It was lunchtime at a construction site, and everyone sat down and unpacked their lunches. Joe opened his sandwich and started crying, “Ah, man, another bologna sandwich! I am sick and tired of eating bologna sandwiches every day!” He started sobbing as if someone has abused him.
A coworker put his arm on his shoulder and comforted him, “Hey, Joe, what’s wrong? If you don’t like bologna sandwiches, just tell your wife to make something different tomorrow. Okay?”
“What wife?” he replied, “Get out of here. I made my own sandwich!”
Your attitude is like the sandwich you made for yourself. There is nobody to blame. If you want to be happy, you must learn to control your attitude because it is the second spiritual muscle for happiness formation.
There are two dangers of uncontrolled attitude.
Uncontrolled Attitude can Ruin Happiness
America is the land of liberty to make your lunch the way you like it. However, today, more than a quarter of the Americans are suffering from depression, anxiety, or other diagnosable mental illnesses. Just imagine if you include the undiagnosable ones.
When I was in college in Burma, I had an American pen pal who was a teacher in the United States Airforce. I asked him if there was any word of wisdom as someone who was a teacher and an older person. He said, “Do not pay too much attention to what most people are complaining about.”
I did not fully understand what he meant until I moved to the United States. I was surprised to discover that the Americans do like to complain more than I expected even though they are living in the land of freedom and opportunity. There is always some protest going somewhere. There is always some grievance being nursed.
I tried to trace the source of this habit of complaining, and I think it came from the First Amendment. Some Americans have confused the freedom of speech with the freedom to complain without limit. It feeds their negative attitude and sinks them deeper into depression and anxiety. It is like substance abuse.
Negative Attitude can be Contagious
Do you know what caused the first murder case in human history? You know the story. The elder sons of Adam and Eve, Cain murdered his brother Abel. Some psychologists tried to analyze what could have caused the violence between the first brothers in human history. Here is what they have concluded.
After driven out of the Garden of Eden, Adam came home every day complaining about how hard he had to work to put food on the table. He blamed Eve for giving him the forbidden fruit to eat, which caused them to be ushered out of paradise.
Eve then complained about the dammed snaked who tempted her. Now she had to suffer the pain of childbirth. She gave birth to her first son, Cain, and complained about the pain she had never experienced before.
Growing up hearing his parents complaining all the time, Cain had learned that the way to deal with problems in life is by complaining and blaming. So, when he encountered a problem—when his offering was not accepted by God—he blamed his brother and ended up becoming the first murderer in human history.
Beware of your attitude because it could pass on to the next generation or those around you.
How to Control Your Attitude
Last week I shared with you that the first element of happiness is harmony, and I have laid out how to establish harmony in your life so that you can enjoy happiness. Hopefully, your situation is within your control to create harmony.
What if you have done everything you could to live in harmony with others, but they do not respond in kind? It does not have to be only with people, but what if you encountered other adversity? For example, COVID-19 has completely changed our lives overnight. How would you react to hardship caused either by people or nature?
Would you let your happiness stolen by the situation that is beyond your control?
If you do not want to let your happiness be taken away by the situation beyond your control, you must take control of your attitude towards it.
Your attitude can be positive or negative. It is normal to react with a negative attitude against adversity, but it takes some practice of mental or spiritual toughness to maintain a positive attitude. A negative attitude cannot resolve any problems, but it will only make it worse.
The positive attitude is the attitude of joy, and it makes your creative juice flowing to find ways to solve problems, or at least, it will not let your happiness be stolen. Jesus said,
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:11–12).
The word “rejoice” is a verb, an action word, so it is your choice to take that action. Jesus said that you can rejoice even in persecution. You can rejoice even when people utter all kinds of evil against you.
It takes some practice to stay positive in hardship, but it is doable. The following is a list of eight ways to help you maintain your attitude. Again, I formulated them into a mnemonic acrostic using the word ATTITUDE.
1 – Aspire Greatness
Edwin Louis Cole said, “Your attitude can determine your altitude.” I agree, but I also believe the altitude you aspire to will also help you maintain your attitude. Jesus said,
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mat 5:12).
Jesus wants you to shoot for the heavenly rewards rather than the worldly approvals. Prophets are hated throughout history because they aspire to greatness by being change agents to make this world a better place to live.
There is a certain type of people in this world that functions like viruses to latch on to you to sabotage your success and make you join their ministry of misery. The only way for you to stay away from the toxicity of a chronically anxious environment is to have a differentiated self by having a divine purpose.
A self-differentiated person does not react to other people’s reactivity because they know what they believe and what they want to die for. Your aspiration to greatness allows you to keep your attitude from being destroyed by negative people or natural adversity.
2 – Think about Gratitude
Nothing can change your attitude faster than thinking about gratitude. You cannot be negative when you are thinking about what you are grateful for. You might ask, “How can I be grateful when I am suffering?” Yes, you can if you can see the divine purpose.
