Feelings don’t readily submit to marching orders. A familiar hymn says, “Sing and be happy.” I’ve always liked that song — its pep and positive message. Everyone doesn’t see it in the same way, though. We certainly can choose to sing, but deciding to be happy is a real challenge, especially for people struggling with depression. If emotion did readily submit to our will, then we’d all be happy all the time.
Now here’s the good news: Feelings follow thoughts, and thinking patterns do submit to human will. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. … Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:4, 8). Why dwell on pure, good, beautiful things? Because you won’t know joy if you don’t. Feelings follow thoughts.
Let me suggest a habit that may change your life permanently. Make a list of wholesome thinking goals, and read it first thing every morning. Here are some examples:
Today I will look for opportunities to tell others about Jesus.
Today I won’t be critical of others.
Today I will live in the moment instead of borrowing tomorrow’s troubles.
Today I won’t fret about what politicians are doing.
Today I will trust God and be thankful for my blessings.
Today I will think about what I have instead of what I don’t.
Today I won’t complain about inconveniences (the weather, poor customer service, long waits in traffic).
Make your own list. Read it every morning. And then be surprised by the results. You can’t change your feelings, but you can change your thoughts. You can decide what to dwell on. And when you dwell on wholesome things, better feelings naturally follow.