I often joke that the key to happiness in life is to lower your expectations.

Well, it’s 2020 so you need to drastically lower your expectations this year. Are they low enough yet? Keep lowering them. You probably still have a long way to go.

This joke is only a half-joke. When we have high expectations we’re bound to be disappointed, but when we keep our expectations low, we might be pleasantly surprised that things aren’t as bad as we anticipated. Nobody has ever accused me of being an optimist.

There is a biblical reason for this dour approach to life. If we think that we are good and deserve ease and happiness, we will most likely fix our eyes on things that will never satisfy us. The pleasures of this life are fleeting.

Seek temporal happiness and it will elude you. But, if we approach life first by recognizing our sin and how little we deserve, there’s a chance that we might find some joy along the way. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither.” (Mere Christianity)

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The writer of Hebrews describes Moses’ life. He writes, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26, ESV)

Moses gave up wealth, royalty and a life of ease to lead a bunch of ragtag servants through the desert for the rest of his life. He never even got to enter the promised land. I would’ve chosen the palace. Why would Moses give up that life of luxury? His eyes were fixed on God.

You may be asking, “Why such a grumpy article the week of Thanksgiving, Tristan?” Well, might I remind you that it is 2020, and I’m not an optimist. But, my greater point is this: Gratitude is a lot like our approach to life. It’s more about where we fix our eyes than it is about our circumstance.

I’m not saying that we should ignore life’s hard and painful realities as if they don’t exist. There will be hardships, but take heart, Christ has overcome this world.

When we fix our eyes on Christ and His coming kingdom, an amazing thing happens. He gives us gifts of grace in this life; gifts we don’t even deserve. Once we fix our eyes on Christ and His kingdom and realize that we deserve nothing, then we are prepared to be a people of gratitude. We can receive with truly thankful hearts.

When I look at my own life, am I focusing my eyes on the decades of gracious blessings with a thankful heart, or am I moping about the few years that have been a real drag? Honestly, it’s the second. But, God is gently reminding this grumpy pessimist to refocus my eyes on Him.

Even His gentle reminder is a gift of grace that I don’t deserve.

Tristan Borland is pastor at Riverview Church in Pine River.