Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Don't You Know Everyone Wants to Laugh?"

I love making people laugh!! (the post title comes from "Make 'Em Laugh", from the movie "Singin' in the Rain")

I work in a cafeteria, and today, I was working in the dishroom. Towards the end of the shift, we had some heavy, metal drip trays come through our line. After conferring with the girl next to me, neither of us were sure which machine to clean them with; so, I slid the tray in the soap bath in front of me.

A couple minutes later, our supervisor walks in. He sees the girl next to me, who has another drip tray in her hands, and starts, "No, no...", explaining the correct procedure for cleaning them. The supervisor was facing towards me, with a small group between us that he was talking to about these drip trays. As he was talking, I slowly lifted the sudsy drip tray from the soap bath (where it was evidently not supposed to be), and gently set it on the shelves with the other trays. The supervisor glanced and saw what I was doing (and saw the mock-guilty look on my face) and busted up laughing! It was so perfect and fantastic; I wish it had been recorded by a camera.

I love making people laugh :) And usually, whether purposefully or inadvertently, I'm pretty good at it :D

Friday, April 29, 2011

5 Tips for Being Social

Once in a while, it becomes apparent that I have changed quite a bit over the years. People that I meet now seldom know unless I tell them that I'm shy at heart, and used to be exceptionally shy, awkward, down on myself, unliked by guys, etc only a couple years ago. At this point in my life, I can usually overcome those feelings, and surprisingly, now I find myself in a position where people ask me for advice, as though I know what I'm doing! So I thought I'd write down some of the things that I do to be a more social person:

- Smile!
When I was 16 or 17, a guy that I had just met told me that I have a beautiful smile. I feel like that was a real turning point for me. For one, I learned that I could be attractive with the traits I already have. If you're smiling, it's also hard to feel scared. Smiles put others at ease and help them to feel welcomed in return. It's a great communication tool, and the most beautiful asset a person has (seriously - I melt inside when a guy gives me a really genuine/sweet smile). Sometimes it takes practice to make smiling feel natural in intimidating situations when you're scared, but that's where other tips come into play.

- Don't be self-conscious.
I know - it's SO much easier said than done! But try to apply it. If you do something weird, the people you're with probably won't care, or won't care for very long. My biggest problem is that if I start feeling self-conscious, I freeze up and withdraw myself from participating because I don't want to embarrass myself more. Remember that we are our own hardest critics, and sometimes unnecessarily/untruthfully. Just let the embarrassment/awkwardness slide off your back and keep moving forward. This one took me years to work on.

- Establish a connection/sense of camaraderie.
This needs to happen on an individual level - it's much less intimidating and more effective that way. I usually pick the person I'm standing next to and establish a connection with them; after all, we're both at the same event, at the very least, so we have one thing in common. To achieve the sense of camaraderie, I build off our shared experience and act like we're friends already. (This is where the smile really helps!). You don't have to stick with one person either (that can get clingy); especially if you're in a group setting, the group has something going on, so just pay attention to the conversation and contribute if you can. Pay attention to social cues, don't be a story hog (I've been guilty of that a LOT), and move with the flow of the conversation. 

- Be genuinely interested in individuals.
This is, in my opinion, the absolute key to success. I learned from the book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," that it's useful to get someone to talk about their self. That strategy works because when somebody is interested in you, that's really flattering! If you engender positive feelings in somebody, they're more likely to exhibit positive feelings towards you in return. It's about more than just the mechanics of the conversation though: it's about making the other person feel special and worthwhile, and recognizing as much as you can the contribution that they make to what's going on. This is being friendly - caring more about the other person than caring how they make you feel. If you're more concerned about them, you have less room to be self-conscious, and people want to talk to you because you make them feel good about themselves. 

- Be brave!
When it comes down to it, you just have to brave - brave enough to swallow your fear, walk across the room, and begin a conversation with a complete stranger (or an intimidatingly-attractive acquaintance). You don't have to sweep them off their feet with how suave and awesome you are; in fact, that strategy usually backfires :) All you need to do is be interested in them, don't worry about impressing anyone, and just be yourself. It is hard to take the first step, but my personal philosophy is that sometimes you have to take the initiative in order to give yourself opportunities, so be bold! (But not overbearing - Alma 38:10, 12).

