FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 23, 2012)--"Are You Better Off Today Than You Were Four Years Ago?"

If that question sounds like a political campaign slogan, that's because it is. In the run up to the 1980 presidential election, then-candidate Ronald Reagan posed that question to the American electorate in his closing remarks at a debate. A majority of Americans at that time answered with a resounding "no," and Reagan was able to ride that wave of discontent into the Oval Office.

Maybe it is just an occupational hazard for a chaplain, but it seems to me that a majority of the people I encounter are experiencing feelings of discontentment, dissatisfaction and distress at work, at home, in their relationships and with life in general. Many folks would answer with a great deal of frustration, "No, I am not better off than I was four years ago." If that describes how you feel and you are looking for a way to make things better, let me assure you that the person who has the greatest influence over changing the trajectory of your life and moving you to a place of contentment is not appearing on the ballot for either political party. The only person who has that much influence over your life is you.

If you want to be able to say, "Yes, I am better off now than I was four years ago, four months ago or even four weeks ago," begin by defining for yourself what "better off" looks like. What specific improvement would you like to see? Can you develop a specific goal? Developing a vision of what "better off" looks like allows you to plan backward toward that goal and gives you something specific toward which to move. Too often we define "better" as something we need to give up rather than something we can gain.

With that goal in mind, you have to ask yourself what needs to change in order for you to reach that goal. One accepted definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results. There is obviously a reason or reasons that you have not been able to reach that goal, so ask yourself what habit, relationship or attitude needs to change; what do I need to start or stop doing in order to move toward that goal. Every day you are faced with thousands of choices, and each choice is an opportunity to ask, "Will the choice I am about to make move me closer to or farther away from my goal?"

Finally, remember there will be setbacks. A good friend of mine was fond of saying, "Failure is an event, not a person." It may take longer than you had planned to get to what "better off" looks like, but you truly have the rest of your life to get there. See each incident of "failure" as an opportunity to begin again more intelligently and, in time, your perseverance will pay off.

"Because of the Lord's faithful love, we do not perish, for His mercies never end, they are new every morning..." (Lamentations 3:23).