Joseph’s story in the Old Testament is a great example. He was almost murdered by his jealous brothers, but they decided to sell him as a slave to Egypt. After many trials and temptations, he ended up becoming the prime minister of Egypt. One day he reunited with his brothers, and they thought he would revenge and kill them all.
However, this was what he said to his brothers,
“As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day.” (Gen. 50:20 NB).
When you can say something like this to your worst enemy, you have attained the attitude above ego. That is, of course, an extreme example of an attitude of gratitude, but the point is you can give thanks for everything. You can give thanks even for your worse enemies because they force you to grow and make you mature.
Psychologists say that the attitude of gratitude is the healthiest emotion.
3 – Trust God’s Plan
Joseph did not become the prime minister from a slave overnight. He was falsely accused of adultery while serving as a slave and was thrown into prison. Just imagine a life that fell from his father’s favorite child to an accused criminal in a foreign land without committing any crime. What would he have been thinking while sitting in his prison cell?
The only thing he had at that time was trust. He trusted that God has a plan for him and that it will come true. He trusted, like Paul said,
“All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28b NB).
You can lose anything, but do not lose faith. Faith is what helps you maintain the attitude above self, especially during trying times.
4 – Instill Enthusiasm
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. The word enthusiasm is the combination of two root words, “en” meaning “in, within” and “theos” meaning “God.” So, enthusiasm means “in God.” The Bible says,
“Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Ro 12:11).
The word “ardent” is translated from Greek, “ζεστός,” meaning “boiling.” So, you need to be boiling hot in spirit so that nothing can pour cold water at you.
The famous Coach John Wooden also said, “Success is unattainable without Enthusiasm.” He believes that enthusiasm not only helps you perform to the best of your ability but also inspires others to perform their best.
Your boiling hot enthusiasm helps you maintain the attitude even when you need to go for the second mile to succeed. It will also inspire others to do the same.
5 – Team up with Eagles
John Maxwell says, “If you want to fly like an eagle, don’t run with the turkeys!” Sometimes our attitude stinks because we stay around those who have a stinky attitude. The Bible says,
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Cor 15:33).
It also says,
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Pro 13:20).
Surround yourself with people of a positive attitude so that it will be easier to maintain yours. When you need an attitude lift, talk to a friend with a great attitude and do not talk to a downer.
6 – Use Contemplative Prayer
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Everyone I have met finds this teaching the most challenging because our ego loves vengeance, and we want retaliation rather than reconciliation.
Most people today treat prayer as a transaction with God rather than contemplation. Contemplative prayer is to visualize God’s will. God wills peace and reconciliation. So, imagine a scenario that you and your enemies have repented and reconciled.
It takes some mental toughness or spiritual strength to pull your enemies up rather than sinking to their level. It is not easy, but there is no better way. Contemplation helps you maintain your attitude when your ego wants to give in.
7 – Die Daily
Have a daily ritual of setting your ego aside, as if you die daily. You can maintain selflessness by having a morning ritual of praying, meditating, or reading the scriptures that helps you set aside your ego so that you can go through the day with a great attitude. Jesus said,
“If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mat. 16:24b NB)
To carry the cross is not a onetime deal, but a daily deal. It is not self-punishment, but it is to nail your ego on the cross and set free from it so that your attitude becomes incorruptible.
8 – Embrace Humor
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine,
but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” (Pr 17:22).
Whatever happens in life, do not lose your good sense of humor.
Do you know that the words “human, humor, and humility” came from the same Latin root “humus”? So if you want to maintain humanity and humility, you need to embrace a good sense of humor.
I was on an extremely long buffet line at a large conference. A lady next to me left the line and went directly to the dessert table because no one was there yet, telling me before she left, “Life’s short, eat dessert first!”
I am not recommending that you eat dessert for lunch, but it does remind me of the shortness of life. A hundred years on this side of eternity is like a blink of an eye comparing to thousands and thousands of happy years on the other side. Why sweat the small stuff to let your attitude stink?
Every moment you spend with a stinky attitude is a moment lost. When you realize that life is short, your attitude changes. Moses wrote in his Psalm,
“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” (Ps 90:12 NRSV)
If you know how to count your days, you become wise. A wise heart is a heart that knows how to enjoy life, as King Solomon elaborated it in his book, Ecclesiastes. A wise heart is a heart with an attitude above ego that allows us to face life with a smile, whether it is up or down.
There you have it. I learned these eight secrets from the Bible to maintain my attitude, and I am sure they work for you as well. I have also formulated them into an acrostic “ATTITUDE” so that I can easily remember them. I hope it will help you memorize them as well.
- Aspire Greatness
- Think Gratitude
- Trust God’s Plan
- Instill Enthusiasm
- Team up with Eagles
- Use Contemplative Prayer
- Die Daily
- Embrace Humor
Attitude is a spiritual muscle, so tone it, and it will surely pay off. Amen!