Friday, February 25, 2011

Happiness: More Than Just A Feeling

For a long time, I was used to the idea of happiness coming and going, being dependent on my circumstances and emotional state. Then at one point in college (sometime in the first two years), I realized that the current bout of happiness I was on was lasting longer than normal, and was pleasantly puzzled. I wasn't sure what had made the difference.

     [The funny thing is that months later, when I was thinking about it, I tried to remember that time I was so happy. And I couldn't figure it out... My first semester was kinda stressful with making new friends, during my second semester I had a complicated situation with a boy I was falling in love with, that first summer was stressful with few friends remaining in the city... I couldn't figure out when that happiness was based on the events in my life at the time.]

I have a couple theories to account for the lasting happiness I felt. For one, life brings sorrow in one hand and joy in the other - they come together, and as you get older, you develop an increased capacity for both through experience. Coming to college opened up lots of opportunities for me to grow: I had newfound fears and sadness, and I had greater feelings of belonging and love. The other theory is that I was starting to learn that happiness is a way of life, not just a passing emotion. Because of that, I know I can be happy ALL THE TIME, not just in rosy situations. 

So what makes this way of life? And how do I make it an essential part of who I am? I've felt resurgences of this satisfaction and simply being a happy person occasionally, and I'm trying to pay attention to what sets those periods apart. I think that WORK and FAITH are the two basics that it comes down to. 

    - On the days that I skip/miss class, I get behind in the work (leading to feelings of inadequacy) and feel like a human vegetable (lacking depth or purpose). Both of the resulting feelings are very discouraging and contribute to a downward spiral of lacking self-worth, which leads to other destructive habits and mindsets. When I work - putting my mind to a task and accomplishing it - I feel like I'm being productive and making a small difference in the world. I feel my self-worth and confidence increase, and I'm motivated to go out and do more. 

     - Spiritually, I can go two directions: I can be fearful, worrisome, obsessive, and a control freak, or I can be faithful, trusting, confident, and meek. When I choose to let go of my worries, and trust that Heavenly Father knows better than I do, I feel much more at peace, and I can move on with my life with the confidence that as I listen to the Holy Ghost, everything will be alright! It's really a liberating feeling. It's really difficult to be happy if you're preoccupied with worries and fears, so exercising faith by giving those to Christ increases my capacity for happiness. 

When I work hard and have faith in Jesus Christ, that gives me a solid foundation. I become more worthy to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which gives me good feelings and leads me to do more good things. God wants all of His children to be happy, now as well as in eternity. The things that He asks us to do are the things that will help us to be happy, so why not listen? :) God is on our side! I testify that being obedient to God is the only way to be happy, and that when we truly humble ourselves before Him, He will raise us up. These are principles that will enable us to be happy all the time, inasmuch as we live them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Mirrors are a funny thing sometimes. There are frequent analogies, sayings and myths about what you find by looking in a mirror, but I want to discuss a particular point that could go both ways.

Some might argue that the invention of the mirror was the beginning of vanity: if you can see yourself, you wonder how others see you, and whether they approve. The Greek myth of Narcissus tells of a young man (Narcissus) who was known for his good looks and arrogance, who was divinely punished to fall in love with his own reflection, and so he did, and pined away until death. Vanity can be just as consuming in our time. If you're always worrying about how you look, you'll miss out on the chances of simply "being you." Because of this possibility, mirrors could be seen as selfish devices, evil and worthy of shunning.

On the other hand, the same ability of a mirror - to reflect oneself - could be as critical to human development as to human destruction. Without self-examination, how can we ever make progress? Just as a gardener may know the most aesthetically desirable places to trim a tree by studying it, we may learn what areas we need to improve in by seeing ourselves as we are now. There are many kinds of mirrors - introspective and external - to look at different parts of our lives and find opportunities for correction (and this is where many analogies come into play, whether we're looking into a true mirror or a distorted circus mirror).

So the same object, a mirror, can be used for one purpose - self-evaluation - but to different ends. The only difference between those ends is the beholder and what he or she chooses to do with the image. Why do you look into a mirror? Are you focused on fixing how how others perceive you, or are you trying to improve yourself for improvement's sake? Are mirrors the downfall of the human race, or the elevating of it? As with so many things, it's up to you and what you do.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Song I Like

This song was free on iTunes last week, and I really like it. It's called "Happily Ever After" by He is We. Here's some of the lyrics:
Let me riddle you a ditty, it's just an itty bitty, little thing on my mind.

