Our habits make us. Like wheels running on the road,
they wear the tracks or ruts in which our life moves. Our character is the
result of our habits. We do the same thing over and over a thousand times,
and by and by it becomes part of ourselves.
"Sow a thought and reap an act;
Sow an act and reap a habit;
Sow a habit and reap a character."
For example, one is impatient today in some matter.
Tomorrow there is another trial and the impatience is repeated. Thus, on and
on, from day to day, with the same result. It begins to be easier to give
way to the temptation, than to resist it. Again and again the stress is felt
and yielded to, and at length we begin to say of the person, that he has
grown very impatient. That is, he has given way so often to his
feelings, that impatience has become a habit. If he had resisted the first
temptation, restraining himself and keeping himself quiet and sweet in the
trial; and then the second, the third, the fourth, the tenth time, had done
the same, and had continued to be patient thereafter, whatever the pressure
of suffering or irritation, we would have said that he was a patient
man. That is, he would have had formed in him at last, the fixed habit of
patience. As we say again, it would have become "second nature" with him to
hold his imperious feelings in check; however he might have been tried.
Patience would then have become part of his character.
In like manner, all the qualities which make up the
disposition are the result of habit. The habit of truthfulness, never
deviating in the smallest way from what is absolutely true, yields at length
truth in the character. The habit of honesty, insisted upon in
all dealings and transactions, fashions the feature of honesty in the life
and fixes it there with rocklike firmness.
It is proper, therefore, and no misuse of words, to speak
of the habit of happiness. No doubt there is a difference in
the original dispositions of people, in the quality of cheerfulness or gloom
which naturally belongs to them. Some people are born with a sunny spirit,
others with an inclination to sadness. The difference shows itself even in
infancy and early childhood. No doubt, too, there is a difference in the
influences which affect disposition in the first months and years of
life. Some mothers make an atmosphere of joy for their children to grow up
in, while others fill their home with complaining, fretfulness, and
discontent. Young lives cannot but take something of the tone of the home
atmosphere into the disposition with which they pass out of childhood.
Yet, in spite of all that heredity and early
education and influence do—each one is responsible for the making
of his own character. The most deep seated tendency to sadness, can be
overcome and replaced by happy cheerfulness. The gospel of Christ comes to
us and tells us that we must be born again, born anew, born from above, born
of God, our very nature recreated. Then divine grace assures us that it is
not impossible even for the most unholy life, to be transformed into
holiness. The being that is saturated with sin, can be made whiter than
snow. The wolf can be changed into lamb-like gentleness. The fiercest
disposition can be trained to meekness. There is no nature, therefore,
however unhappy it may be because of its original quality or its early
training, which cannot, through God's help, learn the lesson of happiness.
The way to do this, is to begin at once to restrain the
tendency to gloomy feeling and to master it. We should check the first
shadow of inclination to discouragement. We should choke back the word of
discontent or complaining, which is trembling on our tongue, and speak
instead a word of cheer. We should set ourselves, to the task of keeping
sweet and sunny.
It will make this easier for us if we think of our task
as being only for one day at a time. It should not be impossible for
us even if we have things disheartening or painful to endure—to keep happy
for only one day. Anybody should be able to sing songs of gladness, through
the hours of a single short day. At the time of evening prayer, we should
confess our failures; and the next morning begin the keeping of another day,
bright and joyous, unstained by gloom, resolved to make our life more
victorious than the day before.
At first the effort may seem utterly to fail—but if the
lesson is kept clearly before our eyes, and we are persistent in our
determination to master it, it will not be long until the result will begin
to show itself. It takes courage and perseverance—but the task is not an
impossible one. It is like learning to play on the piano, or like training
the voice for singing. It takes years and years to become proficient in
either of these arts. It may take a lifetime to learn the lesson of joy—but
it can be learned. Men with the most pronounced and obdurate gloominess of
disposition have, through the years, become men of abounding cheerfulness.
We have but to continue in the practice of the lesson, until repetition has
grown into a fixed habit, and habit has carved out happiness as a permanent
feature of our character, part of our own life.
The wretched discontent which makes some people so
miserable themselves, and such destroyers of happiness in others, is only
the natural result of the habit of discontent yielded to and indulged
through years. Anyone, who is conscious of such an unlovely, un-Christlike
disposition, should be so ashamed of it that he will set about at once
conquering it and transforming his gloomy spirit, into one of happiness and
Let no one think of happiness as nothing more than
a desirable quality, a mere ornamental grace, which is winsome—but is not an
essential element in a Christian life, something which one may have or may
not have, as it chances. Happiness is a duty, quite as much a duty as
truthfulness, honesty, or good temper. There are many Scripture words which
exhort us to rejoice. Jesus was a rejoicing man. Although a "man of
sorrows," the deep undertone of His life, never once failing, was gladness.
Joy is set down as one of the fruits of the Spirit, a fruit which
should be found on every branch of the great Vine. Paul exhorted his friends
to rejoice in the Lord. There are almost countless incitements to
Christian joy. We are to live a songful life. There are in the Scriptures
many more calls to praise, than to prayer.
But how are we to get this habit of happiness into
our life? The answer is very simple—just as we get any other habit wrought
into our life. There are some people to whom the lesson does not seem hard,
for they are naturally cheerful. There are others who seem to be predisposed
to unhappiness, and who find it difficult to train themselves into joyful
mood. But there is no Christian who cannot learn the lesson. The very
purpose of divine grace, is to make us over again, to give us a new heart.
A man who has formed the habit of untruthfulness and then
becomes a Christian, may not say that he never can learn now to be
truthful—that untruthfulness is fixed too obdurately in his being. No
evil can be so stained into the soul's texture—that grace cannot wash it
white. The love of Christ in a person makes him a new man, and whatever
the old is, it must give way. So, though we have allowed ourselves to drift
into a habit of gloom and sadness, there is no reason why we should not get
our heart attuned to a different key, and learn to sing new songs. This is
our duty, and whatever is our duty—we can do by the help of Christ.
The secret of Christian joy—is the peace of Christ in the
heart. Then one is not dependent on circumstances or conditions. Paul said
he had learned in whatever state he was, therein to be content. That
is, he had formed the habit of happiness and had mastered the lesson
so well, that in no state or condition, whatever its discomforts were, was
he discontented. We well know, that his circumstances were not always
congenial or easy. But he sang songs in his prison with just as
cheerful a heart and voice as when he was enjoying the hospitality of some
loving friend. His mood was always one of cheer, not only when things went
well—but when things went adversely. He was just as songful on his hard
days—as on his comfortable days.
Then Paul gives us the secret of his abiding gladness, in
the word he uses—"content." It means self-sufficed. He was self
sufficed—that is, he carried in his own heart the springs of his own
happiness. When he found himself in any place, he was not dependent on the
resources of the place for his comfort. The circumstance might be most
uncongenial. There might be hardship, suffering, poverty; but in himself he
had the peace of Christ, and this sustained him so that he was content.
There is no other unfailing secret of happiness. Too many
people are dependent upon external conditions—the house they live in, the
people they are with, their food, their companions, the weather, their state
of health, the comforts or discomforts of their circumstances. But if we
carry with us such resources that things outside us cannot make us unhappy,
however uncongenial they may be—then we have learned Paul's secret of
contentment, which is the Christian's true secret of a happy life.