Last winter I did something last winter that I would have never expected myself to do: I bought a light to make me happy. I thought the days of having my mood affected by the presence of a light bulb went away when I retired my last Spider-man night light more than 30 years ago, but that was before I came to Alaska and discovered that Vitamin D deficiency was a very real thing.
Sometime around Christmas, a normally festive time of the year, I found myself to be unreasonably irritable and unmotivated. I love the holidays, love my job, and have a great family, so I was having a hard time discerning the driving forces behind my uncharacteristic mood swings.
It was my wife who suggested that maybe it was just the lack of sunlight. I balked at the idea. Seasonal affective disorders happened to other people, I was far too emotionally mature for that.
When I saw a “happy light” at a thrift store, however, I figured the experiment was worth the $20. As I started using the light in my office, I was amazed at the difference it made in both my mood and my energy level. I discovered (as I usually do) that my wife was right. Just the feeling that I was looking at sunlight, artificial or not, had a tremendous effect on my outlook on everything else.
Psychologists have noticed a similar trend in the way we view life, known as “the focusing illusion.” In his book “Primal,” Mark Batterson shared the study of a group of college students who were asked two questions, in this order: “How happy are you?”, and “How often did you go on dates?” There was no observable correlation between the frequency of dating and the degree of happiness reported. However, when they asked the questions in the reverse order, making the students first focus on how often they were going on dates, there was a higher correlation between the answer to the two questions. The order of the questions changed the answers.
What you focus on can determine your reality.
Everything we experience, whether good or bad, is altered through the lens of our outlook, and our outlook is determined by our focus. This is why Philippians 4:8 gives us this encouragement: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Not everything we experience is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, or admirable. When we choose to focus on those things that are, however, we can discover peace even in the midst of pain and difficulty, a peace that “transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7)”.
It’s even better than a light bulb.
Pastor Grant Parkki is the Christian Education Associate Pastor at Kenai New Life. Kenai New Life is located at 209 Princess Street in Kenai, with Sunday services at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., with programs for children, youth, and adults at 6:30 on Wednesday evenings. You can find out more about the church and its ministries at kenainewlife.org.