Why are some people always negative, while others are grateful?
Readership: All; Christians;
Author’s Note: This post is based on a previous discussion between Scott, Elspeth, Liz, and Rock Kitaro. Links to the original comments are contained in the initial word. Quotations have been mildly edited for readability.
Length: 1,800 words;
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Being Thankful is Contagious!
Think about what it’s like to come home to an angry/depressed/resentful/nagging person all the time. A few folks might know what that is like. Does this have an impact on one’s outlook over time? I think it usually does. It’s the same (in the opposite sense) being around a person who is content/happy/grateful/helpful.
Case Study 1 – A thoroughly discontented woman
Rock Kitaro conveyed this story of a depressing nag.
Honestly, I can’t begin to tell you how oppressive it’s been lately when it comes to [the subject of class differences in marriage and divorce rates]. Mainly because there’s this female Atheist on my Boss’s podcast who’s my age (34). if you hear her speak, it’s always so negative.
She’s constantly bringing up the divorce rate and then, literally said, “I believe a majority of people are miserable in their marriages.” My boss and I immediately disagreed and surmised that her perspective was the result of the people she associated with. Meaning, if all you do is hang out with miserable people, or had the misfortune to see nothing but miserable people in these kind of marriages, of course you’re going to think that.
Not to mention, I really think people use the divorce rate and their parent’s mistakes as an excuse to indulge in non-traditional lifestyles. So pretty much, whether they end up in a horrible relationship in marriage or remain outside of a relationship, it’s always someone else’s fault. As if we don’t have the ability to not repeat our parent’s mistakes.
And like this essay says, as a Christian, I can’t expect people like her to understand my hope or my reason, faith, and discipline for refraining from indulging in the hook-up culture and live-in relationships the way she and even so many of my relatives have. They’re looking at me like I’m stupid and foolish and missing out… telling me I should change my ways… and then get mad when I stop talking to them or asking them about how things are going.
From Rock’s story, we see that those who are discontented dwell in the vanity of their minds and choose to see the world as a dark place. Because of this obsession with the negative effects of sin around them, they are prone to dip into that darkness themselves, and then justify their reasons for doing so. This actually increases the likelihood that they will create circumstances which will be disappointing and hurtful, thereby perpetuating their discontent.
Case Study 2 – A truly thankful woman
I woke up this morning thinking, “I don’t know if it gets any better than this. I am thankful.”
I suppose more riches might make it so. But I can live with the deplorableness of patriarchy.
Like Liz, I haven’t always been this content. My expectations of life used to be far less measured. To be honest, it was as if a blanket of contentment draped itself over me when I married my husband. I was suddenly okay with “whatever comes after this”. It wasn’t a conscious thought, but it was a pretty abrupt change. This sounds like stupid girly pablum, but right up until I realized I had a gaping spiritual hole in my life, my perception was that he completed me. I was good. Until I wasn’t, but rather than turn on my husband, I turned to God. Our marriage got better, not worse because I never lost the understanding that pleasing SAM was a big part of what being a wife is all about.
Long story short, there are parts of us which can change, and there are things that are part of our essence, which remain the same but can be subdued if necessary so that we behave as we should.
It is obvious that marriage was what Elspeth needed to find contentment. We might debate about why marriage gave her contentment. Was it because she landed an alpha who satisfied her hypergamous needs? Or was it because there was something intrinsic to marriage itself that made her feel that her life was fulfilled? Or maybe it was a spiritual blessing that resulted from her being obedient to God’s ordained order (i.e. getting married and having children)?
What causes people to be either thankful or discontented?
Scott, our in-house psychologist, said this is most likely due to an innate personality trait/flavor that makes you happy (or unhappy) in just about any situation you find yourself.
In the absence of a profound religious or traumatic index experience people do not make global/personality level changes. (Christians might call this “heart level”.)
And even when they do, it presents itself as merely a modification of a previously maladaptive trait. Because the organism really wants to hold on to it.
It’s like a pool ball traveling across the table really fast that lightly grazes another one— it continues in the same general direction just slightly off its original trajectory.
When the water seeps into a chunk of granite and freezes and splits the rock, it is neither the waters fault nor the rocks fault. They are doing what they do.
Secular therapies are also a parlor trick of outward behavior change agent and the person usually falls back into their real self 6-18 months later.
