Making Yourself Sick
By Kenneth Westby
Ever since Norman Cousins wrote his book, Anatomy of an Illness, some 35 years ago there has been a general awareness that laughter and a happy spirit are good for your health. Readers Digest’s popular feature, Laughter is Your Best Medicine, has been around as long as I can remember. The features’ title is a take off of the biblical proverb,
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
But how common is a cheerful heart? It’s probably safe to
say most of us don’t laugh enough. I guess there’s just too much heavy stuff out
there. Occasions for genuine laughter are rare. When we’re of a glum, negative,
overly serious spirit, humor doesn’t easily arise in our heart. It may pop up
here or there but evaporates quickly. And watching inane sitcoms won’t fill our
need for mirth—minus real humor the canned laugh-track does the laughing for us.
Most of us would like to be happier than we are. So why aren’t we? What robs us of the positive joy of life? Why are our steps so heavy? Why is the sweetness of laughter so rare? We can find answers.
Changing Your Worldview
The way we look at life determines our experience. It really does. And such a simple insight presents us with a golden opportunity to make big changes in our lives. “The only limits are the ones we create,” so says Barry Neil Kaufman in his helpful little book, Happiness is a Choice.
We are the architect of our own attitude and experience. God may be in charge of “everything,” but we are in charge of the gate to our own mind. We decide what goes in, what stays, and what comes out in word and action. Because this exchange is continuous we don’t give it much thought. In saying we decide what goes into our mind I do not infer that we carefully screen all data before letting it into the gate. Were it so!
Unfortunately, many of us have simply decided to leave the gate wide open to what ever information may be flying around from TV, radio, newspapers, novels, movies, chatter, and etcetera. This natural though haphazard method of handling information leaves us open to being unduly influenced by “the around,” by the loudest voices, trends, fads, spin, propaganda, current jabber, and more ominously, evil itself.
Pop culture, news, and “the around” can give us a distorted picture of reality. This skewed picture then becomes our worldview, our understanding of what the world is all about and how we fit into it. This skewed view is typically negative, the result of bogus or incomplete information dumped upon our unguarded mind. We trust others to give us a true picture of “the way it is,” without considering their prejudices or motivation. We assume too much. Mainstream news sources and street opinion are frequently far off the mark of objective truth; it is bad information in that it’s so incomplete and unbalanced that it distorts reality. Call it “junk information,” or if you like, the evening news.
We may not even be aware that our “reality” is a construct of our worldview. We choose those things of life and the world around us from which to form our worldview. A negative person has picked and chosen a lot of negative things about his life and situation (failed marriage(s), business, health, finances or betrayals or loneliness, etc.) from which to build his attitude. He likely will also do the same with the world around him—focusing on the “bad” things in society, politics and world affairs.
It’s all too easy to find yourself hanging out with the gloom-and-doom crowd. These are probably fine, responsible people who hold good moral values. But they are negative because they are constantly chewing on bad news—the latest drought, conspiracy, kidnapping, or other events signaling “signs of the end.” They see politicians as crooked liars, businessmen as cheats, youth corrupted, human nature rotten, and society in the toilet. They’ve let themselves become cynical, and you’ll join them if you buy into their tortured worldview.
Bad News Bearers
Of course there are elements of truth to their worldview, but it omits too many facts to be an accurate picture of reality. To illustrate, consider the daily non-stop flow of local, national, and world news. This fare shouldn’t be called “news,” it should be called “bad news” – “The Evening Bad News with Dan Rather.” Newscasters replay over and over again a fatal plane crash captured on video tape, or more recently, the explosion of space shuttle Columbia, but rarely depict the tenderness of a mother nurturing her newborn infant. Such nurturing occurs millions of times daily around the world. Isn’t this also part of how the world is?
How many millions of concerned, loving visits are made daily by children to their aged parents? How many millions of parents every day lovingly feed, clothe, and care for their children? Can we count the masses who work hard and honestly at their jobs every day? Can we know the myriad good words spoken in kindness between ordinary people every day? Can we know the countless helping hands and sacrifices that are offered among souls of every race on every continent every day?
There are millions of daily good acts that total in the billions by each month’s end. Virtually none of this will be noted or reported. But we will hear news aplenty of bad weather, bad economy, bad air, bad politicians, and of course the nightly parade of news of the latest robbers, deviant murderers, child molesters, demented dictators, and degenerate Hollywood types. Continually listening to and reading about rottenness and disaster will convince us this is the true picture of what’s out there. But is it? Negative news overwhelms good news and displaces awareness of all the positive thoughts and actions of good and normal people. Is it any wonder that our worldview can become distorted?
Simple acts of love, safe arrivals, and peaceful cooperation between nations are noteworthy events that take place every minute. But these are not “news.” The media has a bias toward sensationalism and an appetite for violence. They selectively pick “the news” and so distort an accurate view of the true state of affairs. They cater to blood, controversy, sex and sensationalism. There is no balance. We must not let our minds feed on such pessimistic gruel. A steady diet of such mental junk food produces a negative worldview and spreads a gloomy pall over our state of mind. We can make ourselves emotionally and spiritually sick.
Our good God would prefer we think on good things. I don’t suggest a Pollyanna escape from “reality,” rather a truthful, balanced acknowledgment of the “real world.” That real world includes, most importantly, God. Unfortunately, because of poor religious training, some of us may have absorbed a skewed view of God. We may see God as a dour, bad-news deity preoccupied with mankind’s sin and evil. Yet God’s justifiable disgust with sin is only a small part of the composite picture of the heart of God. What is God’s worldview?
