It is hard to think of our attitude as something we can control. It feels so inevitable, sort of like an alien force descending on us.
At the same time, we have all had an experience where something hits us and we have convinced ourselves to calm down, take a deep breath, and think differently about it. In the Bible, there is a phrase encouraging us to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We sometimes use the inverse phrase, “letting our thoughts run wild”, when we acknowledge that we are not doing something. Which suggests we are capable of doing something.
What is Attitude?
A synonym for attitude might be perspective. When we are grumpy, angry, sassy, etc., these are manifestations of a perspective. Attitude is an expression of how we are perceiving at any given moment.
So, if we want to change our attitude, all we have to do is change our perspective.
Here is an example: my wife comes into the living room where I am reading a book and starts to talk to me about some part of her day. My immediate reaction is to be annoyed that I am interrupted (so, my chosen perspective is that what I am doing is valuable and this is an invasion. My attitude – annoyance/frustration – is a manifestation of that perspective). I can either continue down that course or I can choose a different perspective. Maybe I can put my book away and choose to appreciate that she loves me and wants to share a part of her day with me. I can get back to the book later. It doesn’t matter as much as she does.
The point is that we have options. Our attitude is our own responsibility. It is nobody’s fault but our own – we are responsible for our attitude and the perspective we choose.
Choosing the Right Attitude
Even if we can wrap our heads around the reality that attitude is something we choose, which is no small feat, it still remains to figure out how to choose the right attitude.
After all, there are many perspectives that are valid. It is, in one sense, valid to be annoyed at my reading being interrupted. It is of course valid to appreciate my wife wanting to share her day. Choosing the right perspective does not mean we have to pretend or manipulate ourselves into being happy all the time. This sort of force, when it denies a legitimate reality, tends to bottle up and cause resentment in the long-term.
The right attitude, then, has to acknowledge that life and human relationships are complicated.
When we are choosing a perspective, the question we often seem to be answering is: what do I want? What do I like? Or, what feels most comfortable to me?
This incorrect aim leads us away from complication, which is – in one way – easier, and down the wrong path.
The best question to ask ourselves is: what true perspective is most in alignment with my vision and values (AND the vision/values of the organizations involved – whether they be relationships or communities).
And so, since the beauty of our intimate relationship matters most, it is probably best for me to put the book down and adopt a perspective of appreciation for our marriage. Because it is valid to have what I was doing before being interrupted acknowledged, it is also a good idea to circle back around (after the conversation about her day) and gently give feedback about how the conversation was started.
It is work. But choosing the right perspective/attitude always is.
When we are committed to our vision, it allows us the chance to be thankful. Because any and all circumstances are an opportunity to participate in our vision. Those people who always have a good attitude have, in large part, internalized this truth. It is not that they do not get upset or express negative emotions, it is that they have learned to see in all things a chance to participate in goodness. And, for that, they are grateful.
The most powerful perspective we can adopt is one of appreciation, even if it is appreciation for the opportunity to address some injustice or uncertainty. Gratefulness manifests the best attitudes.
Joey Willis is a writer and Servant Leadership Trainer with The Crossroad.