“Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it…. I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude. It is more important than my past, my education, my bankroll, my successes or failures, fame or pain, what other people think of me or say about me, my circumstances, or my position. Attitude keeps me going or cripples my progress. It alone fuels my fire or assaults my hope. When my attitudes are right there’s no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, no challenge too great for me."1
There are two easily missed but very significant words tucked into the middle of that quote. They underlie everything we do in life and faith.
Before elaborating on them let me touch on the subject of the quote, attitude. Pastor Chuck Swindoll writes about, “when my attitudes are right.” In the context of his quote, I take that to mean what we’d call a positive attitude.
Why is having a positive attitude so desirable? For one reason, because of the power it has. The power I’m referring to is not some sort of mystical ability to change things by just thinking about them. Rather, it is the power that energizes us and those around us.
Ever notice how if you are in a group of people and someone with a negative attitude joins the group often the whole group experiences a “downer”? Conversely, when someone with an enthusiastic positive attitude joins the group, the whole group feels uplifted and more energized. That is the power of a positive attitude.
What exactly does a positive attitude look like? In Philippians 4:4–9 Paul lays out some characteristics that I believe constitute a positive attitude. It is joyful (v.4), thoughtful (v.5), prayerful (v.6a), thankful (v.6b), peaceful (v.7). It is focused on “what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” (v.8a) and thinks “about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (v.8b).
He does the same thing over in Romans 12:12–14. “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Based on these verses a positive attitude is joyful, confident, patient, prayerful, ready to help, eager, hospitable, and blesses others.
That brings me back to the two significant words I mentioned at the start. They are decision and choice.
A positive attitude is first a decision. It begins in our minds when we realize there is an alternative to negativity and that there can be different outcomes. Even more than a realization it is a mental aspiration to want a positive attitude because it energizes us and the people around us and brings glory to God. It is the single most significant decision we can make on a day-to-day basis.
A positive attitude is second, based on a choice, not on feelings. Too often we make our attitude the victim of our feelings and think we can have a positive attitude only when we feel positive. Feelings are responders that arise in response to how we think and act but they are not an adequate basis for decision-making. Positive feelings come after we deliberately choose positive actions. Based on the Scripture passages above, the actions that constitute a positive attitude are commands we choose to obey or not. When we don’t feel positive, we need to grab our “wanter” (feeling) by our “willer” and choose.
Choosing a positive attitude is also not just wishful, unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky thinking, or ungrounded Pollyannish optimism either. It is a deliberate act of the will that for Christians is based on what Jesus has done for us in His death and Resurrection. We have reasons to be the most positive people in the world! All our sins are forgiven, we are heading to an eternity in heaven, we proclaim the best news humanity can ever hear, and we have a heavenly Father who loves us infinitely and lavishes grace and lovingkindness on us every day. There is so much to be positive about!
Every moment of every day we have a choice regarding the attitude we choose. We can’t change our past and we can’t change how other people are going to think and act. We can’t change the inevitable or things out of our control. But there is one thing we can control and change and that is our attitude.
1. Charles R. Swindoll, Strengthening Your Grip (Minneapolis: World Wide, 1982), pp. 206, 207.