Are we happy people? How to live optimistically

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“A happy people are a productive people”: How to live optimistically in a pessimistic time

February 26, 2024 -

A woman at work with a beaming smile looks to the side in front of an open laptop and a mug. By Prostock-studio/stock.adobe.com

A woman at work with a beaming smile looks to the side in front of an open laptop and a mug. By Prostock-studio/stock.adobe.com

A woman at work with a beaming smile looks to the side in front of an open laptop and a mug. By Prostock-studio/stock.adobe.com

“This I know, that God is for me” (Psalm 56:9).

According to the Harvard Medical School, optimism helps reduce hypertension, protect against developing heart disease, lower respiratory tract infections, and benefit overall health.

How, then, can we live with optimism in days like these?

Practical reasons for positive thinking

In his new book, The Search for Reagan: The Appealing Intellectual Conservatism of Ronald Reagan, biographer Craig Shirley explains the vision that empowered our fortieth president:

He came to the presidency with three great goals in mind: the revival of the American economy, the defeat of Soviet communism, and most importantly, the restoration of American morale. He knew this to be the most important, for a happy people are a productive people. And a productive people can rebuild a sick economy, create jobs, and manufacture the arms needed to aid indigenous freedom movements around the globe while creating a stout economy that can outperform and outspend, driving the Soviet economy into the ground.

President Reagan was right about the power of hope, as psychologist Dan J. Tomasulo notes:

  • People who are high in hope have sustainably better mental and physical well-being.
  • They tend to live longer and happier lives.
  • They see and respond to the world differently and use their thoughts to focus on what they can control.
  • They are optimistic about their future and see challenges as opportunities to grow and learn rather than obstacles.
  • They respond to setbacks with optimism, set positive goals, associate with positive people, and focus on present pathways to self-improvement with confidence.

To this point, you might think my purpose is to encourage us to embrace optimism and believe in ourselves as the twin pathways to empowering hope.

The opposite is actually the case.

“The world is as dangerous as it’s been since the 1930s”

Our sustainable source of hope is not to be found in the circumstances of our daily lives, as a perusal of today’s news makes clear.

For example, AT&T now says its widespread cellphone outage last week was the result of a botched update. But when it happened, did you wonder if the outage was a cyberattack? After the FBI director warned of unprecedented Chinese cyberattacks on US infrastructure, with the threat of Russian space nukes that could destroy our satellite communications, there’s reason for concern.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes that “the world is as dangerous as it’s been since the 1930s, with US adversaries on the march.” The International Institute for Strategic Studies similarly reports that we are entering a “more dangerous decade” with a rise in global military spending in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Hamas attack on Israel, and China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the rise of military regimes in the Sahel region of Africa also contribute to what the report calls a “deteriorating security environment.”

Unsurprisingly, an Ipsos global study titled “What Worries the World?” notes that only 41 percent of people in twenty-nine nations feel their country is headed in the right direction.

A yard sign captures our cultural ethos

Nor is our sustainable source of hope to be found in ourselves.

I saw a yard sign last week that stated in all capitals, “YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE.” The sign captures the Western ethos dating back to Socrates’ assertion, “Know yourself,” a statement that has “been framed as quite literally the meaning of life.”

From then to today, we have been taught that the world is all about us:

  • In a capitalistic economy, we are the consumers of a commodified culture.
  • In the ongoing sexual revolution, we are assured that we can define marriage, gender, and sexual morality however we wish.
  • In a secular democracy, our prosperity is the purpose our government and leaders serve.

However, our Father does not love us because we are worthy of his love. The fact is, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Wise King Solomon observed, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

Rather, our Father loves us because “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He loves us because it is his intrinsic nature to love. He loves us, not because of who we are, but in spite of who we are: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

It is this unconditional, passionate love for us that is our sustaining hope in a fallen world. Tim Keller was right:

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Tomorrow we’ll identify practical ways to respond to our Father’s love. For today, let’s simply embrace his grace. Mother Teresa noted, “When you know how much God is in love with you, then you can only live your life radiating that love.”

Do you “know how much God is in love with you” today?

Monday news to know

Quote for the day

“God carries your picture in his wallet.” —Tony Campolo

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