My Grace-Full Life

Thankfulness, Happiness, and Contentment

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-8-52-50-amHayley Mills was of my mother’s generation, but growing up, my mom made sure I had a heaping helping of her…  I was so infatuated with Hayley Mills as a child, I wanted to be her when I grew up.  I loved The Parent Trap…  in fact, I can still quote entire sections out of it.  My childhood best friend and I always played the characters of Susan and Sharon (I was Sharon).  But it wasn’t just The Parent Trap…  I loved That Darn Cat, In Search of the Castaways, Moon-Spinners, Summer Magic, and of course…  Pollyanna.  
I hope you know the story of Pollyanna, but in a nutshell, a missionary orphan went to live with her very rich aunt.  The aunt was a very proper woman, who quietly, but very effectively, controlled the entire town, including the minister, who preached every Sunday about hellfire and damnation.  When Pollyanna arrives, with her never ending exuberance, happiness, and “The Glad Game,” she wears on people’s nerves initially, but they are eventually intrigued enough to listen, and learn.  Pollyanna’s effervescent personality finally breaks through the austere personality of her hardened aunt, and everyone lives happily ever after.
About halfway through the movie, Pollyanna has a conversation with her minister which gives him a significant Ah-Ha Moment:

POLLYANNA: There are eight hundred happy texts, did you know that?
REVEREND: No, I didn’t know that.
POLLYANNA: Yes, well there are. And do you know, my father said that if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must have wanted us to do it.

In reality, Pollyanna was off considerably.  She was right about one thing…  God, in fact, does want us to be happy.  I’m almost half way through reading the Bible and while I’ve read many verses instructing us to be rejoiceful, I know I haven’t read half of 800.  I turned to my two favorite online resources…  (I’m very grateful that I live in an age where, when I want to look something up, I can go to “Bible Gateway” and “Bible Hub.”)
There are, according to Bible Hub, 100 specific instances where the Bible tells us to be happy.  For the inner child who embraced the positive, happy-go-lucky spirit of Pollyanna, I felt a bit sad by this revelation.  However, the mature adult woman in me decided to dig a bit deeper.
There are 92 specific verses about being thankful.
There are 32 specific verses about being content.
So, when you add all that up, that’s over 200 instances in the Bible that instruct us to be happy, thankful, and content.
Of course, we all know that happiness and thankfulness are not necessarily interchangeable.  And then, there’s the word “content.”  What does it mean?  For some, to “be content” is the emotional equivalent of being lukewarm.  Not happy.  Not sad.  Right in the middle of the road.  However, “content,” is defined three ways:

  1. adjective, in a state of peaceful happiness.
  2. verb, satisfy (someone).
  3. noun, a state of satisfaction.

Personally, my favorite definition for “content” is as an adjective — peaceful happiness.  I have found, through my last few months of Bible study, that if I have a thankful heart, happiness and contentment generally follow.
However, I have to make an important distinction.  Being a follower of Christ isn’t a guaranteed easy road.  Too often, people think that by going to church and by being a Christian, they’re going to find the proverbial pot of happiness at the end of the rainbow.  They find themselves disappointed because the happiness they are seeking isn’t the kind of happiness that the Bible speaks of…  we’re not talking about happiness and contentment according to the world’s standard…  where you can measure “happiness” by success, money, fame, talent, or similar…   We’re measuring it against a spiritual standard.
The spiritual standard of happiness isn’t necessarily a turn-a-cart-wheel and jump-for-joy kind of happiness, but the kind of happiness that comes from the knowledge that we are the the sons and daughters of the King…  in other words, the peaceful happiness of being content.
You look at the stories of the Apostle Paul.  He was preaching about happiness from a prison cell!  Certainly not the type of environment that one associates with happiness!  But still, he wrote the books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon — all while imprisoned.  These are books that are filled with encouragement, guidance, and moreover, praise for God Almighty.  Here’s just a sampling of some of the happy, thankful, and contentment references Paul made in those books:

giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  ~Ephesians 5:20
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  ~Colossians 3:17
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!  ~Philippians 4:4
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  ~Philippians 4:6
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  ~Philippians 4:11

Again, I go back to my own experience.  Being thankful for God’s gift of salvation on a daily basis has enriched both my happiness and contentment, even on days that were in a word – terrible.   But I know from the years when I tried to do it my own way — happiness and contentment cannot truly exist in an authentic form when not accompanied by a thankful heart.
If we start with Thankfulness, spiritual Happiness and Contentment follow.  Remember, we’re all going to have hard days.  We aren’t living for THIS life on earth… we’re passing through to get to the eternal reward, offered by the blood of Jesus when He died for our sins!
Going back to Pollyanna, while she had the number wrong, she was right in regards to being happy and though the word thankfulness wasn’t specifically talked about in the movie, she taught us how thankfulness and happiness go hand-in-hand.  After all, if you’re familiar with the movie, you know the scene where Pollyanna tells Mrs. Snow the crutches:

POLLYANNA:  My father wrote to the missionary people…and asked them to please send a little secondhand doll.  Well, it was a funny mistake.  When the missionary barrels came, instead of a doll, they sent a pair of crutches.  Well, of course I was rather disappointed, so my father made up the glad game!
MRS. SNOW:  The what game?
POLLYANNA:  My father said, “Don’t let’s be gloomy.  Let’s try and find something to be glad about.”  So, we made a game of it.  The glad game.  We played the game and after a while, I forgot about the doll and being gloomy.  And you know what? I found a reason for being glad.
MRS. SNOW:  Well, there’s nothing happy about a pair of crutches.
POLLYANNA:  Well, we were glad that we didn’t have to use them.

A thankful heart leads to happiness.  And contentment.  Pollyanna was thankful she didn’t need the crutches, which started the glad game, and learning to be content in her circumstances.
Three verses to ponder as you go about your day…

in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  ~1 Thessalonians 5:18

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.  ~Habakkuk 3:17-19
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into thisworld, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  ~1 Timothy 6:6-8

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