There's a strong connection between being social and having healthy self esteem. Recognize the contribution that YOU make (to your friends, to your family, to your community, to "the world" at large) and be confident in who you are. You need to have self-confidence to be really successful, but you gain confidence in the process as well. It's one of those gospel paradoxes - do you remember in Mark 8:35, that whosoever should lose his life should find it, and whosoever should save his life would lose it? There is a bidirectional relationship at work here: As we lose ourselves in love and service to others, we find increased love and esteem for ourselves. My life is one testimony that this does work! There is hope! You don't need to despair or settle for less just because you're too shy to make the first move right now. Start working on it a bit at a time, and it'll get easier with practice; even if you never become a "pro," you still make improvement and learn in the process. Christ helps us in our weaknesses, and I've seen that over and over in my life, including in my social life :) 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Finals Week = Changes

Finals are a funny time. It is, like I blogged in December, a scary time of preparing for judgment. It also precedes a period of blissful freedom from academics, especially following winter semester. As the seasons change from spring to summer, this semester's finals are a particular time of transition for me. What am I transitioning to, and why is it exciting and slightly dreaded?

Plus side: Spring term means I'll get more hours at work (usually between 30-40 a week) and consequently, bigger paychecks. Also, I LOVE this time of year: hiking in the mountains, late-night bonfires, sitting on the balcony simply enjoying the warmth as it soaks into my skin, swimming every once in a while, dancing late on the weekends, I'm usually less stressed about school (I only take 2-3 classes during the summer), and I usually get to visit home for a couple weeks. And this summer, I'll be doing a study abroad in Austria for a couple months before school in the fall.

Negative side: Most of my roommates and best friends leave - sometimes I get stuck with less-than-fantastic roommates who don't do their dishes or buy toilet paper, and I have to find new friends to hang out with. Most of my sunlight hours are also lost as I walk into work in the morning and leave at night, doing the same thing everyday. The negatives are hardly the worst things in the world, but they're things that drag on every day and are hard to avoid. They form a dark tunnel that can make it hard to see the light at the end if I get stuck in there.

Not only will the summer be different from the school year, but it portends other coming changes. I have a roommate getting married next month. I am so happy for her, and I look forward to the day I can marry the man I am as blissfully in love with as she and her fiance are with each other. But, she's moving on, and this fall will be different because she won't be living with us anymore. I have another roommate who will be serving as a full-time LDS missionary in Europe, and she won't be around anymore to teach me how to cook, to share her creative recipes with me, to be in my classes (we're in the same major), or to spread her beautiful happiness, smiles, wit, and looking-out-for-others-ness in the same sphere of influence as me. I'll only be able to reach her by letter for 18 months, and I'm going to miss her. The first girl I'll see at her wedding, and hopefully again in the fall; the other girl I might see briefly at work in several months. I have other friends who will be gone for the summer, but will be returning in the fall.

Now, change isn't all bad. And pining for the past doesn't lead anywhere, so I'm getting better at accepting the present as it is and moving on. But change always brings uncertainty because we simply haven't experienced it yet, which is worrisome sometimes. I guess the "happy moral" of this post is to take comfort in the things that are certain. For me, the certainty that Heavenly Father is looking out for me is the most reassuring of them all. I can't see my future, but He can, and He's told me that I can get through it, and it will be worth it. Because I know that I can trust Him, and that God cannot lie, I trust that everything else He says is true: when I mess up, I can use the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, to make it up and get back on track; I can keep the commandments He gives me; I can move forward with faith instead of fear. And I can embrace change because change inspires growth and learning in new ways. The more I learn about life, the more I learn that I can trust Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and let go of my fears.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sources of Happiness

I was reminded today of a song that a friend and I actually made up a dance routine to back when we were young - the song "Lucky" by Britney Spears. The chorus goes, "And they say she's so lucky, she's a star. But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart thinking, 'If there's nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night?'" I feel like my life is kind of like that sometimes. When I'm with people, I'm usually pretty happy, friendly, and interested in others; but even when things are going just fine, when I'm by myself in the evening, sometimes I feel down and wish for the blessings that I lack. [I don't like admitting my weaknesses to people, but I probably need to learn how to do it in an appropriate - honest, but not overdramatic - way. I might as well practice here.]