Scott also says this of his own experience.
I am this way. My maternal grandmother was too. Every good thing that happens to me is perceived as way over what I expected and therefore I experience gratitude for things that most people take for granted.
I can’t give myself credit for this. I did not develop it or cultivate it in any way. I have always been like that.
Elspeth pondered this question of natural temperament (Scott’s perspective) versus how people can and do change and how people influence each other (Liz’s perspective).
I think in our marriage, we represent a little of both of those positions very strongly.
I’ve often characterized my husband as always having been a “good man”. Here is what I meant by that, and it has been a steady trait throughout our marriage.
He’s always been honest; brutally so (although he’s tempered that with grace over the years). I always knew the score even when it hurt. He’s always had a heart for defending those weaker than him. He’s always been generous with those who need his help and resources (although he isn’t foolish about that) and again, brutal honesty. All of those things have remained the same and been amplified by faith.
However, he also had a hair trigger temper and was known to get into a fight without much reluctance. He was an angry man. What’s that line from the Hulk: “That’s my secret. I’m always angry.” He isn’t anymore. His patience with people makes mine look paltry by comparison. He has his moments, but they are few, far between, and he reins it in pretty quickly. So he kept the best parts of himself and shed the worst parts.
According to Elspeth, contentment is achievable in spite of character traits and flaws. Elspeth says one’s faith, generosity, patience, and honesty make the difference. She doesn’t mention this, but I can see the effects of maintaining a humble and optimistic attitude as well.
Thankfulness comes of Self-Awareness, not Socioeconomic Advantages
Many people have the notion that they can’t be “happy” because they don’t have this or that thing in their lives. They think that if they had a better job, or more income, or a better husband/wife, then they would be “happy”. This is patently false. These are things to be thankful for, that is true, but not having these things doesn’t mean that you can’t be thankful for what you DO have. The trick here is to start with the small things to build an internal locus of control. Once that locus of control has been achieved, then you are better able to achieve bigger things in life.
Elspeth said the reason why the upper socioeconomic classes are more likely to find marital success and happiness basically comes down to self-awareness (something most people lack entirely in one respect or another), and our ability to prioritize properly. What parts of my personality, desires, and dreams am I willing to sacrifice for the whole of my marriage and family?
We spend a lot of time and treasure on our kids. I was online today shelling out money for summer stuff and taking advantage of early registration discounts on all kinds of books for their fall classes (which also cost a lot) and whatnot. But we decided that our lives are not going to revolve around them. We concluded that our relationship, opportunities to spend time together, our intimacy, and our ability to communicate our love for each other and for God is far more valuable to them than external material trappings and impressing people who don’t give a darn about them.
Besides, what would happen to our marriage 8 years from now when parenting is done and we turn to each other having not done the work to stay connected?
Time will tell, I suppose, if we set the right priorities.
It is not having things that makes one thankful, but the self-awareness and the life management. As Adam wrote, Discipline begets discipline. Cultivating contentment is also a discipline. We should foster contentment, no matter how small to begin with, and make it grow.
At some point, you may find that there are specific needs you have that are not being met, and that this stalls your pursuit of contentment. Again, self-awareness and discipline are crucial. Identify those needs, do what you can to attain them, and ask others and God to provide for you what you cannot do for yourself. This is humility.
Contentment is a state that is naturally difficult for women to achieve (see the curse). Men have their own curse and subsequent commandment difficulties. But it is not impossible. It is a trait that must be nurtured over time.
According to Scott, people have a natural proclivity to be either grateful or discontent, and people spend a lifetime developing either trajectory.
Rock’s story of the female atheist (case study 1) illustrated how discontented people are constantly focused on the negatives, and they react to this impression of doom by indulging in lifestyles that are contrary to God’s created order. They justify themselves with the negatives and other excuses.
As Rock said, being exposed to a person who is negative and discontented will cause you to be anxious and vexed.
Elspeth’s example showed us that being obedient to God’s created order, and maintaining a spirit of humility, generosity, and patience can help nurture a spirit of gratefulness.
Being around a person who is positive and contented will make it easier for you to be the same way.
If you find a woman who is truly low maintenance and is happy no matter what, then you keep that one. This is gold. No matter how hot/pretty/good in bed/high income/high education, if she does not have this trait, you will be miserable the minute she gives into her cursed nature.