The world is full of strife, difficulties, and uncertainty. Stress and anxiety are part of life no matter where you live and no matter your occupation. This has always been true, and perhaps it’s a bit like saying, “Gravity exists,” or “Geese fly south in the fall.”
I have no intention of telling you what you already know. What I do want you to know is a secret from ages past that guarantees peace in the midst of trouble, one that few people have discovered during an entire lifetime of chasing happiness. For all the narcissists who read this and will be internally driven to immediately say, “Oh, yea I know that, who doesn’t know that?,” let me remind them that if they really knew this secret, they would have practiced it, and they would be living it.
I want to briefly set the stage first. We are unquestionably living in challenging times, and few generations have seen so many challenges all converging at once. Here is a very short bullet list of current challenges we are facing today, which only represents the tip of the iceberg of all the problems around the world, any or all of which can steal your joy and peace — if you let them:
- The Coronavirus (aka Covid-19) is in over 125 nations.
- International financial markets are on the verge of a world wide crash.
- The American stock market and economy are on the verge of wiping out the middle class . . . and their life savings invested in the stock market (retirees could see 70% of their retirement just go poof, 32% already went poof just in the last 18 days).
- The DOW Jones Industrial Average set three all time records for single day losses in the past week as of this writing with nearly all of the gains during the Trump Presidency in the past three years wiped out, and the DOW is down 32% in only 18 days.
- There is massive unemployment on the horizon (Secretary Mnuchin recently said we could see 20% unemployment).
- Federal debt is nearing default and there are massive unfunded state pension funds.
- The business environment that has been squeezing small business owners out of existence, and the nationwide shut down of most businesses may kill the economy like never before, and could result in a total reset.
- Major businesses and entire industries are questioning their own survival, including cruise lines, airlines, casinos, restaurant chains, and so on.
- The suicide rate in the U.S. is at an an all-time high.
- The largest churches in America have lost their way and are of little spiritual help in these trying times.
- We are watching the meltdown of a political system that is divided by internal war, and which is ripping the nation apart.
- The quality of our lives for the next few years hangs in the balance with vast implications for all of us individually.
A full list is much longer, and you could add to it yourself I’m sure, but the point is we have plenty of reasons to stress out and more than enough reasons to be unhappy. Perhaps the greatest cause of stress is the uncertainty of the future, and our human tendency is to think the worst. But there is a real solution to all of this, regardless of what happens.
Here’s how I discovered the secret that changed my life. I was going through a very difficult time in my life. I had made a necessary career change, but in the transition I was not making enough to survive. Add to that a terribly painful divorce, the loss of my oldest son who died unexpectedly from heart failure, my own total financial devastation as a result of the divorce and the career change, and the abandonment of those whom I thought were friends.
One day in a basement apartment I laid on an air mattress (my bed) in great emotional agony. I said out loud, “Lord, how is it that my heart keeps beating? I’m in so much pain, why doesn’t my heart just stop beating?” While it may sound like a silly or immature question, believe me I was absolutely serious. Day after day and month after month for three years I was in horrendous emotional agony.
One day I stood with a cup of coffee in my hand looking into the back yard of a rental home and at the cows grazing in a nearby field. In that most unlikely of places and times I found myself saying something out loud, as though it came from beyond me.
“As long as I allow people or circumstances to determine my happiness, I will always have an excuse to be unhappy!” And then as if a response was required, I found myself also saying out loud, “I will never again let people or circumstances determine my happiness!” Since that day I have lived out of my new paradigm, and the quality of my life is better by an order of magnitude.
This is the key to a life of peace in the midst of trying circumstances and people who bring stress and suffering into your life. That single statement which I found myself speaking out loud 14 years ago, changed my life forever. This was such a sacred experience in my life, I’ve never shared this with anyone until now.
Think about the implications of this powerful motivating statement. If you have your life savings in the stock market right now, you already lost 32% in just in the last 18 days, and with great anxiety you understand you could lose 50% or 70% or 90% of your entire retirement account. That could depress anyone, or even cause someone to be suicidal. If your happiness depends on circumstances, you will always have a reason to be unhappy.