I was experiencing some of those feelings tonight, and tried a few different things to deal with them. First, I just listened to the music on my laptop for a while. That was nice because I enjoy the music, but its effect was more comparable to wallowing in an emotional ice bath: I mulled over the feelings, but slowly numbed myself to anything else. It wasn't really helpful. I tried ice cream too (cookies and cream with caramel and chocolate toppings), and that didn't work either to deal with the feelings of wishfulness and insecurity.

Then, I finally decided to turn to the things I knew would work.

I opened my journal to the notes I took on the priesthood blessing that I got this week. Just reading through them was enough to open me to the Spirit and get me facing the right direction. It was like I'd been hiding in a corner, facing the wall, with a blanket pulled over my head and eyes squeezed shut; reading the special, spiritual experience in my journal was like gentle hands covering mine and helping me pull the blanket off, and then those hands carefully turning me by the shoulders to face the bright lamp in the middle of the room, allowing me to better evaluate my surroundings in the full light.

When my heart is turned inward, nursing my inner wounds, I am turned away from the source that will heal them and give me strength to move forward. Journals, scriptures, and praying are really good ways for me to shift my focus away from my problems and to Jesus Christ, who offers solutions. Obsessing over the things that are wrong in life isn't going to change them. The change I need comes when I'm meek and humble, and willing to be changed myself. My prayer is that I can turn to Christ more quickly instead of dawdling along side paths that don't get me where I want to go, and can often make existing problems worse. I testify that Jesus Christ offers the only solutions that will lead us to find happiness in life; as we practice coming unto Him, we will be able to experience this peace and happiness every day.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Summation of an Evening Before Finals

More things that made me happy tonight:

I am the-bomb-dot-com when it comes to picking avocados at the store. Usually I buy food a while before I use it, so I go for the avocados that are firmer so they'll last until I remember I have it and want to make something with it. Even with that subjective and variable timing, I've had good luck in picking the right ripeness from the store (without really knowing much of what I'm doing). Tonight we didn't have enough avocado for what I wanted to make, so I ran across the street to buy another one; when I got home and cut it open, it was beautiful. We had a good laugh about that, and it was extremely delicious with hard-boiled egg, mayo, lemon juice, paprika, and black pepper on a sandwich. 

One of our roommates got a mission call tonight to serve as a full-time proselyting missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She'll leave in July and will serve in the Slovenia-Croatia mission. We're super excited for her, and had over 20 friends show up to our apartment for when she opened the big white envelope. Not only was the occasion itself quite happy, but it was so, so good to see so many good friends together. As the festivities settled down to 4-5 of us, it was lovely for me to lay on the couch listening to Viennese waltzes, and reminisce and share new laughs with my friends. 

I am so grateful for the system that the Lord has in place through His church for watching over the flock. Every person has a couple men in the local congregation assigned to them to check on them throughout the month and help them with whatever service they might need (These are called home teachers). I've mostly been blessed with very diligent and kind home teachers; I know that if I ever need their help, they're willing to be there. With finals approaching and a few things weighing on my mind, I asked them for a priesthood blessing tonight. A priesthood blessing is a wonderful gift: a man holding the Melchizedek priesthood can lay his hands on your head and speak in God's name, pronouncing a blessing of healing, peace or comfort, as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost. It is truly a blessing to have such access to revelation through both the personal and priesthood lines, and I'm grateful for both. After he finished giving me the blessing and left, I started writing in my journal and gained even more truth and insight into what the Lord wants me to know. 

That connection to God, our Heavenly Father, is so vital for us as His children. How else do we find boundless, perfect love, security, purpose, and unfailing strength in order to survive and thrive in life? It's too hard to any of us to do alone, and the good news is that we don't have to - we have Jesus Christ to rely on. It is so important for every one to hear and know this message. It's a message of love from God, that He hears and knows the hearts, thoughts, and pains of every single one of His children! He is there with open arms, waiting patiently, lovingly for you to come to Him. He understands you even when no one else does. Christ has felt your pain. The Book of Mormon prophesies this of Christ (83 years before His birth):
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Alma 7:11-12
The Book of Mormon testifies that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and all the prophets that He would come to redeem His people. We are all God's children, and we become redeemed from our sins and burdens by repentance and coming unto Christ in meekness, with a heart willing to do His will. The promised blessings of coming unto Christ are peace, joy, and power to conquer Satan; as we exercise faith in Christ's Atonement, we will feel that peace and joy now, in this life, and after we've moved past the veil of death. What I don't know from personal experience, I learn from the example of others, and the Holy Ghost bears witness to me that all of it is true. You can obtain that same witness for yourself if you ask for it and apply yourself to studying (and doing) the doctrine. I bear this witness in the name of Jesus Christ; amen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Just a few good things

On a more ordinary level, here's some things I've been really enjoying lately.

