“Sometimes the hardest, bravest thing is choosing to live another day in this broken, wonderful world.” –Melanie Dale
Because the world is broken, make no mistake. And that means life is hard. Like pretty much constantly. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” (Are you hearing Rosanne Rosannadanna in your head? :-) )
Whether it’s the kids running you ragged or the homeschool seeming ineffective or the marriage not feeling like a romance novel or the finances or the weather or the hormones — we really do have a lot we could complain about. But let’s not.
Did you know that the way you think about things can become a habit? Did you know that habitually thinking about things a certain way can actually rewire your brain to think about them that way naturally?
“This characteristic is known as neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s way of adapting and changing based on the decisions we make, or the conscious thoughts we choose to have.”¹
Complaining and being a glass-half-empty person literally wires our brains to be more depressed and bitter. Every time we face a new, challenging situation, then, we’re predisposed to find the negative in it and be unhappy about it.²
And then we’re kinda stuck there, unless we make an effort to get out.
TRUE CONFESSIONS: This is me. Or at least it has been. And sometimes still is.
And at some point in the not too distant past I decided to do away with the “poor me” mindset, the idea that I was owed more than I had, and choose to live with more acceptance, joy, and overall positive thinking.
I didn’t like the idea of my brain actually being chemically disposed towards negativity. Just like I don’t want illness to gain a foothold in my body, I don’t want depression or even just a complaining attitude to gain a foothold in my mind.
Because the opposite is also true — if we are characterized by positive thinking, so that we perceive the glass as half-full most of the time, and we look for the benefits of a situation rather than the downers about it — then we can reconfigure our brains to react that way out of habit to the new situations that come our way. Isn’t that a better way to live life? Wouldn’t you rather be joyful than bummed out?
We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. –Abraham Lincoln
You know what? Negative people are no fun to be around.
And negative people are revealing a lack of trust in the goodness of God in their lives. I’ve been there, so I know. I thought I had a better idea of what my life should be than what God was allowing to happen. So I complained and cried and got angry sometimes. I didn’t fully rest in His lovingkindness, in the idea that “God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). And that’s not glorifying to Him, nor winsome to others who need to know about Him.
The good news is we truly can reverse the process. We can alter our brain chemistry to have a greater tendency towards positive thinking. When we’re feeling down this doesn’t seem possible, but we have to make the choice and then continue making the choice as much as we possibly can. At first it’s awkward and feels unnatural, but it does get easier.
Baby Steps to Rewire our Brain towards Positive Thinking
1) Notice nature. This one is one of the easiest steps to take. Nature is all around us. I live in one of the prettiest places on the planet – the Ozarks. But I would often find myself driving down the road in a tunnel of my own thoughts, not noticing the beauty that surrounded me. The green meadows, the cows on the horizon, the trees casting shade over the road… take time to stop and notice and enjoy the beauty. Even if you live in the city, you can always look up and see the amazing blue sky and think about how it goes on forever… or you can notice the intricacy of the leaves on a tree. Be thankful.
Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.
2) Notice your kids. How long has it been since you stopped and gazed at their smiles and relished their laughter? Since you ran your fingers through their hair — which God has numbered every strand of? Children are awe-inspiring when you stop to appreciate them. Even when they are driving you crazy, lol. Right then and there, when you want to run screaming into the night because of something they’ve done, stop and run your finger down a satin-smooth cheek and gaze into those fathom-deep eyes. There is a human soul in there.
3) Notice the people around you. Try to look for ways you can serve them. It may be that you can’t do much — but even just mustering up a smile for the lady at the cash register can make a difference in her day. And yours. Pass out smiles like candy. And maybe you’ll find other ways to spread a little sunshine.
4) Refuse to give in. Don’t allow yourself to wallow in the negativity. If you find yourself there, kick yourself out. Have some topics picked out ahead of time to focus on instead: what curriculum you should choose for the first-grader, what to plant in the garden, when to have a girls night out, etc. Make a choice to change topics in your head. And keep making that choice as many times as necessary. This is called “taking every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples, don’t plan on harvesting Golden Delicious. –Bill Meyer
5) Memorize Scripture. This has been SO helpful for me. Not only does it transform my mind (Romans 12:2), but it gives me something to focus on when I’m tempted down the complaining trail. The ones about God’s character, like Lamentations 3:19-24, are especially effective. The Bible tells us to let our minds dwell on what is pure, lovely, and good (Philippians 4:8). That means engaging in positive thinking!
6) Read stuff. Sometimes when I want to distract myself from negative thoughts that want to take over my brain, I will pick up a fiction book and immerse myself in another world. There are problems there, too, but they’re not MY problems. :-)
There are also books that remind us that life is precious and joyous even in its brokenness. That we can “live above our feelings”³ and create truly happy places for ourselves. I have read two really good ones lately. Both of these authors have had to overcome major disappointments in life and have written from their experience. Both share how to rise above the circumstances, to practice positive thinking, to find the joy.
It’s Not Fair – Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose, by Melanie Dale. I like Melanie’s book because she’s a woman and she writes like we’re sitting next to each other having coffee. So real, so caring, so encouraging. And SO FUNNY. Oh my goodness, she is laugh-out-loud funny. I love the idea of finding humor within the difficulty; they do say laughter is the best medicine!
Shaken – Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms, by Tim Tebow. I like Tim Tebow’s book because Tim Tebow. :-) I mean, really, this guy has had to put up with a lot in his very high-profile life as a Christian athlete. And yet his faith has remained consistent and his testimony unsoiled. That’s pretty huge. The book is filled with stories from his life and encouragement from the Word. It’s a great combination!
I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.
Have I become Pollyanna with always a good word about everything and a plastered smile on my face? No. I still get down. But overall I am more able to see the silver lining — and THAT is what I focus on these days.
Complaining is draining. (Ha, I just made that up!) Reaching for the joy is worth the effort. Start working on positive thinking and you’ll be surprised how quickly life begins to feel less broken.
³Tim Tebow, Shaken, 2016, Waterbrook, p. 58