I have been thinking about hope and how it relates to happiness. In part, because so many people seem…well…miserable.
That was my first epiphany upon entering the world of Social Media a few years back – people are unhappy, there are a lot of them, and they are happy (pun intended) to post about it. Clearly, there is something about chronic misery that makes people suddenly want to share bad news with others. The mantra seems to be, “If I am unhappy, you should be unhappy too, and I am going to do my best to help you see the world my way. No need to thank me.” We certainly have plenty of angry, hapless, jaded, sardonic and melancholy missionaries in this world! Tragically, most of them have access to a computer.
When I read such calamitous posts there is one thing their authors all seem to have in common — a lack of hope. There seems to be a self-fulfilling pessimism hardwired into their emotional construct that they either can’t, or don’t care to shake. There is this discordant vibe raging through them that says, “Things were bad, things are bad, and things are going to continue to be bad.” Hopeless.
I was trained in Systems Theory. Systems Theory simply states that all systems are designed to produce what they produce, not what you desire them to produce. So here is the deal: If you are unhappy with your life, everything in your life is designed to produce that unhappiness. If you want to change your outcomes, you have to change your inputs. I think most people want to be happy; they are just not quite sure how to change their inputs, so they keep entering the same negative stuff into their systems that they have always entered, as that is all they know how to do.
I don’t think God went to all the trouble of sending Jesus to earth and raising him from the dead so we could be miserable. We could have been perfectly miserable without the resurrection! So where is the hope?
I believe the best route to happiness is found by drenching, marinating, and saturating our lives with huge helpings of straight up hope! My favorite steak in the world is the filet at Andria’s Steakhouse here in Fairview Heights. They choose great pieces of beef, but the trick is in their sauce. They marinate those steaks to the point that every single bite is absolutely delicious. There is no way not (one of my favorite double negatives) to find a delicious bite on a filet at Andria’s; it is literally infused with tantalizing hope! Want different system outcomes? Infuse your system inputs in hope!
Here are some hope infusions for body, soul, and spirit!
1. Increase your exposure to hopeful people. Watch hopeful and upbeat people. Read what they post online. Note how they interact with others. Hang around these folks all you can!
2. Decrease your exposure to hopeless people. If there are people in your life who consistently bring you down, limit their access to you! Unfriend them; hide their posts. Misery is contagious it is easy to tell who is infected.
3. Subscribe to sources that breed hope and optimism in you. Think about the things in your life that give you energy, joy, and fulfillment. Do more of those things.
4. Unsubscribe from sources that reinforce pessimism. Think about the things in your life that give you indigestion, cause stress, and make you feel crummy about yourself and the world around you. Do less of these things.
5. Speak positively. I believe words are powerful things and like boomerangs; our words tend to fly back in our direction once launched. Don’t set any words into motion that you wouldn’t want coming back at you! Encouraging words are the building blocks of a hopeful world view.
6. Refrain from speaking negativity. My mom used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” That will work.
7. Decrease your time with media. I am often perplexed when people complain about the negativity in the media, because media is something we INVITE into our lives. We choose our Facebook friends, what we see on the internet, who we follow on Twitter, and which television stations we watch. Take control. If you can turn it on, you can turn it off.
8. Increase your time in the Bible. Stop watching a thirty minute show each day or perusing your Facebook feed, and substitute that time with Bible reading. Start with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or Acts. Read the great stories of Genesis. Spend some time in the Psalms. Be inspired!
9. Stop thinking about yourself. Hopeless people have very small worlds that get smaller by the day. Their attention is focused on “me and mine” and “us and ours.”
10. Start thinking about others. Hopeful people live in big worlds and are actively making better worlds. Their attention is focused on serving God and serving others.
Each of us is a product of the systemic input we invite into our lives. If you do not like your life, you are the only person who can change it. New outcomes require new inputs. I have often said that we, “Are all full of something and we all leak.” Why not fill ourselves with hope and leak it everywhere?
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.