Swindoll identifies some of our most difficult dilemmas as falling into one of three categories. The first he calls "Volitional Dilemmas," which occur when we want to do two things at the same time. The second are "Emotional Dilemmas," and these are even more intense and happen ":when we entertain contrary feelings about the same event" (64). The third are "Geographical Dilemmas" and occur when we want to be in two places at the same time but clearly cannot.
Swindoll cites what he calls "The Hidden Secret of a Happy Life" and says it is a matter of attitude, of cultivating the right attitude. Attitude is defined as a way of behaving or thinking showing your disposition: "That means that how we think determines how we respond to others" (77). Swindoll notes that he is a minister who spends much time reading the bible and sharing what he discovers with others, and in reading the gospel according to Luke, he has been intrigued by the Lord's responses to others. Christ showed great patience and remained cool under fire. He demonstrates grace, compassion, and determination all at once and under all circumstances. This leads Swindoll to the question, "What is the most Christlike attitude on earth?" (78). Jesus refers to the answer by using the word "unselfish." Being unselfish, says Swindoll, means humbling yourself.
Swindoll also emphasizes that to accomplish this, harmony is needed, meaning attaining "a like-minded spirit with one another" (81). This does not mean uniformity -- it means unity. Swindoll points out that distinction: "Uniformity is gained by pressure from without" (81). Unity is attained by pressure form within, or "the inner desire to conduct oneself in a cooperative manner" (82).
Lest anyone think that Swindoll is suggesting unrestrained laughter, he writes a chapter admonishing people to keep their balance. People often make the wrong response to things they encounter. Some people just fake it, with a polished image that makes people think they understand and cope properly with what happens. Others try to hurry the process, substituting sped for accuracy, as it were. Christians often strive harder in response to a problem to which they feel they cannot measure up, but Swindoll finds that this is also not the beset way to react. To find the best way, he again turns to Christ for an example, and having Christ to turn to as a pattern is what gives the Christian a way to cope with all manner of difficult examples.
A most practical suggestion comes as Swindoll suggests making good friends, for friends make life more fun. He echoes the idea that people need people, something that has not changed even in our more high-tech and in some ways impersonal modern world. People are important to God, and people are important to each of us as human beings and as reflections of God. God could operate alone on earth, but he chooses not to and instead operates through people: "His favorite plan is a combined effort: God plus people equals accomplishment" (111). Swindoll considers the events of his own life and how he has been affected and enriched by people he has known. He notes how many people have been connected with "each crossroad and every milestone" (112) in his life. He again turns to Paul for support, finding the many people mentioned in Paul's letters who were special to him and who helped make his life interesting and meaningful.
When God sends someone into our lives, He expects that we will relate to that person: "It is often the beginning of an intimate friendship, rarely experienced in our day of superficial companionship" (121). When someone comes to us for assistance, God expects us to respect that person. We learn and gain much from such a person as well. We also have to have a strong relationship with Jesus as one of our closest and most important friends.
Swindoll cites the words of a man who was not happy but who wanted to be, and the man said he believed he would have "to work harder at being happier" (125). Swindoll disagrees, noting that the man has worked hard for everything else in his life and should approach joy in a different way. Happiness is not achieved by hard work or workaholics would be the happiest people in the world, which they are not. Human achievement leads to earthly rewards, which makes people want to achieve more to attain greater rewards. Every field has some form of award for outstanding achievement, but attaining such an award does not mean we have attained happiness. Swindoll is not criticizing those who work to achieve more, so long as they keep in mind that this "is an earthly system exalting earthly people who are rewarded for earthly accomplishments" (127). This kind of achievement does not bring lasting satisfaction because it is earthily and limited and because those who achieve them are not earning God's favor.
The temptation is to believe that earning such honors, though, means happiness or means attaining heavenly rewards. Hard work is more likely to feed pride than happiness, which requires something higher and more lasting. Pride also causes us to hide our foolishness rather than allowing others to see it. Swindoll writes a chapter for all high achievers and hopes that he reaches them with his message, which is that personal rewards are fine in their place but must be balanced with deeper satisfactions and accomplishments involving joy, connection with others, and connection with God. He tells such high achieves to ask about their personal life, their marriage, their inner person, their life, secrets that may haunt them, and whether or not life is fun for them. The answers to those questions will help them understand whether their lives are fulfilling and how they can improve. If they only seek achievements in earthly matters, they will be left spiritually bankrupt.
Swindoll uses football as a metaphor for teamwork, another way of envisioning how much we need other people in this world and how we can achieve more and fulfill ourselves more if we have other people. He also learns another lesson:
Those who hang touch, refusing to give up no matter how difficult or demanding or disappointing the challenges may be, are the ones who stand the best chance of winning. They are also the ones who find the greatest satisfaction and delight in their years on earth (143).
A swindoll says it is difficult for us to do this because of "the imperfection that continues to mark our lives" (147), meaning that we get frequent reminders of our own humanity, our own imperfections, and the imperfections surrounding us. Says Swindoll,
Happy is the person who keeps that in mind. You will find that life is not nearly as galling if you remember that the goal is to press on in spite of the lack of perfection (147).
This is another way of reminding us to find joy in the world as we find it, not looking for perfection and being miserable because we do not find it.
Swindoll knows that some may ask if a man who keeps telling everyone to keep smiling is really in touch with "the raw and wicked side of life" (159) that so clearly surrounds us, and he insists that he is. Swindoll lives in the Greater Los Angeles area and so sees that side of life every day. The world is filled with acts of violence and gross criminal behavior, all of which makes it to the local television news broadcast. This would not be the sort of place he would choose for him or his family if he had the ability to make that choice, but it is not clear that elsewhere in the world is any better:
My world, my mission, my calling -- is the city where life gets ugly and people get hostile and kids are exposed to too much too soon. In this are where depravity is relentlessly on display, only the fit survive (160).
This is another reason he has written this book, because in this world "laughter is the last thing anyone would expect to hear" (160). Swindoll also says that "only those who are firm in their faith can laugh in the face of tragedy" (160).
Conflict challenges our ability to laugh, and Swindoll notes that conflict occurs all the time. Human beings get into arguments and fights all the time, failing to show the acceptance and tolerance God asks them to and giving up the command to seek peace. Religious groups are not a good example in some ways given the sectarian differences in the world that cause everything from minor arguments to full-scale wars. There are even conflicts between local churches over issues of large and small consequence, producing decidedly un-Christian behavior. Swindoll is remarkably critical of excesses in the Christian community, noting that many tend to rationalize their…