- Good movies. Disney's Tangled is one of my favorite movies now (I'm hoping I can get the DVD for my birthday). Also, I saw the Bollywood films Mother India (1957), Awara (1951), Devdas (2001) and Swades: We the People (2004) for a research paper; they were each interesting in their own regard and fascinating when compared with each other. Tangled was just fun and happy, and the Bollywood movies were very thematic and thought-provoking.

- Good food. I was so proud of myself over the last week! I put a lot more effort into cooking and planning my meals, and some of them turned out really well! One night I made a crab fettuccine alfredo dish, and I made the sauce entirely from scratch without using a set recipe (credit for showing me how to make a white sauce goes to my roommate). I felt really creative and skilled, haha.

- Dancing. I had a blast last Friday at the weekly ballroom night at a local dance club. I was really hesitant about some dances with my ankle (foxtrot was actually more painful than cha cha, surprisingly), but ended up tossing care aside as the night wore on and had fun. Whirling through a west coast swing with the lights and the music was so fantastic! It was a great opportunity to get to know some people better as I danced with them through the night. I even learned a little bit of Lindy and a new lift! Definitely worth the little extra strain on my ankle for a night.

- Family time. Lately I've been calling my mom more regularly with updates on my ankle and questions about my study abroad this summer. Haha, we had a texting conversation a while ago mock-discussing the logistics of how to pass the time while living under a rock in the Canadian wilderness and befriending a wolverine to chase away cold-blooded animals. My brother has texted me a few times, I talked to my dad about taxes, and I got to talk to one of my sisters on the phone over the weekend about what she wants for her birthday. My family are all goofs, and I love them dearly. I've been missing them these last couple weeks.

- Friends. I had a tricky time adjusting when one of my roommates got engaged this semester, but we had a really good talk one night and it's felt monumentally better since. I know that my roommates care about me - we're each other's best college friends - and we have so much fun with each other. There's a lot of love in our apartment and between our friends. Also, lots of giggling, shared memories, and outlandish statements that make it to our quote wall. (I can't wait to get to heaven and see those records - that's going to be an EPIC quote wall!).

Look Up!

Most of my rehab for the sprained ankle is focused on balancing exercises. The very first thing I did was balancing on my bad leg, standing on the floor, for as long as I could. Once I started getting that down, I moved to things like balancing on objects of varying size and stability. Since then, we've added catching and throwing a tennis ball, and jumping/hopping without falling over.

At one point, the girl who was supervising my rehab pointed out that I had been looking down most of the time, and suggested that I try looking up while balancing. I did, and it made a big difference! All of a sudden, the tasks I was slowly mastering became a lot more challenging; even though I didn't understand why it was so, I knew it wouldn't be enough to continue the way I had been going - in order to get better, I would need to accept the change and step up my performance. 

I realized that the principle generalizes pretty well to where our focus is as we go through life. It can get boring and occasionally frustrating over the summer when I feel like all I do is get up at the same time every day, say goodbye to the sun for 8 hours as I go to work, and then get home again in the evening with a few hours before bedtime. But when I get my nose and downcast eyes out of the daily tasks and drudgery and look up, it's easier to pass the time. Looking up for me means to stop focusing on the little things in front of my face. It means to enjoy the bigger picture. In the summer job example, it could mean planning to do something with friends on a Friday night, looking forward to my day off, or even just appreciating how beautiful the western mountains look in the pink light of sunset. It takes effort, and it takes practice.

