Think Most About the Joy of Each Day

Summary: when we invest our time in thinking most about the things that will give us joy, we will feel more calm, energy, and strength to move forward.

When you think of philosophy, you might think of esoteric questions like, “Is the chair really there?” or “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Those questions are more important than may appear at first glance, but most people are not really that interested in them. What people are interested in is finding a way to live better and make it through the struggles of life. The Stoics and many other philosophers in the time of Christ made that their focus. The philosopher Seneca made a surprising statement about what our most important task was. He wrote to his young apprentice Lucilius, “Above all, my dear Lucilius, make this your business. Learn how to feel joy” (Letter XXIII). How about a philosophy class that started out that way? Our first priority will be to help us all feel true joy.

It’s a business or a task, though, because joy is not always easy to come by. There’s a lot that can keep us from feeling joy.

To begin with, we do not work on it. Have we ever made it a goal? How many of us want to become people of great joy? How often have we prayed for it? Continue reading “Think Most About the Joy of Each Day”

See Your House Like You Did the First Day You Got It

My then 18 year old son, David, told my wife and me that he wanted to talk out in the outdoor living room. My wife and I sat down in our wicker coach, and he took a seat on the porch swing. “Mom and Dad, I’ve decided that I want to get married.”

Not longer after, he married our daughter-in-law, Nicole from Colombia, at the Sun Outdoors Conference Center where our church met weekly. Then, they moved into . . . my basement. This wasn’t what they wanted. Waiting lists for apartments in Gatlinburg, TN were about six months wherever they applied.

The wait was only five months, and those five months turned out surprisingly well. We learned to really love our new daughter-in-law deeply, and the marriage was working. However, when the Riverwalk Apartments down the street called and said that they had an opening, nobody hesitated.

The day David and Nicole moved into their one bedroom apartment was a special day. I was amazed at how excited they were. They were renting their own apartment! Nicole was crying and then laughing, high levels of emotional expression, even by Colombian standards.

It made me think, what if I could look at my own house that way each day? I really love my house. It sits on a cul-de-sac on .5 acres of unique wooded land that terminates at a creek in a gulley. It has beautiful wood floors, a large bay window, beautiful built-in shelves, a well-crafted fireplace, and many other features. It is 2,500 square feet. Outside, we have a large three-level deck. We turned our carport into an outdoor living room that we love. We have a firepit. We have a pool. It’s in a quiet neighborhood, but it’s in the middle of everything. Beyond that, it sits on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and one of the great vacation destinations in our nation. Continue reading “See Your House Like You Did the First Day You Got It”

When Struggling, Start at Zero

Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle # 7: “When Struggling, Start at Zero.”

Last year, our family went through some very difficult times. No matter how bad it got, there was one thing that continually helped me regain sanity. Starting at zero.

What does that mean? It means that you imagine that you have nothing that you have. You imagine that you might not have any of it. Then, you mentally add it back bit by bit until you feel gratitude swelling up in your heart for all that you have.

What are some of those things? I might not have a wife, but God has given me a wonderful one. I might not have children, but I have seven of them. I might not have friends, but I have many of them.

When it comes to God, I might not know Him. Yet He has forgiven me and accepted me through the cross of Christ. That is enough, really. If I had nothing other than that, that would be enough.

But I have so much more. Doing Uber, I have met many people who do not have cars. I have a couple of them. I have freedom to move around. I have a home. That home has running water and a heat pump and electricity. I have means to communicate and receive information on my phone and computer. I have music and books.

I was born in America. It has its issues, but there is an opportunity to make money, if you need to. If you are healthy, you can work here. Speaking of that, I do have good health.

Where I get stuck is when I get some specific vision of what good things should be like. Then, when that situation doesn’t come to pass, it feels like there is nothing good. This feeling is loud and strong sometimes, but it does not reflect reality. When I start at zero, I realize that there are all kinds of good things that I already have that I might not have had and do not deserve more than others who do not have them. This helps my heart move toward gratitude and thankfulness and away from despair. So, that’s why I have this rule: when struggling, start at zero.