About a boy and a girl, trying to take on the world one kiss at a time.
Now the funny thing about, ain't a story without it, but the story is mine.
And I wish you could say, that it ended just fine.

We all want to know, how it ends.

Oh, happily ever after, wouldn't you know, wouldn't you know.
Oh, skip to the ending, who'd like to know, I'd like to know.
Author of the moment, can you tell me, do I end up, do I end up happy?
(Here's a link to a Youtube video with the full music and lyrics) 
 It's easy to slip into this feeling sometimes. We all want to fast-forward our life sometimes past the hard or boring things and see "how it ends." It's not a sinful feeling, but my experience tells me that it's a little immature. Yes, it's nice to know how things work out, but the ending is only appreciated after the preceding journey. Skipping to the ending (and ignoring or trivializing the ups and downs that get me there) would take away from its sweetness, beauty and value.

So yes, I definitely get impatient in the present moment, but who is the "author of the moment" in these lyrics? It's me. "Do I end up happy?" Well, that's up to me to decide :) I'm going to end up happy if I choose to take each moment for what it's worth - taking lessons and tools from my experiences - and choose to be optimistic, by looking forward to tomorrow and enjoying today. Happily ever after will come if I choose to be happy today.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Lifting Burdens"

I've been feeling kinda weighed down and stressed this evening. As I opened my internet browser, I saw a link to this video and felt prompted to watch it. It was a sweet reminder of the peace that comes only from Jesus Christ. We spend a lifetime learning and accumulating memories, but sometimes we need gentle reminders of things we already know. The promises of peace and healing are always extended to us, and never withdrawn unless we willfully withdraw ourselves.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. (Matthew 7:7)
God is always there for us, even in the times when we doubt ourselves and think that we're unworthy of His help. He loves us. He will support us and help us to succeed. We are His glory; everything He does is for us, His children. And we will always be indebted to Him.

Our happiness is dependent upon our obedience to Christ. He will take what we have and lift us up higher than we could reach on our own. Of this truth I share my witness, in the name of Jesus Christ; amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughts on a Thursday Night

It's Thursday night, and I have a hard time remembering where the past week went...

For one, I've spent way too many nights this week falling asleep on the couch at 2am because I was too distracted to go to bed at midnight. Probably has a causal relationship with my memory issue.. :)

A change of perspective helps so much. I learned a few things from my dad this week, made a few connections within myself, and am doing better with trusting Heavenly Father. Love leads us to become more Christlike, so if I'm motivated by love, then that's a good thing... It makes it so much easier to do something hard when I can equate love for someone with doing that hard thing because it'll help them :) Now I'm happy to do this hard thing. 

Also, I'm learning how staying on top of busyness isn't the only challenging part of life... Knowing how to use the duller moments is important too! For some reason I've had a lot of free time this week, and figuring how to manage that time is as important (if not more so, potentially) as managing the more stressful periods. Getting out and taking initiative is a great thing: hard work and service are both divine principles. 

I've got a lot to look forward to - now I just need to go out, prepare, and do it!

(PS: That big-news-thing I briefly wrote about a few posts ago... Well, this is it: I'm going to Austria this summer!! I'm soooo excited :D )

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Honor of Valentine's Day

I was introduced to John Donne's poetry in high school and really liked it: he uses some very interesting analogies and ideas in his writing, and I enjoy the paradoxical nature found in many of his works. Much of his poetry is love poetry, so I'm sharing quotes from some of my favorite poems and some that I just discovered tonight. The themes are just as valid today as they were in the 1600s, when they were written. Enjoy! (follow the links for the full poem)

The Broken Heart
He is stark mad, whoever says,
That he hath been in love an hour,
Yet not that love so soon decays,
But that it can ten in less space devour ;
Who will believe me, if I swear
That I have had the plague a year?
Who would not laugh at me, if I should say
I saw a flash of powder burn a day? 

Yet nothing can to nothing fall,
Nor any place be empty quite ;
Therefore I think my breast hath all
Those pieces still, though they be not unite ;
And now, as broken glasses show
A hundred lesser faces, so
My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,
But after one such love, can love no more.

