Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Choosing Happiness - A Reminder for myself.

I've been on a very personal journey over the past 5+ years since I divorced.  It's not something I talk about often on this blog but felt compelled to share this part of my story since it affects almost everyone.  It started about the time I was teaching the TFOT (Teachings For Our Time) in my ward Relief Society.  I was newly single with three emerging young adult children, full-time student, full-time working mother, trying to make ends meet and while many of the conference messages lifted my heart while studying them, it seemed I only gained temporary relief and uplift.

I was angry and hurt a lot.  I think that part is normal when we experience any hard thing.

Somewhere on this journey I began watching some mormon youtubers.  (and no this isn't an advertisement for them), but what intrigued me was the ongoing message that life IS hard, and we choose our own happiness level.

We choose Happiness.

My entire adult life was spent teaching my own children (and countless Primary and Relief Society lessons) that we have choice.  Good or bad, we choose the consequences attached to our choice, and we carry the responsibility and (* dramatic gasp*) "duty" to make choices understanding that agency is never free.

But I missed accepting that Happiness was a choice.  Happiness was in fact, a gift we pick ourselves.

I had determined years prior that happiness was the vehicle in life's journey.  That it was an attitude. That it was even a response, but had not thought that it was first - a choice.

And Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave an amazing message at the Women's Broadcast that year - his Forget me Not talk.  Where he said:
"we spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others—usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does."
of which I was guilty.  and then he went on talk about so many of us treat happiness like the mysterious golden ticket  (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory):
"So many people today are waiting for their own golden ticket—the ticket that they believe holds the key to the happiness they have always dreamed about. For some, the golden ticket may be a perfect marriage; for others, a magazine-cover home or perhaps freedom from stress or worry.  There is nothing wrong with righteous yearnings—we hope and seek after things that are “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” The problem comes when we put our happiness on hold as we wait for some future event—our golden ticket—to appear."
and he spoke of how when we don't get that golden ticket, we become withdrawn, bitter, and even angry.  And oh boy was I.

and then he said:
"You are not forgotten.
Sisters, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be, you are not forgotten. No matter how dark your days may seem, no matter how insignificant you may feel, no matter how overshadowed you think you may be, your Heavenly Father has not forgotten you. In fact, He loves you with an infinite love."
I bawled my eyes out.  and in that moment it was exactly what I needed to hear.  It was exactly the reminder I needed coupled with a good dose of reflection on what the Atonement actually meant to me.

I would love to say that was my life changing moment - but it was a few more years before that message of choosing happiness would culminate in actions - and change my life forever.  In fact, it was a year later that I was prompted to teach from Elder Holland's Laborers in the Vineyard conference talk that a significant message would take root.

I had been struggling for several years to find my place at church, to forgive ignorance and well-meaning friends and family who commented about my life following divorce - and it was while in the thick of all the everything work, mom, and church related that I found myself truly disappointed by the lack of celebration and support when I graduated my Masters program by family.  Perhaps it stung more at the time because other siblings were also engaged in schooling and there was very vocal support by family for them.  Regardless, it was in the midst of all this that Elder Holland's talk brought these words to me:
"...there are going to be times in our lives when someone else gets an unexpected blessing or receives some special recognition. May I plead with us not to be hurt—and certainly not to feel envious—when good fortune comes to another person? We are not diminished when someone else is added upon."
This is not the main quote most people take from this talk -but one i feel is amazingly underutilized.  I had long come to terms with the idea that all the cultural norms you accept as gospel were not always true.  And I had also come to terms with realizing that while families are forever, they are still human.  I did not want to feel un-celebratory or contentious when good things came to them.  I wanted to applaud and shout hooray easily, to give the accolades I had so wanted to receive from them, TO them sincerely.

and so began my learning about forgiveness in a new light.  For a few years I had a weekly exercise of finding at least three things I could genuinely give gratitude for - the theory being that finding gratitude in the midst of trials keeps us centered and thoughtful in perspective.

and do you know what?  Forgiveness came.  and each time my heart was lightened and I felt less troubled by the "stuff" that I'd experienced hurt from.  And with that - the strangest thing....  It freed me from frustration and worries.  and it improved my relationship with people in general.  and even in moments of envy or jealousy I could stop and be genuine in hopes and well-wishes for someone else, deserving or not.

And I feel happiness, a lot.
And life is still hard.

Celebrating someone else's life changes and successes is a good sign that you are choosing happiness in life (even if it's hard at the moment). We reap what we sow when we generously and sincerely give love and support, despite our own concerns, envy or whether or not we think them capable or deserving. Not competing with others releases an enormous amount of stress.

Adventures await - Be Happy.

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