It is tempting to live in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. Our brains have become wired for it. Due to a phenomenon called negativity bias, we are more likely to respond to negative stimuli than neutral or positive happenings.
Because negativity is so sticky in our brains, we tend to bond with coworkers, friends and family over that which is irritating, exasperating and unpleasant.
Lately, I’ve felt increasingly frustrated and fretful. Research shows that I’m not alone. These sorts of emotional states are on the rise in recent years. There isn’t one exact cause. It’s a combination of realities. Social media platforms created using algorithms that prey upon insecurity and anger. Political polarization. Pandemic fatigue. Collective mistrust in almost everything.
Feelings are temporary, and they always have been. That’s nothing new. Feelings come and go and aren’t inherently good or bad. When I can release my feelings without attaching to them, the aggravation seems to fade.
But more often, I get stuck in my feelings and create stories to justify them. This is how brains work. We write the stories of our lives through the lens of our emotions, so if we spend a lot of time feeling dissatisfied, that’s how all of life begins to appear.
As we head toward Thanksgiving, I invite you to join me in taking an intentional step in a different direction. Instead of our mutual woes, let’s bond today over that which is good.
The New Testament of the Bible was first written in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate as “good” is agathos. The word is used 102 times in the New Testament which is a good clue that it is a concept well-worth our pondering.
Agathos means useful, upright, generous and pleasant. In the Gospel story of Mary and Martha having Jesus over for dinner, Martha frets and feels overwhelmed by all of her tasks. Mary is described as choosing the good which is time shared with Jesus. In the book of Luke, Jesus tells a parable about seeds and soil. His encouragement to his followers is to have “agathos kardia” which means good hearts that bear healthy fruit.
My spirit, weary from worry and discontent, longs to dwell in the limitless ocean of God’s goodness. I’m not interested in naive and toxic optimism. Agathos is authentic. It doesn’t lead us away from that which is broken and in need of care and attention. Instead, it is fuel that propels us forward with open, loving hearts.
Each year for the “Holy Everything” column nearest to Thanksgiving, I share a mealtime prayer. I pray that this is a useful resource for the days and meals ahead as you practice recognizing the agathos that is everywhere.
Creator of Everything,
Grant us the capacity to recognize your goodness.
As we gather around tables for food and fellowship, give us “agathos kardias” -- good hearts.
When we are tempted to dwell only in places of frustration, despair and dissatisfaction, refresh our perspectives.
Restore us with the goodness that is everywhere.
As we remember how to recognize that which is good, teach us how to plant, tend, harvest and share it.
May our pursuit of justice be fueled by ongoing encounters with your generosity.
Gracious One, thank you for your goodness, in creation, relationships, conversations and challenges. In pets, in plants, in all the seasons of life and creation.
Guide our brains toward you.
Grant us open hearts ready to give and receive all that is good. Amen.
Emily Carson is a Lutheran pastor. Visit her website, emilyannecarson.com.