Where do I start?

Why “Happy”? Part Two

Like I said in Part One of this post, “3 Hurdles to Happiness”, happiness often seems to be a conditional feeling:

  • I have money left over after all my bills are paid!
  • Good hair day, good skin day, and I look smoking in these new jeans!

Or one of my personal favorites:

  • I fed everyone today, and nobody died! 🙂

Unfortunately, Conditional Happiness is fleeting and easily broken.  If you find that your happiness is often in the hands of other people, events, or experiences, or you struggle with one of the other Hurdles to Happiness: over-complicating our lives, poor health, try overcoming those hurdles by starting to build happiness with these three things:

Star with: someone to love, something to do, something to hope for
Someone to love, Something to do, & Something to hope for

1. Start with “Someone” to Love

STOP EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE THINKING!  “Isn’t having Someone to Love the epitome of ‘Conditional Happiness’?”  Maybe, if that was what I was talking about! 

But, what I mean by Someone to Love, is START WITH YOURSELF!  Your ability to love others is directly proportional to how much love you give yourself.  Hoping to be happy, and not being happy with ourselves, is 100% counter-intuitive.  It is, in fact, impossible.

A lack of self-love leads to:

  • Poor academic/work performance
  • Bullying
  • A decrease in immunity & abundance of related health problems
  • Poor relationship management
  • An increased risk of partner-related abuse
  • An epidemic rise in prescription drug abuse and suicide

Nobody wants any of these things for our friends, loved ones, and most certainly not our children.  But, it’s our children who are most vulnerable to learning the negativity that produces these devastating outcomes. 

Yes, I said “learning”.  Our children don’t start with a negative mindset, they learn it.  How many of you grew up with a Mother who was always on a diet?  Subconsciously, she was teaching you that there was something wrong with the way she looked, and to question if there was something wrong with us too.

I have 4 beautiful children, and because of my poor habits in their early, developmental years, I have had to make a very deliberate, conscious effort to speak more positively of myself to teach them better self-esteem. 

The sad reality is, we gravitate towards negativity.  I love how Rick Hanson says it,

…the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”

Rick Hanson, https://www.rickhanson.net/stephen-colbert-we-dont-need-to-keep-fear-alive/

If asked, we could fill a book with memories of negative experiences and a laundry list of our failures and negative opinions about ourselves.  But could we do the opposite?

Start With How You See Yourself

In my High School AP Psychology class, we were given 5 minutes to write 100 things about ourselves that started with the prompt “I am…”.  We couldn’t write anything about ourselves that was negative.  

This was very hard for me.  My first identifying characteristics were all relationships: “I am a daughter, a sister, a niece, an aunt, a friend.”  Once I got past those, it became a little more challenging, until finally, I found myself looking around the room for inspiration. 

Then I saw that my class was comprised of two types of people:

  • Those, like me, who were gazing around the room, with mild looks of horror on their faces, and
  • Everyone else who was laughingly filling their pages like they could continue writing forever!

What was the difference between the two groups?  Self-esteem.  Those kids, filling their pages with ink, were confident, generally happy people.  The rest of us lacked their self-esteem.

If you’re curious how you’d do with this exercise, try it!  Time yourself and see how many identifying characteristics you can list about yourself in 5 minutes.  Then, go back and review what you wrote.  And don’t forget, you cannot write anything negative!

Did you find that, like me, you wrote a lot about your relationships?  Great!  Nurture those relationships.  Take pride in being a good daughter, or a loving mother. 

Did you identify a number of talents you have?  Then further develop those talents.  Or, when you were struggling toward the end of your list, did you remember old hobbies and talents that you once enjoyed?  Dust the cobwebs off those old hobbies, or explore new ones that reflect some attribute you have buried quietly inside yourself. 

Find ways to love and appreciate yourself, so that your confidence grows.  I guarantee you, happiness will follow. 

2. Start Doing Something Good

As a teenager, I heard a piece of advice that made an indelible impression on my heart.  It comes from a story about Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The story comes from the time President Hinckley was serving as a full-time missionary in Preston, England.  At the beginning of his service, Hinckley was met with a lot of antagonism from the community.  The Church he was representing was not well-liked at the time, the missionaries were seen as bothersome; the friend he had made and was largely depending on was transferred to serve somewhere away from him, and on top of everything else, he was ill.

