(…continued) The third reason people don’t feel good even though they have more is what Easterbrook calls “collapse anxiety.” Even if people do realize they have it pretty good these days, there is reason to fear that it won’t last. Terror threats, stock market crashes, global unrest, and so many things in our dangerous world leave us fearful that everything we have can be taken away anytime. People in 1855 had their own weather and local troubles to contend with, and that was worry enough. They were not bombarded by news 24 hours a day telling them everything that was already going wrong and could possibly go wrong in every part of the world.
Reason number four the book lists is called “abundance denial,” which means that most people are simply blind to the fact that they are well off. Despite our high standard of living, most people will not admit that they are doing well. Studies show that people in almost every income bracket define “well off” as making twice as much money as they themselves are presently making. Families making $25,000 a year say that and families making $150,000 a year say the same thing. Few consider themselves well off– ‘well off’ is someone who is making more than you are. I have heard many people who lived through the Great Depression say that they didn’t know they were poor, because no one in their community had anymore than they did; everyone was poor, so folks grew up thinking that’s just how life is. These days, the opposite is true– people don’t know they are rich.
Finally, the fifth reason is what Easterbrook calls the “choice penalty.” Years ago, because of economics and custom, people were locked in to the way of life they were born into, and that resulted in a certain amount of frustration and anxiety. Now, economically, many people are able to pick from an endless amount of choices in career, places to live, hobbies, travel, and so much more. This leads to a different kind of anxiety and frustration. Many people are endlessly wondering “should I have done this instead, is it too late to change, am I missing out on this because I chose that, I could have gone here or there instead, maybe that is what I should have done, let’s do this, no, let’s do that,” and on and on they go. Many people, breathlessly trying to take it all in and constantly on the run, go back and forth between frustration at missing out, and longing for a simpler time– a time that was ‘simpler’ precisely because the choices were fewer.
Not all of those reasons apply to everyone, but everyone can probably see themselves in at least some of them. But what I found most interesting is the solution Gregg Easterbrook suggests. Take a moment to guess what that might be… (HINT– Thanksgiving is this week.)
The suggested solution is one that you’ve heard often– on this website, in church, from your parents, and from your own reading of the Bible or any devotional book ever printed. It is a common Biblical theme– commanded, recommended, or modeled on nearly every page. The phrase used most often in the Bible is “Giving Thanks,” and Easterbrook calls it “the virtue of GRATITUDE.”
Easterbrook writes, “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress, and to achieve a positive sense of self.” ‘Beginning to suggest…?’– as if this is a new idea? From the very beginning of time, God’s Word has asserted the need to give thanks; and if you ever thought that was for God’s sake, you were mistaken. The command to give thanks is not for God’s sake, but for our own. God is God and doesn’t need anything, but we need to give thanks, says the Bible; and so now also say the experts in ‘gratitude research.’
Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Begin with thanksgiving, says Paul, making that a part of your prayer life and your whole approach to life, and you will have peace. When life gets better and we’re feeling worse, the solution is to ‘count your blessings’ and be thankful, says the Bible.
In the spirit of such gratitude, Paul was able to write a few verses later: “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” That sounds good to me.
May we, who have been given so much, pray to God for one more thing, a grateful heart, because with a grateful heart, comes peace and contentment and strength.
Philippians 4:6-7 — Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:11-13 — I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
I Chronicles 16:34 — Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.