Monday, October 18, 2010

On Happiness

My thoughts on happiness, joy, agency, avoiding codependence and my goal of not turning into a bitter old hag. I will get religious at points in this post, I'm sorry, you don't have to read it. But for me, this is how I find joy. 

I am that I might have Joy.

There is a scripture in The Book of Mormon: "Adam fell that men might be. Men are that they might have joy." (2 Nephi 2:25). I'm going to ignore the doctrine of the first statement in favor of focusing on the second half of the verse. 

Men are that they might have Joy

I would of course encourage you to modify this to personalize it: Women are that they might have joy or better yet: I am that I might have JOY. 

I'd seen and read that scripture SO many times growing up I cannot even begin to keep track of how many times I've seen it. But I am not sure that I ever really had it sink in until I think it was my senior year of high school (the beginning of the end of my doormat phase) when I heard a talk that basically explained what this scripture really meant: 

The whole POINT of being here is to HAVE JOY. If you're NOT having joy, you're doing it wrong. 

So any time you start to realize that your life has lost its joy. That you're not happy, then stop. Take a look and reevaluate what is going on because that is not the point of the program. You're doing it wrong. Its possible that something is being done wrong to you, in which case you need to seek help to get out of the situation. 

But the important and empowering point of the verse that I walked away with was this: The point is to have Joy. Therefore, God will always make a way for me to choose to have that joy. I just have to choose to get on the path.

Knowing what I don't want

There is a woman I know, who I will strive to leave anonymous, who is one of the most bitter, unhappy people I know. I've long had occasion to interact with this person and while I do care deeply for her, I've discovered that not spending that much time around her is a good thing for my mental health. 

And I will admit that for years I judged her harshly. I sometimes find I still do. I would see her actions and the hurt and discontent she carried with her constantly and felt the need to share with those around her and wondered what the heck her witch problem was. But in recent years I've learned more of her history and I will admit it was sobering. And made her much more a figure for my pity than my anger. (But note that I still refuse to accept the sh*t buckets she hands out. Just because I know why does not make it okay). 

I once saw a video of this person from many, many years ago. And for those of us whose only familiarity with the subject was that of the bitter harpy she has become it was a drop jaw shocking experience to see this woman laughing. She was so light hearted and happy and blissful she was nearly unrecognizeable. I looked up and saw her son with tears streaming down his face and the looks of shock on those who hadn't known her then and I mourned the death of the smiling happy woman. 

Some of the hurt that created this situation was out of her control. But so much of it was not. And there were choices made by the individual that only hurt things further. And now I'm not sure she even knows what it is to be happy anymore. How to feel that sensation. 

And so one of my goals is to not let that happen to me, to refuse to allow myself to be come bitter and hardened and unhappy and miserable. I don't want my son to see video of me and weep for the loss of that happy woman. I want him to maybe shed a tear of joy over a happy memory and then give me a hug and be delighted for many more years of continued happy memories. 

I have learned in whatsoever state I am, there with to be content.

I came across a scripture on my mission: "I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." Phil 4:11 and I was lead to this verse while in the middle of what was by far my most difficult assignment as a missionary. It was the life line I needed in the situation so I wrote that verse up on several cards and placed them in spots where I would see them regularly. 

Looking back now and the difficulty of the situation, I appreciate the humor. lol. I have some dang good mission stories from the situation that are definitely unique. It was intense, it was hard, it was occasionally unfun and down right uncomfortable and it so easily could have been miserable. 

But what it was, was JOYFUL. 

And it was joyful because I chose for it to be. My favorite companion on my mission used to say that she had no control over another persons actions. They have their agency, their freedom to chose for themselves. The only thing she could control was her reactions. I am so grateful that I had nearly a year between being given that revelation and going through the challenge of this assignment where I had to put it into use. I think I needed the time to chew on the concept and let it really sink in. 

But don't think that I'm so great and wonderful that I managed that miracle all by myself because I so didn't. By this point in my mission I was really learning what it meant to fully rely on God because I was so done. I didn't want to be. I loved my mission with all my heart and I would have stayed in the field an extra 6 months if they would have let me. I even requested an extension, which the Lord turned down. Mentally I was raring to go, but physically my body was done. 

The pace of a mission is grueling. Your one "day off" a week is really 8 hours long and consists of having to cram into that time frame all the things like laundry, shopping, email, writing home, washing the car, cleaning the apartment etc that you don't do the rest of the week because you're working. I honestly don't know how the guys serve for 24 months. Maybe they just don't work as hard. Because my goal was to take the talk titled "Go home on a stretcher" (basically give your all) literally and I dang near made it. lol. 

So add that level of intense, complete physical exhaustion to a companion situation that was definitely not the ideal and I discovered how to really allow my God to carry me. Because the big thing about the mission is this: You're with a companion, who you probably never met before, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and your goal is to do the work of the Lord. In order to achieve the goal you have to have the Holy Spirit with you to guide you. And any feelings of contention between companions will drive the Spirit away. So, if you don't get along, you can't do the work and dissing the work is not acceptable. Therefore you have to figure out how to get along, how to forgive, how to love your companion no matter what. Because you only get one shot at this. While you're there you are responsible for the salvation of every soul in your area. And I for one would never, ever forgive myself if I did anything other than my dead level best. 

So it was then I discovered the truth of the words "I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content," because I did. I was happy. I was joyful. And my God made it possible. When the stress and the hurt and the anger of dealing with these two sweet sisters, who both had some serious personal challenges got to be too much I would pour my heart out to Him and He would answer. Something would change, or fall in place or I would simply feel better. We didn't convert the whole world, far from it. But I know in that time and that place, that was the work that He would have me do. And I did it and loved it. 

Happiness is a choice

So basically the sum of my soapbox on happiness is this: its a choice. You can choose to be happy regardless of the circumstance. That said, given that you cannot control another persons actions, if they are doing something that you cannot abide, and you've done all the big kid things like try to talk to them about it etc, then the choice becomes yours: stay and find a way to like it, or leave. 

And a side note: that doesn't mean you have to love and be happy over the really crappy stuff all the time. There are times when you do need to sit down and take a moment to recognize that something sucks, thats unfair, that its just plain a bummer. Wallow for a minute and then decide how you're going to choose to react and move on. 

I would also point out that just because you've done something (be it work, school, relationship, habit, whatever) for the last 20 years/seconds/months/days does not mandate that you continue to do the thing for one second longer if there is something else out there that can make you happier. (Though I will temper this advice with the adage to take an extra second and make sure you're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater). 

Dare to be happy. Dare to find joy. Dare to do the uncomfortable thing and change. Sometimes you have to do some painful pruning to get the really beautiful roses. But the choice is always yours, therefore:

Choose Happiness.

Note: If you are unable to choose happiness, if your body refuses to respond, if you feel you cannot control your emotions there is help. I, myself, suffer from depression. This neuron does not fire into that receptor like its supposed when I tell it to and only when I tell it to. Once I got medication to regulate that big grey organ they call my brain, then I was able to choose happiness for myself. There is help. There is hope. Find the joy.