The Undertaking
I have done one braver thing
Than all the Worthies did;
And yet a braver thence doth spring,
Which is, to keep that hid.

The Computation
FOR my first twenty years, since yesterday,
    I scarce believed thou couldst be gone away ; 
For forty more I fed on favours past, 
    And forty on hopes that thou wouldst they might last ; 
Tears drown'd one hundred, and sighs blew out two ;
    A thousand, I did neither think nor do, 
Or not divide, all being one thought of you ;
    Or in a thousand more, forgot that too.
Yet call not this long life ; but think that I
Am, by being dead, immortal ; can ghosts die ?

And, perhaps my very favorite (Which I'll post in its entirety): 

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

AS virtuous men pass mildly away,
    And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
    "Now his breath goes," and some say, "No." 

So let us melt, and make no noise,                                     
    No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
'Twere profanation of our joys
    To tell the laity our love. 

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears ;
    Men reckon what it did, and meant ;                            
But trepidation of the spheres,
    Though greater far, is innocent. 

Dull sublunary lovers' love
    —Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove                                   
    The thing which elemented it. 

But we by a love so much refined,
    That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
    Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.                           

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
    Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
    Like gold to aery thinness beat. 

If they be two, they are two so                                        
    As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
    To move, but doth, if th' other do. 

And though it in the centre sit,
    Yet, when the other far doth roam,                             
It leans, and hearkens after it,
    And grows erect, as that comes home. 

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
    Like th' other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,                                 
    And makes me end where I begun.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Who Will Be My Shepherd?

As I went to bed last night, my head and heart were aching with worries about who I am.
Am I good enough? Will I be strong enough for all that lies ahead? Am I just mediocre, coasting enough to get by without going anywhere?
Then, the thought came, Would I be able to prepare my children to be the best they can be, to withstand what lies ahead of them? (keep in mind, the answer I kept feeling to all of these was a despairing "I'm not good enough"). That suggestion snapped me back to reality. This is Satan feeding me all these doubts! That's when I decided that they were lies and that I wouldn't listen to them.

Satan's goal is to make everyone else as miserable as he is (see 2 Nephi 2:18). He is in eternal opposition to God: darkness and light, misery and happiness, lies and truth. He attacks what is most important by demeaning and vilifying it. He takes what is beautiful, sacred and noble about men and women and turns it into something scorned, laughable and abused; he seeks to destroy the safety and love of home and family; he corrodes the moral fiber of individuals and entices them to hate their own selves. God would raise men up to be as He is - selflessly sharing His power and happiness with us; Satan would drag men down to where he is - selfishly absorbed and destroying their hopes for happiness. "Wickedness never was happiness." It's important for us to recognize where our feelings and thoughts can come from, because it makes a difference in what we need to do to resolve them.
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. (Moroni 7:12-13)
If we've done something wrong, God will let us know by His Spirit, and He will also tell us that there is hope that we can become better, and that He'll help us through the Atonement. Satan, on the other hand, will make us feel guilty and convince us that there is no going back once we've messed up, that we are a lost cause and can never improve. God is encouraging, and Satan is discouraging; God is love, and Satan is hate. We're all human, and we're all going to mess up; but when we screw up, who are we going to listen to? God or Satan?

What I was feeling last night were thoughts of despair - that I wasn't good enough, and that I would fail my family. Those two things - my self-worth and my family - are two critical issues that can make or break a person. If Satan can convince me that I'm a nobody, that I'm a screwup, that I will be alone forever, and then get to my family through me, he will have won me over. Not only would he prevent me from reaching my fullest potential for a fulfilling, happy life, but he would be able to exert his influence in the generations that follow me. How important it is that we protect such sacred things! Every single person on this earth is a child of God! They have a divine heritage and a divine potential, and each one is precious to God. We are all brothers and sisters here, and we should all be on the same side, to build each other up so that we all succeed.

God is truth. God is love. I am His daughter, so I'm trying to be like Him. I want to inherit the same happiness that defines who He is. So when I'm feeling sad or alone or not good enough, I will turn to Him and learn from Him, and He will teach me and lift me up.
For behold, this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Moses 1:39

Moses had a similar experience to mine (I think it's an experience that everyone will have to go through at some point), in deciding who he would listen to. Follow this link to read the whole chapter for the story. You won't regret it. Especially if you substitute your name for Moses' when the Lord speaks to him.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

All Things Denote That There Is A God

"All things denote that there is a God". It's a gospel truth, and it's an amazing lens to see the world with, especially as you come to understand who God is.

