Friday, November 19, 2010

Confidence and Happiness

It's funny, some of the things you learn as you get older. A lot of them are things you've heard for years but that you don't really get, or learn (by that I mean, integrate) until you experience it for yourself. One of those for me has been making the connection between happiness, confidence, and relating to other people.

I'm sure you're familiar with the angst where you feel like no one likes you (or at least, the person that you want to like you), and you wish you could be like someone else. That someone else seems to have all the confidence, talent, and social graces that you lack. I had those feelings a LOT when I was a teenager, and those have mostly gone away since I've matured a little bit in college. College has been a really eye-opening experience for me, where I've been able to be myself, realize that I am worthwhile, and really blossomed - opening myself up more and seeing the potential that I have. I'm far from perfect (everyone has trials, and none of us are invincible), but that's been a vast improvement in my self perception over time.

One of the things that really came along with that was developing more confidence in myself. The ideas that I can be someone worthwhile and I am different - I am myself - and I have something to offer are so empowering! I didn't believe very good things about myself growing up; I never felt adequate or like I could make a valuable contribution; that there's always someone else better suited for the job, so why should I even try. When I started realizing that (that I can be valuable by being me), and respecting myself more, it went hand-in-hand with changes in how people viewed me. Now, whether those were actual changes or just changes in my perception, I might never know, and it doesn't matter all that much (which came first, the chicken or the egg?). I learned more about myself, and I came to appreciate more about myself.

Confidence is a magnetic thing. And feeling like you, personally, make a valuable contribution is priceless. I can see a stark difference between times when I'm confident and times when I'm discouraged, and the effect it has on my social interactions. Self-doubt and self-confidence both show in your demeanor. When I go into a dance class timidly, not expecting much, withdrawn and with downcast eyes, and confident only of the fact that no one there thinks I'm worth anything, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where people are less likely to ask me to dance, and while specific people may privately be concerned about if you feel ok, there's not much motivation to spend time with you. On the other hand, if I go into class with an easy smile on my face, a sparkle in my eyes (sorry for the cliche) and meeting people's gaze, and a certain optimistic energy, people are drawn to you. People enjoy happy company; happy people are more fun, and help you to feel better about yourself.

There's a host of benefits to this method of self-image and social interaction. When I go into a room with that energy, I usually have a good time, regardless of any measurable change in outcome, such as "number of partners danced with". And that is one of the keys to happiness - basing it on attitudes rather than results. I'm of the opinion that this attitude can often have a direct impact on these results - I think that expressing confidence and exuding compassion and happiness do increase the number of people attracted to me - but even without those, I still enjoy myself quite well. It's a skill that seems to come and go depending on how I maintain my focus on it, but it's proven true every time.

So, how do you gain confidence? That seems like the crucial question every time. There isn't any magical pill to pop and gain immediate success, but this is what has worked for me... Very importantly, your worth is not based on your successes or accomplishments. Period. Your worth is based in being you: your unique combination of talents, abilities, weaknesses, habits, thoughts and intentions, etc. You have inherent worth as a son or daughter of God; we are so amazing! Our minds, our bodies, our ability to decide for ourselves, our potential to become better! It's all truly a gift, and these are universal. Even if our minds have a couple frustrating weaknesses or habits, even if our bodies are imperfect (and all of them are), we still have them and life is that much richer for it.

Even with this, it can be hard to have confidence in yourself. So, the "magical cure" that will work as often as it is honestly and truly applied is having faith (confidence) in Christ. We are imperfect; we can't do all the good things on our own that we want so desperately to. But He is perfect: perfectly loving, perfectly capable and perfectly willing to do everything to help us. He won't do life for us, but He will be there every step of the way to catch us when we fall and to help us keep moving forward. On my own, I can't do much, but with Him, I can do all that I need to. I have a testimony that God's vision for us and blessings He wants to give us are so much better than what we could dream of for ourselves. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and so sometimes we don't see how our present circumstances will lead to our greatest happiness; that is what faith is for. If trials didn't stretch us, we wouldn't grow from them. When we develop the faith to trust our Savior enough to take the first couple steps, He will strengthen us and enable us to do what we need to. We can have confidence that when our own is not enough, Christ will make up the difference, and having that knowledge can give us the peace and confidence to do anything. Even enough confidence to do something like walk into your dance class with a smile :) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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