How To Keep From Pouting Your Way Through Life

The Pouting Boy

SFGate.com ran a brief story today about an incident at the San Francisco Giants home game last evening.  Interestingly enough, that story got more press than the impressive hitting by rookie Brandon Belt who belted a two out, two run homer to break the 3-3 tie and win the game for the Giants.  The story?  A little pouting boy.  Watch this 18 second clip that has made the rounds on ESPN.com and all over YouTube.

Now I certainly don’t blame the little boy for being disappointed about not getting the foul ball.  It is after all every kids’ dream (and even most adults’) to catch a ball at the park to take home as a “I was there” trophy from your favorite player.  And it was also gracious of the Giants’ organization, after seeing the boy so disappointed, to make a special trip up to his section and give him a Giants’ baseball.  Everyone seemed happy in the end.

But there’s something about that blatant pout that speaks to me about life.  It’s concerning how we deal with disappointment and unmet expectations.  How easy it is to be experiencing something in the present and then suddenly wish we had something more, allowing our disappointment to take away our joy in the moment.  Just being at your favorite team’s baseball game is a pretty special experience for any kid–enjoying a father-son outing, eating hot dogs and garlic fries and a Coke or Sprite, sitting in the stands watching your favorite players on the field, cheering for your team, doing the seventh-inning stretch, singing and shouting the “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” theme song, looking at the big screen and enjoying the view, caught up with thousands of others in the joy.  It’s all a pretty great experience.  That’s why baseball is such an All-American past-time.

But like that little boy, we put a little pout on our faces–we allow our desire for more to dampen and sometimes even ruin our joy in the present.  We start complaining about something:

“There’s too much garlic on the fries!”  “I ordered a Sprite not a Coke so why did you bring me the wrong order?”  “I was standing up ready to catch the ball–it was coming straight toward me–so why did you have to reach up and grab it instead?”  “Why doesn’t the sun break out of the clouds and make it warmer for the game?  It’s always so cold here!”  “Why does the guy behind me have to shout so loud?  It’s annoying!”   “These seats are terrible!  Why didn’t you find us better ones?”  “Why can’t we make enough money to pay for better seats!”

And before we know it, we’ve run joy into the ditch and allowed disappointment, bitterness, resentment, complaining, even sometimes anger to take control.  We lose the beauty of the moment.

Do you know any people who live like this?  Have you ever allowed disappointment and unmet expectations to ruin your moment?

Pollyanna Wasn’t Naive

Leo Baubata, in his highly popular blog “Zen Habits,” recently wrote a column in which he calls this kind of mindset “a fool’s game.”

“Many of us do this, but if you get into the mindset of thinking about what you ‘could’ be doing, you’ll never be happy doing what you actually ‘are’ doing. You’ll compare what you’re doing with what other people (on Facebook and Twitter, perhaps?) are doing. You’ll wish your life were better. You’ll never be satisfied, because there’s ‘always’ something better to do.  Instead, I’ve adopted the mindset that whatever I’m doing right now is perfect.”

Imagine developing that kind of mindset and how that would impact your experience of life.  What you are doing right now is perfect.  You have everything you need right now in this moment.  It’s perfect.

Is this too Pollyannaish?  Interestingly enough, I was reading a book recently which talked about Pollyanna’s story and how misunderstood her experience has been by so many people.  Our culture uses her name to describe a negative quality–naive, refusing to face reality, living in a fantasy land, unable to handle the truth, etc.  In fact, as her story actually describes, Pollyanna was well aware of the foibles and dysfunctions of the people that she went to live with.  She had deep insight into their struggles and keenly felt the pain from their meanness and lack of respect for her.  But she chose to look on the bright side.  She refused to allow their attitudes to negatively affect hers.  She chose to see the good instead of the bad.  She chose to step into joy for the moment by looking for and finding and reveling in the positive experiences.

The Divine Nature

I’m reminded of the Bible text describing God which says, “Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart.”  The divine nature is about choosing to view people and situations from the best perspective possible.  The divine nature chooses to give people the benefit of the doubt, to focus on the inner goodness and inherent value of people and circumstances.

This isn’t a choice for naivete.  Or maybe it is.  Perhaps God chooses to be, like Jesus commended to us, like little children who tend to see the good, who quickly get over the negative and jump right back into relationship, who are quick to forgive, who do so well in living in the joy of the moment, grabbing all the gusto in the present rather than living in the past or the anxiety of the unknown future.  “Right now is perfect.  I have everything I need in this moment.”

God certainly acknowledges lack, failure, inadequacy.  God lives with a constant keen sense of incompleteness in the world God created to be perfect.  God know what God desires and longs for and therefore what is lacking in the present.  But the fact that the divine nature in scripture is always described in the present tense–I AM–shows that God lives in the Now, this Moment.  And this truth about God sanctifies, makes holy, every Moment, Now.

The Empowering Secret

Reflecting this perspective on the divine nature, the Apostle Paul (one of the most prolific writers in the New Testament) gave his personal testimony with the words, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through the One who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:11-13)

There is strength and power in focusing on the divine attribute of the Now, the I AM, the holy Present Moment.  God’s presence lives in us, empowering us to capture the joy right now, to see the moment as perfect, to choose contentment by acknowledging “I have everything I need right now in this moment.  Let me enjoy this present.”

It doesn’t mean there isn’t hardship or difficulties or pain or sorrow in our lives.  To deny that would be to short-circuit life.  Even Pollyanna, and certainly the Apostle Paul, knew their harsh realities.  But to allow unmet expectations and disappointment to run joy off the road is to live an unnecessarily unhappy life, never satisfied, never content, never at peace.  Pollyanna and Paul refused to live that way.  And their choice for joy and contentment paid them rich rewards.  They had the “secret” to strong living.

The Spiritual Practice of Now

Here’s how Leo Baubata describes his spiritual practice of the Now mindset:  “I’m always happy with what I’m doing, because I don’t compare it to anything else, and instead pay close attention to the activity itself. I’m always happy with whoever I’m with, because I learn to see the perfection in every person. I’m always happy with where I am, because there’s no place on Earth that’s not a miracle.  Life will suck if you are always wishing you’re doing something else. Life will rock if you realize you’re already doing the best thing ever.”

I don’t want to pout my way through life.  I can easily fall into that trap–I know myself too well.  As a “maximizer,” it’s my tendency to always want to improve things.   That’s okay.  But if I allow that to never let me step into contentment and joy in the present moment, I rob myself, and my “wanting more” robs those around me of the joy of the moment, too.  So when I saw that video clip of the little pouting boy, I was convicted to make a different choice in my life–to learn how to relish the joy of the moment–to practice saying, “This moment is perfect.  I have everything I need right now.  It’s good and beautiful and I’m going to revel in it!”

And besides, who wants to get that “life sucks!” look on your face like that little kid every time something doesn’t go your way?  Almost embarrassing!

  1. Excellent food for thought Greg. What a wonderful reminder on an important aspect of spiritual living. It has been my practice to follow Paul’s words of contentment. However, my human nature kicks in sometimes and this proves to be a challenge occasionally.

    Again, thanks so much for the post. I will think about how to intentionally carry this out.