Results from a study released two weeks ago suggests that more Americans than ever are “stressed, depressed, and anxiety-ridden.”

The research attributed the bump in these common emotions to the “after-effect of the Great Recession.” According to the research, published in The Journal of Psychiatric Services, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been unable to cope effectively with their economic difficulties.

Described as “emotionally damaged,” these people are dealing with “serious psychological distress,” a broad term that includes general hopelessness and nervousness as well as diagnosable conditions such as depression and anxiety.

I’m not sure what to think about this research or these conclusions. As I reviewed the article, I was unclear on the “so what now” factor. In other words, what were the researchers proposing or were they only reporting the findings?

The more I read, the more it seemed like their primary agenda might have been to promote mental health insurance access as the solution to these emotional problems. I don’t really know.

What I do know is that our mental and emotional health is not at the mercy of our circumstances, financial or otherwise. Life itself is very difficult. Adversity and challenges come at us relentlessly. Some small. Some big. But always something. We can never escape this reality.

What we can do is learn to deal productively with the inevitable health, marriage, parenting, economic and other problems life throws our way or that we bring upon ourselves. We can, as the apostle Paul urged us in Philippians 4:11, “learn to be content.”

After all, we cannot command the storms of life, but we can command our thought life, and by extension, how productively we respond to those unavoidable storms.

Life is now and always will be a mixture of good and bad. This is as true for business as it is for marriage and everything in between. Unfortunately, as a culture, we have not been trained to be content, much less joyful. Instead, far too many Americans are striving for circumstantial happiness, meaning they’re searching for that contentment and fulfillment outside of their locus of control, in other things and other people.

Consequently, what they find instead are valleys of disappointment and turmoil interspersed with peaks of happiness and peace, depending on either the happy or sad occurrence of the day.

So how do we “learn to be content” even in the midst of trouble?

The answer is not surprising, but it is simple. To become fit, train to be fit. To become good at math, practice math. And becoming content, learning to be content, works the same way. We must train for it.

Fortunately, the straightforward training plan for contentment, joy and peace already exists and is outlined succinctly in Philippians 4:8. We are to focus on and occupy or minds with the goodness of life, regardless of what’s happening around us. This takes practice and training.

Instead of escaping from life’s challenges with food, drugs, alcohol, TV, mobile devices, etc., we must face our troubles head-on, confident in the truth that our Heavenly Father is with us every step of the way, whether we feel that way or not.

Since we are neither automatically positive, nor hopelessly negative, the principle within Philippians 4:8 take on special significance. Whatever we emphasize with our thoughts, words, or deeds multiplies in our mind. It’s so easy to transform our temporary mole hills into perpetual mountains, but we must train to do the reverse.

Those who experience a deficiency of joy and fulfillment have misdirected their focus. Almost inevitably, these individuals have been unintentionally paying excessive mental attention to their dissatisfactions and disappointments, rather than their blessings.

But this is just a bad habit. It can be changed, but only with training.
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