By: Dr. Norm Wise
Happiness is one of the goals that people consider of significant value in their lives. However, if happiness comes from outside circumstances and other people, then only to the extent that we can control these factors will we be happy. Therefore, happiness is very fragile because we have little or no control over our circumstances.
What can be done?
One key to feeling greater happiness is having realistic godly expectations of life “East of Eden” and a committed acceptance of our community of imperfect people. If we can lower our expectations and increase our forbearance of others, we will find our happiness increases.
Donald Miller in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, summarizes this idea in the following comment: “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are. And when you stop expecting material possessions to complete you, you’d be surprised at how much pleasure you get in material possessions. And when you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.”
In other words, if we expect perfection from other people, circumstances, or things, we will get nothing but frustration and anger. If, however, we have more realistic expectations, then we will appreciate who people are and the circumstances are in.
Even our relationship with God is impacted by expectations. If I wake up every morning expecting God to have given me paradise on earth, I am going to be mad at God all day for not doing what I expect. But if I accept the fact I live “East of Eden” with God, then this will not be such a bad day and I can appreciate my fellowship with God in this difficult world.
What would this look like?
1. Understand that God offers greater emotional inner peace that goes beyond our understanding. This also leads to a joyful confidence that God is at work in bad circumstances, but never promised perfect health or wealth in this life (Philippians 4:1-8; Romans 8:28-39).
2. Understand that marriage, family, and friends offer a fellowship of companionship and mutually imperfect love with people who are wounded and weak (Romans 3:23).
3. Understand that God has allowed us to still have some things of beauty and joy in this life, but, many times, less is more. Materialism, when we are owned by the things we own, quickly kills our contentment. Desire less and enjoy what you have more (Philippians 4:11).
4. Understand that we cannot be everything and do everything. We are limited. We must focus on a few things and do our best. For many people, God most likely has less on his to-do list for them today than they do. We will not be great at everything and we must be okay with that.
5. Understand people are wonderful yet struggling. Don’t expect perfection; remember the mercy God has shown you in forgiving you of your sins in Christ Jesus. Give others some room to be less than perfect. Accept them by grace; not by their performance (Romans 15:7).
6. Understand you need grace also. Self-condemnation does not make us better people but does increase our stress. It is hard to be happy when you hate yourself. It is one thing to hate the sin in my life and another to hate myself. We must accept ourselves by grace even as we accept others by grace. Preach the gospel of grace found in Christ Jesus often to yourself and remember God is on your side if you are in Christ.
7. Remember God’s big plan. You are part of that big plan. You are important enough to have Christ Jesus die for you so that you can be forever with God in that big plan. Today is easier to handle when we keep our place and future in perspective.
So, how do we find happiness? We stop looking for everyone and everything to change. Instead we find happiness by contentment with what we have and realistic expectations about living “East of Eden” in the light of the gospel of God’s love found in Christ Jesus.
Dr. Norman Wise is the Executive Director of Living Water Christian Counseling, Senior Pastor of First Church West, and host of “Ask the Counselor” on GraceNetRadio.com. Living Water can reached at 954-452-4407.