A Gratitude Boost
The most recent World Happiness Report ranked The Netherlands in sixth place of happiest countries in the world, trailing Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, and Finland. Being Dutch myself, I chuckled at these statistics because the Dutch are notorious complainers.
Tourists often mention how friendly we are. Yes, ask the Dutch for directions and nine out of ten times they will quickly revert to English when they realize you’re a foreigner. But “in house” the Dutch like to grumble. At the top of the list is complaining about the weather (it does rain close to 200 days a year!). A train or bus delay is the runner up (The Netherlands has a highly sophisticated public transportation system that prides itself in running on time). Other gripe favorites are customer service and, of course, the government.
So how can such a happy country be simultaneously so unhappy? It’s because the Dutch have high expectations. There is economic prosperity and political stability. The country is well organized. For many Dutch people there is simply no excuse when a company or the government does not deliver. Shortcomings are not easily accepted.
The professionals say that the nation suffers from negativity bias. That which is too late or unsatisfactory in performance takes center stage. It overwhelms the good which is neglected or ignored. Instead of gratitude for the positive, we fall prey to annoyance and discontentment over the bad. But the truth is that in many ways The Netherlands is a great place to live.
Of course you don’t have to be Dutch to wrestle with negativity bias. Ingratitude transcends cultures. It's part of human nature. And even Christians are better at grumbling than they like to admit. How often don’t we violate God’s call to do everything without complaining (Phil. 2:14)?
The Bible is packed with invitations to be thankful and filled with examples of people who were (Ps. 118:28,29; Col. 2:6-7; Eph. 5:20) because thankfulness is unnatural to us. Contrary to the rest of God's creation (Lk. 19:40; Rev. 5:11-13) our default setting is not to thank God or to praise Him. Complaint is our speed dial.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Salvation has provided a radical reorientation of our hearts. When we purposefully remind ourselves that in Jesus, God has given us His greatest gift, thankfulness will be the spillover. In Him we have received everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23).
Discontentment is the seedbed for all kinds of evil. Give in to the temptation to complain and watch out, for jealousy, greed and lust will be right around the corner. Thankfulness on the other hand functions like a guardrail. It focuses our attention on the blessings of the present and keeps us from falling off the cliff named “if only”. Thankfulness softens our heart (Col. 4:2). It is a way in which we can see past our annoyances and beyond our struggles.
Let the negativity bias go. We can be happy and content, even in the hardest of circumstances.