Truth vs Perspective
Several months ago, one of my sons suggested that I walk or run on a treadmill and lift weights before my swim. He explained that this would help me tone up my muscles.
I have not begun weightlifting, but I do walk on the treadmill before my swims. I notice that if I do not warm-up, the water feels unpleasantly chilly; but with my warm-up, the same water feels refreshingly cool to me. It is a matter of perspective, not truth.
Jesus tells a parable of a landowner who went out to hire workers for his vineyard. The first group was hired at six in the morning and promised one denarius a day for 12 hours of work. The next groups were hired at nine, noon, three and five in the afternoon. The owner promised these later groups that he would pay them "whatever is right". The interesting part of this parable begins when it comes to time to pay because the group hired at five was paid first. Each person in the group received a denarius.
Finally when the first group of workers were paid, they were surprised to find out that they also were paid one denarius. Naturally, they complained. Why should they be paid the same as those who worked less?
The owner's explanation was that he promised them one denarius, and they were each paid one denarius. He was totally fair to them. As to how the others were paid, it was entirely up to him.
The parable does not record whether the first group was satisfied with the owner's answer or not. I know that if they were not happy with the answer, they could have harbored this bitterness for a very long time.
What is intriguing to me about this parable is its relevancy and application to people who are unhappy about their lives. Unhappy people have their reasons for their unhappiness. They do have "legitimate" gripes. They are often disappointed with certain events and experiences in their lives or in the lives of others.
Unless the unhappy workers learn to look at their "unfair" experience from another perspective, they will not be able to get over their bitterness. They can ask themselves, "Was I happy when I was first hired at six in the morning while others were still waiting and not knowing whether they would be hired or not?" Of course, they were happy when they were first hired.
Besides, if they had not known how much the workers in other groups were paid, would they be satisfied when they were each paid one denarius? Once more, the answer is yes. These workers were only unhappy when they found out how much others were paid. And they chose to dwell on their version of truth.
In 1996, I learned of a study done on the Olympic medalists. The study sought to discover how the medalists reacted to their gold, silver and bronze. The gold medalists were, of course, happy with their gold, but surprisingly, the researchers found that silver medalists were not as happy as bronze medalists. Why? Well, the silver medalists focused on what they missed. They just missed winning the gold medal. On the other hand, the bronze medalists focused on what they gained. They almost did not win anything.
It is not what you get or do not get; it is how you look at it.
If we recognize that we are nothing and that life is God's gift to us, then we will be thankful for our every conscious moment. But if we assume that we are entitled to good health, satisfying jobs, equal opportunities, loving parents, charming children, supportive spouses and peace on earth, anything short of all that is reason enough for complaints. If we have that viewpoint, we can expect many gloomy days.
Some say that happiness is a choice, and I wholeheartedly agree.
The water in the pool I swim in is kept at 82 degrees. If I want a cool and refreshing experience instead of a chilly and unpleasant one, I can always spend 15 minutes on the treadmill to warm up my body before I enter the pool.
The water temperature is not going to change for me, but I can change my perspective.