Much more surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place. “Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.” ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
My friend, Chris, many years ago, gave a sermon about the nation of Israel crossing over the Jordan River and setting up a monument of 12 stones. This was a sign that was intended to help them remember where they’d come from and all the wonders they saw in the desert and all the reasons they had to be thankful. The theme of that sermon has stuck with me all these years: remembering is a conscious choice. By extension, gratitude is also a conscious choice.
Most of the people who know me know that I tend to complain… a lot… about everything. I have a loud opinion in general and I whine about life when it doesn’t go my way. I came face to face with this in the characters of The Secret Garden as I read it to my children at bedtime over the past month. The kids in the book were complainers also. They hated everything and threw tantrums if they didn’t get their way. But this “secret garden”, a symbol in the book for Goodness, completely changed them. It took them out of their small inward-focused mindset and opened their eyes to a larger world full of beauty and wonder. They began to be thankful for life, to be alive and they started to learn how to love their fellow man.
As I read this to the children, I couldn’t help but be a changed a little bit myself. When I found myself angry, sullen or depressed, I began to recite some of the things that I was thankful for. By doing this, my countenance was lifted and that thing which seemed so horrible or important before seemed less so. I was able to approach my problem with a clearer head.
This mindset has translated amazingly into my children’s lives as well. When their emotions are so extreme that they can’t receive instruction from us, I’ve given them the simple task of saying three things they are thankful for. It takes a few minutes for them to do it, but in the end they comply and the results are astounding. Their entire mindset changes, they are able to receive instructions. Even more, they are able to admit when they’ve done wrong and make amends for it.
A dear friend of ours told us that when she is upset or unhappy, when life is difficult, she tells herself truths. “The sky is blue.” “That shirt is purple.” “That girl is tall.” She has found that by simply filling her mind with something objective and unquestionable that she finds her own mindset and focus to be more clear and her countenance lifted. To put it another way:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. ~ The Apostle Paul to the Church at Philippi
I love the simplicity of this instruction. Paul later promises that we will have peace if we do this. I can attest to it. Somehow, it gives definition to the Good Life simply by calling it to mind.
So here’s the challenge to all of us. For any reader who struggles with depression, anger, or is facing any significant trial in their life: Make a list of 5 things each day that you are thankful for and think about those things during the day. At the end of one month I defy you to not be filled with more hope and a better outlook on life. And when it does work for you, pass this message for a Good Life onto whoever you know that needs it.