldn’t stop thinking about how disappointed I was with life.
I don’t know where it came from. Like most habits, it probably developed over time. I suspect it was negativity bias and comparison, coupled with some legitimate disappointment about life.
I wanted more money, more love, more friends, more fun. Nothing was enough, and things didn’t seem to be getting better. Life really wasn’t what I thought it probably should have been.
I started thinking about what could be
At the risk of being cliché, the primary problem was not my life. It was my mindset.
My counselor started to help me think differently.
“Perhaps instead of thinking about the ‘what if’ scenarios and about things getting worse… why don’t you start to think about how life could be?”
How life could be. I feel better even just saying it. There were so many possibilities. Possibilities brought light to my darkened heart.
With this light came inspiration, and with inspiration a growing work ethic and hope. Things improved. Anxiety no longer crippled me but helped me push harder to try new things. I remember hearing a Conor McGregor quote: “The more uncomfortable you make yourself, the more comfortable you’ll become.” Where I would normally avoid “stress” in an attempt to stay healthy, I realized doing those hard things grew my strength and resilience and in turn lowered my anxiety and lightened my mood.
Admittedly, I have some “dreamer” tendencies, and I’m not advocating a constant day-dreaming lifestyle. I would never commend anyone for making a “god” of their future, pretending like everything will be alright. But a little bit of realistic optimism coupled with work ethic and the support of friends and family can inspire great hope, which can fill the heart with joy (Proverbs 13:12).
Joy is a choice
Even the New Testament, so full of promises of suffering, tells believers in Jesus to stay positive – to “rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Notice that Paul actually commands this rejoicing! Christians are, in fact, commanded to take joy throughout the New Testament. But Paul continues: “…whatever is excellent… worthy of praise… think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). I take this to mean that though we are realists and understand the place of suffering, we are to take joy in this life and have good hopes, goals, and the like. Perhaps the dreams and interests that we have are part of God’s design for our lives? Just because we shouldn’t idolize them, does not mean we can’t use them to honour God and bless our fellow man. Therefore, think about the beautiful gifts and opportunities God has given you – and let them lead you to rejoicing and thanksgiving!
You’ve likely heard this very biblical and mentally helpful stance to take in life: when things are down or not looking so good, focus on the positive and remember all that God has done and blessed you with in this life. There is always something. These things are true.
But I say, don’t be afraid to dream a little. Sure, things might not seem so great right now. They may even be really dark. I know that kind of darkness. But I also know how powerful it can be to obey God’s command to take joy in what you have and get excited for where life could go.
So, if you’re feeling pretty down about where life is now, try thinking about what could be. It might just lead you to find some unexpected joy.