President Hinckley knew his family was making financial sacrifices for him to serve this mission, so in his frustration, he wrote home to his father: “that he wasn’t getting anywhere with missionary work, and that he couldn’t see the point in wasting his time and his father’s money.”[1]

His father wrote back the following letter:

Dear Gordon,
I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.

Forget Yourself and Go To Work

This might be the best advice ever given to mankind.  If everyone spent their days in selfless service, or at least more concerned with others than themselves, the world would undoubtedly be a better place.  The secret is, of course, that losing ourselves in the service of others always blesses us with the most wonderful feelings of joy.  

One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.”

Gordon B. Hinckley

When my oldest daughter was only five years old, she started to develop the habit of speaking negatively about herself.  I was surprised, and obviously very sad, to hear these thoughts manifested from my 5 year old! 

I reached out to my mom, thinking, that as a mother of 7, surely she would have some advice for me.  Even she was momentarily taken aback, and she asked me to give her some time to think about it, and she’d get back to me.  A few days later, she called me back and said, “put her to work”. 

Service Heals a Multitude of Heartaches

My mother’s advice for my little daughter was to teach her Service, now.  Because, when we are in the service of our fellow men, there is little time for self-pity, self-doubt, or any other negativity that breeds from idleness. 

Not only are we too busy to worry about ourselves, but our hearts are healed and softened by our selfless care for others.

Hurricane Michael, start serving
Hurricane Michael aftermath. Photo credit: Catherine Hartman

Last November, I was blessed to take a weekend and go to the Florida panhandle with my husband to help in the recovery efforts from Hurricane Michael.  When I got back, my son asked me how it was. 

I told him, “I want to quit my job.”  I wanted to quit my job and spend the rest of my life serving.  Even if it meant sleeping in the back of my car and brushing my teeth on the side of the road with a half-empty water bottle, I didn’t care. 

Because I couldn’t remember another time I had felt so completely at peace and full of love and happiness. I felt willing to give up everything I had to hold on to that feeling. 

However, the lesson for me to learn here, was that I didn’t need to abandon my existing life and become a nomad, seeking service from place to place.  It was that yes, great happiness can be found in serving others…no matter where I am, or how small that service may seem. 

We don’t need to restrict our service those grandiose moments.  Just open your heart to be willing to serve, and as we go throughout our days, the opportunities will present themselves.

Thoreau, Happiness is like a butterfly

3. Start Finding Something to Hope For

Again, I want to start with a word of caution here.  I believe Hope is one of the greatest conduits to Happiness.  However, when that hope is placed in another person fulfilling an emotional need for you, this becomes Conditional Happiness.

Hope is the antidote for failure, doubt, and despair.[2] Hope is what allows us to remain in a world filled with turmoil, violence, anger, and tragedy, and continue to seek peace, care for our families, enjoy simple pleasures, and dare to be happy. 

Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart…Hope, on the other hand, is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances.”

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Now Find Something to Hope IN

Hope is often viewed as a hope for some future event: 

  • “I am hoping for a raise.”
  • “I am hoping for a healthy baby.”
  • “I am hoping for an exotic vacation next summer.”

How about turning hope for something into hope in the things that will produce those results?

  • “I have hope in my ability to produce good results for my employers, that will be recognized with a raise.”
  • “I have hope in my body to sustain and support this life I am bringing into the world.”
  • “I have hope in my existing plan to save money so I can take my dream vacation.”

Having hope in ourselves and our abilities helps reinforce our self-worth, which leads to…happiness! 

But, be patient with yourself.  Remember:

Uchtdorf, start cultivating hope one step at a time

Be your own arbiter of Happiness.  If you’re feeling stuck and don’t know where to start, start with yourself, so you are able to move on from there.  Love yourself—take pride in all the things that you are; Serve others in any seemingly simple way that presents itself; and never give up Hope

[1] http://www.ldsliving.com/The-2-Sentences-That-Changed-President-Gordon-B-Hinckley-s-Life-Forever/s/85398, excerpt from Sheri Dew’s book, Go Forward With Faith: The Biography of President Gordon B. Hinckley

[2] Uchtdorf, Dieter F., “The Infinite Power of Hope” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2008/10/the-infinite-power-of-hope?lang=eng

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