Our brains present an interesting paradox. When it comes to bad things, we worry about them and go over them again and again. When it comes to good things, we don’t even hold them in our mind for ten seconds.

Rick Hanson, in his helpful book Hardwiring Happiness deals at length with this paradox from the perspective of brain science.

Hanson notes that our brain “has a hair-trigger readiness to go negative to help you survive” (20). He describes the way our brain works this way, “when the least little thing goes wrong or could be trouble, the brain zooms in on it with a kind of tunnel vision that downplays everything else” (21). In contrast, Hanson notes, our brains hardly give any attention to good experiences. “Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones” (27). Think about it, he says: “how often do we stay with a positive experience for five, ten, or twenty seconds in row?” (27).

We just don’t take in the good. We get stuck in the bad.

How do we start to balance this out? How can we do a better job of taking in the good things that are already part of our lives? We can start at zero in our minds and add all the blessings back from there. This doesn’t ignore the bad. It just helps us take in the good.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope this is a helpful concept that will help keep you sane in an insane world. This is part of a series on 40 principles for keeping you sane and productive in an insane world. These are principles that I collected over the years battling for sanity and productivity while serving as a Pastor for 19 years, raising seven kids, earning higher degrees, traveling the world, and trying to be a good citizen. You can read more of them here.


Photo by Simon Maisch on Unsplash

Why I Am Extremely Thankful to Live in America

I love Egypt. I went there last year, and I loved it. I loved the history and the tourism, but I really loved the people. That was the biggest surprise of the trip, how much I loved the people and how much I learned from them. I think there is much that Americans can learn from the people in Egypt as I wrote about here.

However, going to Egypt made me see America with new eyes. I appreciated many of the things that I had taken for granted. Here are ten blessings that make me extremely thankful to live in America. I made this list shortly after returning from Egypt last year, but I fleshed it out for July 4th. Here they are, but they are not ranked in order of importance.

  1. The availability of jobs and economic opportunity. In Egypt and many other places, you often have to work very hard just to survive. In America, you can work hard and thrive. You can get ahead. There are virtually innumerable opportunities to advance. You can work one job during the week and add extra hours on the weekend. America affords amazing opportunities to make money and get ahead for almost anyone who wants to and has the ability.
  2. Toilets that work and in which you can flush toilet paper. The first night I was in Cairo I was somewhat surprised to learn that you can’t put toilet paper in the toilet. It will clog the public water system. It’s something that simple and that we take for granted, but the ubiquity of good water and plumbing systems is a huge blessing.
  3. Regular trash service. In Egypt, the trash often sits there for a long period of time. I have been in many places where they simply pile up trash because that’s what they have to do. We have systems for these things, and they are reliable and efficient. It is a huge blessing that we don’t have to figure out what to do with all the trash we generate.
  4. Completed buildings. One thing that is surprising in Egypt is how many uncompleted buildings there are. It gives them a tax advantage not to complete their buildings. As a result, they don’t finish them. That makes total sense in terms of their family interest, but it doesn’t look good. I’m thankful that we have so many completed buildings. It looks much better.
  5. Plenty of space for single family houses. It’s amazing how we take for granted the fact that we can enjoy single family houses separate from one another. In much of the world, houses are crammed right next to one another. In America, with hard work and often some help, you can own your own single family housing. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to enjoy your own outdoor space. It is very common here. Approximately 70% of Americans live in single family housing. Many who don’t want to and eventually will.
  6. Abundant education opportunities. While it is true that the rich often have more educational opportunities, education is very democratic in the U.S. People have access to good education. This is not always true around the world. In other countries, the good schools are for the elites. We have much better opportunities here.
  7. Ease of learning English. The overwhelming majority who live here have the opportunity to grow up speaking English either in home or in school. This is a blessing that we have that not everyone has that we often take for granted, but it opens up all kinds of doors around the world. It’s really a marvel that we have the opportunity here to learn without much effort the most widely used language in the world.
  8. Abundant food. When I have gone to other countries, I have had the opportunity to eat a lot of great food. It makes me sad, though, that in many of those countries, people do not have access to that kind of food. In America, we have an abundance of cheap food. We are major food producer. If we are out of one thing, we can substitute it with another. It is a real blessing to have food security.
  9. Freedom and opportunities for women. In many other countries, the opportunities for women are much more limited. Here, women can do whatever they want. They can say what they want. There is relative equality in the home. They can go into the world and work in whatever field they desire. I am thankful for these opportunities.
  10. Orderly driving. I live in an area of the country that can have “crazy” traffic by American standards. However, even the craziest traffic here is extremely orderly compared with many other countries. It may be busy, but people drive in an orderly way. It’s rather astonishing really.

