“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all… [W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” —Philippians 4:4-5, 8 (NIV)
Picture this common scenario. You have been at odds with your spouse or roommate for a few months. Sometimes things are okay, but tension, irritation and frustration are still much more common than you’d like. Today you’ve been out working long hours, running errands, or even getting some downtime with friends, and you come home to find the house far more messy than when you left.
Maybe your spouse has been playing, cooking, and/or doing homework with the kids, and hasn’t picked up. Maybe your roommate didn’t clean up after the get-together with some friends, while you were out.
Instantly, one or more of these thoughts rocket through your brain:
Why didn’t they pick up? Now I have to pick up!
They cooked and left the dishes for me… they just assume that I’ll do everything for them. Grrr…
I needed an oasis of peace today. They just don’t appreciate how hard I work.
Without really intending it, you say something clipped, exasperated, angry or upset – or your body language shows it. The other person gets defensive. And the cycle starts again.
I think many of us can relate to that sort of scenario. All too often we have frustration in our hearts and irritation in our response toward others. Yet we want joy in our hearts and kindness toward others, instead! It turns out that when we get upset, the key to unlocking that joy and kindness is what we think in the very next moment.
I’ve done a lot of research on this for both The Kindness Challenge and The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages (on the habits that make us happy or unhappy in relationships, for example). And here’s the bottom line: the moment you start to feel disappointed, it is crucial to make sure you turn your thoughts to the very real positives, not just the very real negatives.
For example, instead of just looking at what the other person isn’t doing – look at what they are doing. Yes, maybe your husband didn’t clean the house, but he was spending priceless time pouring into the kids while you were out. Maybe your wife doesn’t notice the clutter, but she’s the supportive, affirming best friend that you need after the trials of the day. Maybe your roommate isn’t detail oriented, but he or she always welcomes you into whatever social activities are going on. Maybe your boss is grumpy but he always fights for the department to get its budget, which allows you to keep your job.
In the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in the ancient city of Philippi, he commanded his listeners to “Rejoice!” Despite the persecution they faced. Despite the arguments among difficult church folk. Despite the poverty, sickness and trials. As he wrote those words, he himself was in prison. Chained to a wall. About to lose his life.
So, okay, Paul… how do you rejoice in a prison? Or a difficult marriage? Or when you come home after needing an oasis of peace, and the house looks like it’s been wrecked by a mini-tornado instead?
Here’s the prescription God gives us: think about and focus on whatever is lovely and praiseworthy instead. Every human being has both light and dark moments. Yet as you start focusing on the beautiful things, and refusing to obsess over the difficult ones, you’ll suddenly find you are noticing the beautiful things more. It isn’t new – it was there all along! And similarly, the challenging stuff is still there, but it just doesn’t draw your attention as much.
You’re simply much more able to rejoice. And to let your kindness be evident to all.
Try it. And the response you see – in your own heart and in others – will be the best possible incentive to continue.
Want to know how to be kind, when you’re really not feeling it? My research uncovered three daily actions that will transform your relationships – and you. Check out The Kindness Challenge, now available!
Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.