I thought about some applications of this as I was out walking this week. As I looked up to the sun (it was directly in front of me, and high above), a couple thoughts passed through my mind comparing the earthly sun to the Son of God. First: That sun is bright! Likewise, whenever visions of Christ are mentioned in the scriptures (to Joseph Smith, to Paul), brightness and glory are mentioned as signs that accompany Christ's appearance and testify of His divinity. Symbols in nature are a good way to show that God is there and what He's like.

Second set of thoughts regarding Jesus Christ and the sun: even when clouds temporarily obscure our vision, the sun is always there. Likewise, when disappointments, discouragements, and gray clouds are all we see, it can be hard to remember the warm, invigorating presence of the Son of God. As the Creator of all things, He is our source of life, and supports us from breath to breath. Without Him, life would be more than just dark - it would be nonexistent. As we are dependent on the sun directly for vitamin D synthesis, warmth, and avoiding Seasonal Affective Disorder (which shows that biologically/emotionally, we need daylight), we are also dependent on the Son, Jesus Christ, for sustenance, comfort, and renewal through the Atonement.

These are two simple examples of gospel ideas/principles illustrated in nature. There are many more, and you can recognize them by paying attention to what's around you and by listening to the Holy Spirit. It's an excellent way to learn and to draw closer to God :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Service Makes Me Happy! (and charity never faileth)

I've had a really rough time this week. The best description I've come up with is "depressive symptoms". Not chronic depression or anything, but like a mild, short-term version: hopelessness, despair, cynicism, lack of motivation, apathy/recklessness, and indulging in self-destructive behaviors like ice cream binges and going to bed super late. These feelings formed the backdrop to the functioning of my everyday life over the past few days. I didn't like it, but I didn't know how to fix it. I felt consumed and preoccupied by unresolved emotional pains and fears.

As I reflected on it Wednesday, I realized that it could be a serious problem and definitely one I didn't want to continue. Somewhat reluctantly, I followed a couple spiritual promptings that I had: after feeling a little random and foolish, I texted my local bishop and asked if he knew anyone I could serve. I also talked to one of my home teachers (every man has an assignment to visit a couple families - or single students, in a student ward - with a partner once a month, and is available to help them as they may need it) and asked if they could give me a priesthood blessing. By the time I ran to my evening class, I'd made about 45 cookies to anonymously deliver to 6 individuals recommended by my bishop, and I was excited about it.

After my home teachers came by several hours later and gave me a priesthood blessing, I wrote a short journal entry about the week and came to the conclusion that service has been a most consistent thing to pull me out of the dumps. People doing kind things for me helped, but it was when I got outside of myself to help others that really made a difference. When I was at work on Tuesday, I stayed an extra 20 minutes to prepare food for some sick missionaries who came by after the cafeteria had closed. Being busy is a good deterrent to bad feelings, but being busy for someone else is even better. Wednesday, it was when I was making the cookies, buying some apples, writing notes to each person and dashing across the street in the cold that I felt like I had a reason for what I was doing.

So what am I going to do now? The only answer that will get me the results I want is to immerse myself in service to others. That's going to be hard; knowing myself, my problems are likely to be having the self-discipline to put forth all my effort every day (instead of getting lazy) and remembering to do it. But I think that by doing so I'll have a more happy, steady, fulfilling life. As I serve others, I emulate Jesus Christ's example and He helps me to develop charity. God, my Heavenly Father, loves me, as does His Son, Jesus Christ. Love can bring so much pain, but it is also the most wonderful, pleasing, all-consuming, ennobling emotion we can have. God is love, and God leads us to happiness. I know that real happiness is worth the cost, and I know that I will be asked every day to pay the price. I just have to do it a day at a time, and as I do, I'll receive heaven's help. Things will work out in the end; if not, we have no reason for hope and nothing to live for. So what choice do I have than to either be miserable or to have hope? I might as well choose the better part - if I choose hope, then I have a chance for happiness, and I just need to trust that it's a sure chance. And trust I will.