This list came from the thoughts that occurred to me after traveling, but there are many more things I could list. I am extremely thankful to live in America with all its blessings, opportunities, and freedoms. In some ways, I can’t believe that I had the blessing of being born here. It’s such a great opportunity. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel to help me see the things that are here that I take for granted. July 4th is a day worth celebrating and reveling in. Happy 4th of July everyone!


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Freedom and opportunities for women.
Orderly driving.

How to Not Miss the Good Things in Your Life

Our brain is like velcro for the bad but teflon for the good. We let bad things roll around in our head; we quickly move on from the good. Ever since I learned this simple yet profound point from Rick Hanson, I have made it my ambition to do a better job of taking in the good (for more detail on Hanson, see my article on his work here).

According to Hanson, many of our mental struggles result from simply not taking in the good things already present in our lives. For example, we can spend hours thinking about how someone criticized us. We spend hardly any time thinking of the compliment someone gave us. We think a lot about bills we might not be able to pay. We think very little about all the bills we have paid. Such distorted thinking is bound to make us more anxious about people and finances.

How do we start to balance this out? How can we do a better job of taking in the good things that are already part of our lives?

Here are a few thoughts.

Journal. On January 14, 2018, I started writing a weekly review, and I have continued this practice to the present time. Every time I do it, I walk away with a different view of my week than the one I began with. I go through my calendar, and I note the people I spent time with, the things I accomplished, the pleasures I enjoyed, the good experiences that I had, and the things I learned. By the end of this exercise, I realize that my week was much better than I thought it was when I sat down to write.

Linger. When you experience something good, take it in for a few seconds. Thank God for the good things that you have received. Don’t just drink or eat. Fix it in your mind for a few moments and give thanks to God. Don’t quickly move to the next thing.

Share. This week, I’m preaching about Moses’ father-in-law Jethro from Exodus 18. In this passage, Moses tells Jethro all the good things the Lord has done in the exodus from Egypt. Jethro is delighted to hear it all. We all need friends with whom we can share the good things in our lives. This gives us both the memory of something good as well as the enriching connection of a human relationship.

Celebrate. After Moses told Jethro about all the good things the Lord had done for them, they celebrated. They offered sacrifices to God and enjoyed a meal together with the leaders of the people of Israel. We can do the same. When something particularly good happens, celebrate it. Enjoy a meal and talk about it!

Write. One way to linger over things is to write about them. This year, I threw one of the best parties I’ve ever thrown: a celebration of Burns Night (read about it here). The reason I wrote the article was to relive this wonderful event and to share it again with the friends who were a part of the celebration. It was one more way of taking in the good and remembering all the good things God has given me.

Taking in the good has helped me not to miss the good things that are already in my life. I have seen firsthand that when we take in the good, we can live more fulfilled, joyful, and peaceful lives. And all these things are right there for the taking! We just have to take them into our hearts and minds and enjoy what God has given us.