There is a balance - because sometimes we do need to watch our feet and pay attention to the smaller details - but learning to look up is a crucial step in living a happy life. Choosing to shift our gaze higher might be hard sometimes, like it is when I learn again how to balance on an injured ankle, but it makes us stronger and is significantly more enjoyable. Paying attention to the big and little things makes life more complete. Learning to look at my own life the right way (which is, Christ's way) helps me to feel much more peaceful and happy :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Two Minutes That Might Change My Life

What if...
We saw everyone we run into throughout the day as individuals, with dreams and fears like ourselves? What if we recognized and affirmed the inherent divinity and potential within each of them? What if we valued the contribution each person makes to the world?
The preceding questions are admittedly cheesy, wishful-dreamy, and cliche. But aren't they true?

In one of my classes today, I realized that my dance partner was making real eye contact with me. He's probably done that every time, but today I noticed, and it felt different - it made me shy and curious. What does he see when he's looking at me? (A usual, self-conscious thought). Then an increased awareness: What's he thinking about? Is he wondering how I see him? (Now my thoughts have shifted from myself to him). This brief exchange altered the way I thought and responded. At first I was shy with returning his gaze, but then I had fun with it and smiled more genuinely; I became more interested in sharing the experience with him, instead of feeling shy and obliged to his generosity. This guy is on one of the dance teams - I had assumed that he was a strong, confident dancer and was indifferent about how I perceived him.

But I can only see the outside, and by assuming I already guessed the inside correctly, I ignored the opportunities to learn more about him. Granted, my assumptions could have been right... And I haven't assumed anything negative about him... I may or may not have more opportunities after this semester to interact with him personally, but whether I'm right or not or if I'll see him or not, it still matters. Because he - as a real, 3-D person - matters. And that's the lesson I learned.

Part of me doubts that my partner even batted an eye at our 5 minutes of dancing together today. And the newer part of me says that I simply don't know. Haha, and perhaps I'm ridiculous for pulling so much from the experience :P But it reaffirmed to me the importance of valuing people as they are, not as who I think they are.

     What if we saw those around us as real people, with fears, bad days, stresses, desires, secret dreams, hopes and beautiful days? What if we looked past what's on the outside, and recognized them for their uniqueness and for the contribution that they make in people's lives every day? What if we stopped judging and started seeing, and started loving instead of assuming? The world would be an even better place :)

So thank you to that dance partner who really looked me in the eyes. I hope I remember and apply what I learned tonight.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Healing and Learning

While my sprained ankle is in the process of healing, I've noticed some interesting comparisons between physical and spiritual healing and learning. One of the biggest lessons I'm learning is patience! I want to be fully better right now, but if I jump ahead of myself, it'll just create problems later. We need to learn "line upon line, precept upon precept", and as we continue, our abilities will be increased. In this scripture from the Book of Mormon we read:
 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth will I give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28:30
I have to do things in the right order. Right now, I need to be careful with dances like viennese waltz, quickstep and triple swing even if they're really fun. At the same time, I have to push myself to be patient and cheerfully endure the simple rehab exercises like balancing on my bad leg and bouncing on bosu balls (like a big, squishy button on the floor that challenges balance). The exercises aren't too bad, but I need to do them before I can do bigger things. Doing things in the right order and being patient over time are applicable to gospel study and physical healing after an injury.

Even when I'm not injured, I still need to apply these principles in my general learning process. I can look at how I learn a new dance or routine as an example and draw some more principles. Running through the dance once will give me the basic idea of it, but to really learn, I need to practice, to look at it from different ways, and to repeat the motions until it sinks into muscle memory. This process should apply to anything I want to learn well. With the semi-annual LDS General Conference this past weekend, I learned so much as I listened to and took notes on the talks prepared by the speakers. But reading a talk once won't teach me as much as if I go through the material over and over, do some research on my own, and go through it until it sinks into my life and becomes a part of who I am! If the experiences I have don't change me, then I have really learned nothing from them. So to enact change, it will be a process over time (understanding that I'll need patience) as I start with the basics and work up, studying the material with faith, an open heart, and a real desire to learn and improve. 

Being stagnant is depressing. We are here in life to learn, to change, to improve, and to become the best we can be. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, He will take our best and make it "good enough" to accomplish what we need to and want to. That's how we can become perfect in Christ; it is impossible to become perfect on our own. By working hard and relying on the grace given by Jesus Christ, we can be fulfilled and happy in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. Christ makes everything right in the end, and He delivers, comforts, strengthens, and is with us every step of the way so that we can feel alright now.