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Beating the If/Then Trap

Beating the If/Then Trap

You can learn a lot about a person’s personal pursuit of happiness by what they post on their refrigerator.

Take, for example, a woman who visited my church many years ago. She and her husband were new to Austin and had just had their first child. I signed up to bring a meal to their home, and when I arrived to drop it off, the mom was nursing the baby. I offered to put the meal away in the refrigerator, and she gladly accepted the extra help. When I went to open her refrigerator, I couldn’t help but notice that she had tacked a couple of interesting pictures to the door (a pre-Pinterest pinboard!).

One picture featured a very slim model in a swimsuit, perfectly toned without a hint of cellulite (or body fat, for that matter)—a picture obviously pulled from a fashion magazine. The model’s body shape matches about .001 percent of the female population, thanks to a steady diet of lettuce leaves and rice cakes. The other picture tacked to her refrigerator door featured an advertisement promoting a new subdivision being built in Austin. Curious, I yelled into the living room, “Hey, what’s up with the pictures on your refrigerator? Are you guys about to move?” She replied, “I wish! I put those on my fridge as motivation—you know, to remind me of my goals and where I’m headed in life. I won’t be happy until I drop this extra weight and move out of this rental neighborhood.” She held a brand-new baby in her arms and sat in a nice living room with a roof overhead, but she could only think about a better body and bigger house.

Unfortunately, she was caught up in the if-then trap. Her happiness was held hostage by an uncertain outcome or set of conditions.

“If ________ , then I will be happy.”

When it comes to the pursuit of happiness, what is on your if-then list?

Try these on for size:

If I could find a good guy and settle down, then I know I’d be happier.

If I could lose this extra weight, then I know I’d be happier.

If my husband would start going to church with me, then I know I’d be happier.

If I had a marriage like _______, then I know I’d be happier.

If my marriage hadn’t ended in divorce, then I know I’d be happier.

If I lived in a better neighborhood, then I know I’d be happier.

If I didn’t have to work and could stay home with my kids, then I know I’d be happier.

If I had a bigger home, then I know I’d be happier.

If I didn’t have to care for my aging parents, I know I’d be happier.

If I could get out of this house and go to back to work, then I know I’d be happier.

If I didn’t work so many long hours, then I know I’d be happier.

If I could pay off my debts, then I know I’d be happier.

If my kids were as well-behaved as ________, then I know I’d be happier.

If I hadn’t had such a rough childhood, then I know I’d be happier.

Hear me out. Striving to improve your circumstances does not constitute misplaced priorities or misdirected energies. The problem comes when we postpone our happiness for someday and in doing so miss the blessing that is today. Psalm 118:24 reminds us,

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Search the Bible over for references to happiness or happy, and you’ll discover roughly about thirty (depending on the translation). On the other hand, the words joy and rejoice appear over three hundred times. Our culture may be focused on the pursuit of happiness, but God cares far more about our pursuit of joy.

Interestingly, the Greek word for “rejoice” is gûwl, and it means “to spin round; be glad, be joyful.” When was the last time you remember spinning round in a fit of joy? When I read that definition, the first image that came to my mind was an old home movie filmed when I was a little girl. I was about four years old, and it was Christmas morning. I was spinning around and around with a candy cane in my mouth with my arms opened wide. In the backdrop was my newly acquired Christmas morning loot — a wooden refrigerator with a matching oven and sink — sitting next to the Christmas tree. Santa had gotten my letter, and I was a happy girl.

Why is the spin-round type of rejoicing typically reserved for children? Or Christmas morning? Why do we only see joy expressed on a cheesy episode of The Bachelor, when the bachelorette contestant runs into the bachelor’s waiting arms and he lifts her up and spins her around, happy to see her after a brief separation? Of course, this type of rejoicing is a cheap knock-off to true joy. It is more like a temporary burst of euphoria. The spin-round type of joy spoken of in Psalm 118 occurs daily, stemming from an unwavering sense of gratitude. It is constant and embedded deep within the foundation of our faith.

If we want to experience more than what a temporary state of happiness can provide, we must make joy our aim rather than happiness.

True joy is not the result of an outcome, but rather is an attitude developed over time. It requires a shift in our thinking and a concentrated effort to replace our grumbling with gratitude. Joy must be fought for in any and every circumstance. When we find ourselves falling into the if/then trap, we must catch ourselves and instead, focus our thinking on something we are grateful for. Over and over again, we must continue to do this until it becomes a second nature. If we are to rid our lives of a bad habit, we must replace it with a new and better habit.

Every day is a gift from God. We are alive. We are breathing. When we wake up in the morning, approximately 960 waking minutes are available to us to enjoy and savor. Or not. Even if the day doesn’t go so well, chances are, we’ll be granted another 960 minutes to give it another go tomorrow. When we attach our happiness to a list of if-then conditions, we will miss the joy found in the 960 moments God has already given us today. Once gone, we can never get them back.

What if each and every morning we decided to get out of bed and boldly declare, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it”? Bonus points if you can spin around while proclaiming it. Extra bonus points if you can say it with conviction before your first cup of coffee!

Adapted by Vicki Courtney from Rest Assured: A Recovery Plan For Weary Souls, copyright Thomas Nelson.

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Your Turn

In today’s social-media-soaked world, it’s easy to look around and feel like your life doesn’t hold a candle to all those shiny, happy people on vacation, enjoying coffee with charming friends, buying a beautiful new home, or having a cozy and beautiful supper by the Christmas tree with lifelong friends. It’s hard to remember that Fakebook is just that — We’re comparing the polished version of people’s lives with our messy, unphotoshopped truth. Are you rejoicing today? Even if your daily life, job, neighborhood, Christmas presents, and thighs look nothing like your Pinterest board wishes? Today, let’s take Vicky’s challenge and wholeheartedly do a kitchen, office elevator, or grocery store parking lot spin declaring “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it!” Come join the conversation on our blog if you’re joining the challenge with us! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full