Happiness or Despair?
The choice is ours.
By Jung Park
Jisun Lee was a senior student at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul when her life was turned upside down. In 2002 a drunk driver crashed into her car, causing a multiple-vehicle collision. Jisun’s brother pulled his badly burned sister out of the burning car and rushed her to the hospital. On the way he said farewell to her. “You were a wonderful sister,” he told her. “I will never forget you. Sleep well.”
Jisun, however, survived—but 55 percent of her body was burned. Once a beautiful woman, Jisun now was severely disfigured.
Burn victims whose faces are disfigured often become so depressed that they attempt suicide. Jisun, however, chose to develop a different attitude. Although severely traumatized both physically and psychologically, Jisun learned to express deep gratitude to God for rescuing her from death. In time she even thanked Him for the blessings she had found in suffering.
Jisun wanted to share her experience with others, so she developed a personal Web site, which thousands of people have visited. What a vibrant testimony of hope and faith in God, even in the midst of adversity!
A Matter of Choice
No one escapes the afflictions of life, including Christians. Adversity sometimes makes us feel angry; other times it leads to thoughts of hopelessness. People who choose to perceive their adversity differently, however, are able to use the experience as a stepping-stone to happiness and achievement.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” William James (1842–1910), a famous psychologist of Harvard University, claimed that “the greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes.”1 The Bible says: “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
Unfortunately, too many people choose to be unhappy, because they test all things and hold fast only to what is bad. They cannot see the many blessings that surround them each moment—especially when they are in the midst of adversity.
In an effort to discover what makes happiness possible, Harold Greenwald (1910–1999), a psychotherapist, interviewed people of all societal classes and then published a book entitledThe Happy Person. He wrote: “The most surprising [discovery] was how many of the joyous, satisfied people I interviewed . . . had undergone traumas, frustrations, and defeats remarkably similar to my misery-laden patients. . . . The happy people I interviewed had all chosen not to be victims. . . . They had chosen to be happy. . . . Most often the decision was made on the heels of a severe emotional or physical crisis in their lives, a near-fatal accident, or a disastrous divorce. . . . These are clearly the circumstances many sad people use to explain their unhappiness. So why weren’t these people sad? … They … [reexamined] their way of looking [at life]. . . . They then decided … they were responsible for their own happiness.”2
Psychiatrists Frank Minirth and Paul Meier came to the same conclusion, and wrote the bookHappiness Is a Choice. Minirth and Meier established numerous mental health clinics for depression patients in several locations throughout the United States.
During the past half-century researchers have found that the successful treatment of disease must be wholistic. Mind and body are not separate entities. God, who made us, says: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). How then can we practice God’s words?
Ellen G. White, one of my favorite authors, writes: “If we look on the bright side of things, we shall find enough to make us cheerful and happy. If we give smiles, they will be returned to us.”3 “We should be weeding out of our thoughts all complaining and faultfinding. Let us not continue to look upon any defects that we may see.”4
Give Thanks in Everything
We usually don’t feel a sense of rejoicing or thankfulness under every circumstance. But by God’s grace and as far as possible, we should determine to foster a positive attitude even when things go wrong. We have a wonderful legacy in the promise: “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
It is good for us to look on the positive side of circumstances. It is beneficial to ask even in adversity, “What can I learn from this?” “How can I grow?” and “What kind of achievement can I attain as a result of this situation?” If we lose all our hope and courage whenever we encounter a great difficulty, perhaps it’s because we don’t regularly practice looking on the positive side.
A Personal Look
I know about adversity. I have lived with it every day. From my teenage years into my late 20s I experienced physical pain continuously. I suffered from severe arthritis, a disease called ankylosing spondylitis. At times I felt that my suffering was many times greater than the suffering others experience in their lifetime. I saw no hope for my future, and I believed that I literally was reaching the end of my life.
As time passed, however, I began to realize that my worst adversity had become the greatest blessing of my life. I grew aware that the lessons I was learning as a result of my sufferings were the real treasures that I could not obtain any other way. I learned that during the most desperate moments of my life God was the closest to me. Glory goes to Him. Focusing on the positive, which I learned from the Word, was one of the main reasons for my recovery from the devastating arthritic disease.
Life is a mixture of disasters and blessings, and we should not draw hasty conclusions from difficult situations that present themselves to us. It is better to seek what’s “good” in the “bad,” because good can come from bad.
The greatest disaster in one’s life can be turned into the greatest blessing. I can personally attest to this. So when we hold fast to what is good in our daily lives, we will learn to be content in whatever the circumstance. The choice is ours.
2 Pp. 15-17.
3 Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, pp. 573.
4 Ibid., p. 789.
Jung Park was a doctoral student in health education at Loma Linda University when he wrote this article.