You might have a son or daughter who is dysfunctional and making a mess of their life. This can be emotionally devastating for parents year after year, a heavy weight that never lets you go, draining you emotionally. You may have a boss or a friend or a spouse who is bringing misery into your life. If your happiness depends on people, you will always have a reason to be unhappy.
Of course, I’m not suggesting you should play the victim with an entitlement mentality. Do not blame others for your own cumulative decisions that brought you to the place and relationships you have today. If you have made bad decisions, you will also suffer the consequences, and you alone must bear the responsibility of digging yourself out of that situation or relationship.
Realize that it is not just the big challenges that cause stress and steal our happiness. Any negative circumstance or any disruptive person can cause us stress and anxiety, even if small in comparison to the big disappointments many of us experience. Many people’s happiness is so intimately tied to other people’s approval that the slightest perceived criticism can devastate them for the rest of the day. If that happens to you, you are letting your happiness be determined by other people. You do not have to live that way.
There is an unlimited supply of negative circumstances every single day that will be more than glad to facilitate your unhappiness. The printer at the office quits working just before an important meeting, or you find out you just got laid off, or an appliance quits working at home, or . . . you name it. Small or big, the world is at your beck and call and ready to feed you with excuses to be unhappy.
And the big one — money — is always there to haunt you and steal your joy, if you let it. You don’t make enough money, or you don’t have enough savings, or you don’t have a retirement fund, or you don’t have as much as your older brother, or you have plenty of money but you stay awake at night worrying about losing it, and on and on. Many have made money their god (with a small “g”), and that always brings an unsettled spirit whether you have too much or not enough. Unhappiness is unhappiness no matter the cause. No amount of money will save you from a deep sense of emptiness if your happiness depends on circumstances or people.
Do not jump to conclusions that I am not making. There’s nothing evil about money itself. The problem is not how much money we have or don’t have, and it’s not circumstances or people. The problem resides in our own minds and hearts.
Let me also add here that I am not arguing you should stay where you are in difficult circumstances or in a nightmare of a relationship. Life is all about growing, personally and professionally, and all about growing psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. But this doesn’t mean we have to be stuck and miserable.
Would you like to be free from the bondage of constant stress, anxiety, and unhappiness? I’m telling you that you can, and I’ve done it, and it has lasted 14 years so far, and I see no end to my happiness and my contentment and the peace I enjoy every day. I offer no magic here, only truth.
I must confess that I haven’t invented something new or come up with the latest motivational gimmick on this subject. I’m not so smart. Let me restate the secret, and then I’ll share the real source of this wisdom that took me half a lifetime to discover.
The Secret to Happiness
“As long as you allow people or circumstances to determine your happiness, you will always have an excuse to be unhappy!”
In other words, you do not have to be enslaved by circumstances or people.
Now let me show you where this wisdom came from, and how long people have relied on it for their own happiness.
The Source of The Secret
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 4:6–7 (NIV) written about 62 A.D.
This kind of peace that finds its source in God is so deep and so effective, it is actually beyond our understanding. But know this — it works and has for thousands of years.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid . . . In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 14:27 & 33 (NIV) written around 80 A.D.
Notice that this kind of peace is not the kind the world offers, in other words the kind that people seek in circumstances and people. This kind of peace is spiritual, and it has the power to give us peace in the midst of trouble.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV) written in the 50s A.D.
These beautiful character traits are the result of your spirit having a relationship with God, and like the other long known keys to peace in the midst of a troubled world, genuine peace comes from God, not the world.
For he himself is our peace. Ephesians 2:14 (NIV) written about 62 A.D.
The key to peace is found in that verse. The “himself” in that verse is Jesus Christ. Peace in this world starts and ends with a relationship with the Savior of our souls. You see, when you no longer place your hope for peace and happiness in circumstances or people, but in the eternal source of peace — Jesus Christ — you no longer have an excuse to be unhappy every day.
Do you want peace in the midst of great trials? Do you crave a life of peace, contentment, and a deep sense of purpose and joy, even during a pandemic or a financial crash? Then start where peace begins — with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
What do all of these ancient verses tell us? In today’s language it might go something like this:
As long as you allow people or circumstances to determine your happiness, you will always have an excuse to be unhappy!