First, grousing about how others are prospering while we feel we are not doing as well, keeps us from remembering the blessings of God for what we do have and being thankful (1 Thess. 5:18). We can draw some consolation from the fact that the adaptation-level principle works in both directions: if personal or societal economic pressures force us to adopt a simpler life style, we will eventually adapt and recover life’s balance of happiness and satisfaction. Perhaps that is why many people claim to be so much happier when they simplify their lives.
Poor talk also keeps us from being content with what we do have, therefore, showing a distrust in God’s provision. “We can exercise choice in the selection of our comparison groups. We can resist the tendency to measure ourselves against those higher on the ladder of success, and instead choose to compare ourselves with those less fortunate. Earlier generations were taught to perform such comparisons by way of ‘counting one’s blessings.’ Today we can gain the same benefit by means of selective exposure to comparison groups. Discovering how relatively small our problems are can make us more sensitive to real poverty. It can give us an appreciation of the extent to which some people’s unmet needs — clean water, adequate nutrition, medical care — are things we take for granted. Realizing this will not only sensitize us to the suffering of the truly impoverished; it will also help us develop an attitude of gratitude for what we have.” (“Poor Talk,” Thomas Ludwig and David Myers, Saturday Review)
Finally, poor talk blinds us to the needs of the actual poor because our attention is fixed upon ourselves and our relationship to others who are doing better than we are. “We [need to] make a conscious effort to reduce poor talk… Over and over people complain that they are underpaid, defeated by inflation and taxes, and no longer capable of affording their family’s needs. Some think that such mutual commiseration is harmless, but research has indicated that what people say influences how they think and feel. The very act of complaining about unwelcome economic changes may therefore increase our discontent. Poor talk also focuses our attention on ourselves in a way that blinds us to the needs of others.”
At the end of his Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis depicts heaven as the ultimate liberation from the relativity of experience. Here creatures cannot feel deprived, depressed or anxious. There is no adaptation-level trauma, for happiness is continually expanding. Here is “the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” This resurrection hope does not eliminate the ups and downs of day-to-day life, but it does offer a liberating cosmic perspective from which to view them.
Here on earth we will never completely escape the “I need more treadmill.” But by becoming aware of the relativity of our appetites, by reducing our poor talk, by consciously selecting our comparison groups, and by viewing life from the perspective of resurrection faith, we can share the humble and grateful response of the Psalmist: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need.”
We thank Thee, then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed-time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food;
No gifts have we to offer,
For all Thy love imparts,
But that which Thou desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts. (Matthias Claudius, 1784)
Question: When is a poor talker no longer a poor talker? When he stops poor talking?
Answer: No; when he is grateful and content with what he has and generous towards others.