I can’t speak with authority for God, but I can get a good idea what his outlook might be from his many statements and actions. Even in matters dealing with repentance for human sins, we see the good hand of God reaching toward us in merciful judgment. Paul wrote,
“Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”
God’s word begins with his constant refrain following each day’s creative acts, “and God saw that it was good.” Then after he made man he declared, “It was very good.” He likes all his creation—but especially man and woman. God made us a beautiful earth to enjoy and put it a-spinning in a brilliant universe of glory, mystery and power. He has artfully and marvelously made us, body and soul. Most importantly, he’s given us his greatest gift: to be made in his image—sons and daughters of his majesty, Yahweh!
The poet Keats asks,
Wherein lies happiness?
In that which becks
Our ready minds to fellowship divine,
A fellowship with essence.
Has not our good God given us a mind and senses to enjoy everything good? Has not he placed adventure and curiosity in our hearts? Truly, he has given us the joy of human love to savor with our mates, children, family, friends, and even pets. He has given us great hope beyond the flesh; a soaring hope of resurrected life, and an even more beautiful world to eternally enjoy—the Kingdom of God. The good gifts God has already given us are beyond measuring, and those yet future are beyond our most fantastic imagination.
There is however an unsightly scar upon this pleasant picture…sin. Its inventor, Satan, has used sin to deprive man of God’s good gifts and to darken our understanding of the Holy One. But Satan has had only mixed success in his evil venture. The unstoppable Kingdom advances; the Church of God continues to grow and the defeated kingdom of evil is waging its last wars. The evil one’s days are numbered and so is the sin he introduced. This is good news—the ultimate victory of good over evil is nigh upon us.
Unfortunately, man has suffered loss of the good life God intended by the degree to which he, of his own volition, sins. Man has sin but he still lives on God’s good green earth. From Eden God has given mankind free choice. We can choose The Way that leads to happiness and everlasting life. We can choose to enjoy the goodness and adventure of human life. We can choose to obey or disobey. We can choose to be negative thinkers or positive thinkers. God has made us free to be miserable or happy.
Sin and its evil product cannot be ignored. Sin must be acknowledged and dealt with on a personal level. But we must also acknowledge that sin’s very existence is an aberration in the plan of God. Sin is doomed to obsolescence; its days are numbered and its evil author slated for extinction. Given this reality, we should not be obsessing on sin or its effects upon mankind. Acknowledge its presence for sure, cut the cancerous tumor out, and then get busy living a happy, positive, victorious life that will make our Father in heaven proud.
Inspire or Scare Yourself—Which?
Why not inspire ourselves rather than scare ourselves? Let God take care of the devil and his evil. For if we let evil snatch away our optimistic spirit and leave in its place a pessimistic one, who is ruling our life? C. S. Lewis observed there are twin dangers people fall prey to concerning the Devil; either one thinks too much about evil and is diverted from goodness and Godliness, or one doesn’t believe the devil exists in which case one becomes defenseless to the enemy. The Bible counsels us to draw near to God—filling our minds with His joy—and resist the Evil One, putting him to flight.
Jesus warns against the human propensity for “stinking thinking.” This is the worldview of worry, worry, and worry. Worry about this and that, and if all is going well, worry that evil is just around the corner. This sky-is-falling attitude is addictive and many unhappy people seem to “thrive” on it, if that’s possible. Jesus says all such negative thinking is a waste of time and destructive toward the great positive activity of seeking his kingdom and his righteousness. After all, each day may bring its own dose of trouble without adding to it our troublesome worries, real or imagined.
Worrying is how we scare ourselves. It is how we make ourselves sick and unhappy. Particularly silly is to worry about perceived “evils” in the world over which we have absolutely no control. It is part of the constellation of negativity that steals away our happiness. Being a worrywart is something we choose to be. It is also symptomatic of faithlessness.
Good Thoughts = Good Life
Intrinsic to happiness itself is the element of peace. It is hard to be happy with peace absent. In fact, the most peaceful picture God gives us is that of his coming kingdom. It is the exulting time of universal peace, a world filled with good news and the knowledge of God, the lion and lamb resting together, a time of unparalleled prosperity and happiness.
The weekly Sabbath foreshadows that world of peace, joyful rest, and good news. It is this picture that should shape our worldview. It is the ultimate reality because it is given us by God himself. This worldview will cure what ails us and bring us newness of life. Foolish as it is to say, we may excuse those without the Christian hope for making themselves miserable with bad news. But we who know better should live better, and be happier because of it.
Why make yourself unhappy with a diet of negative thinking and a dwelling on evil? Paul advices Christians, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
He further exhorts that the best way to guard your mind is to think upon, “whatever is true, …honorable, …right, …pure, …lovely, …of good repute, …any excellence, …anything worthy of praise—dwell on these things.”
Our Lord and Savior invites us, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,”
Making God’s worldview your worldview can heal mental and spiritual negativity and produce personal happiness—it is also the way things really are!
 Norman Cousins chronicles his novel self-treatment of a life-threatening illness employing a change of attitude and large doses of humor. Since his work medical science has confirmed his thesis that happiness is like a medicine.
 Proverbs 17:22
 Ballantine Books, 1991, p. 35
 Romans 2:4
 John Keats, Endymion, 1.777
 James 4:7-8
 Mt 6:25-34
 Phil 4:7
 Phil 4:8
 Mt 11:28-30