Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness

Take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:

Am I happy?

What would it take to make me happy (happier)?

The pursuit of happiness is perhaps the most traveled and least understood path.  We all want to be happy.  But, what defines happy?  Some confuse happiness with ease of life.  When times are good and troubles are few, people are happy.  Others define happiness as the time when everything is "going their way," when life meets their expectations.  When they have what they want, they are happy.

But, really, what is happy?

As far as I can tell, there are three types of happy.  

The first is an adjective to describe a state of mood. We feel happy (optimistically satisfied) when we receive a gift, win an award or buy the new couch we've been eying for months. We feel happy when our children achieve something significant, or when our spouse actually remembers our anniversary.  We tend to use the term, " That makes me happy."  In that light, anyone can be happy for a time.  There are things and situations all around us that can make us happy.  

The driving source of this state of happiness is external.  As such, we are, in essence,  being acted upon. We cannot, therefore, claim control over our happiness. If we rely solely on these outside sources for our happiness, we will find that our moods change as often as we change the channel, and we will be searching from one thing to another to make us happy. Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist and inspirational Holocaust survivor, noted that "it is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness."

The second kind of happy is a state of mind.  This is not just how we feel, but what we think. This type of happiness does not come from an external source.  Rather, it comes from inside of us. It is created by our thoughts which, in turn, from our perspective. We have the control. To this, Dr. Frankl said, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."   

This state of mind allowed Dr. Frankl to not only endure horrid conditions in a number of concentration camps, but to find deeper meaning and clarity during his suffering. He found that he could choose to be happy, even in the worst of conditions. He realized that external forces could have influence, but he had the ultimate control of his happiness.  

It is a freeing notion- that no one or no thing "makes" you happy.  You make you happy. In this state of happiness, it is possible to be happy, optimistic, content and and hopeful, even when the external sources of happiness are absent.

The third kind of happy is a state of being.  It is not only what we feel, or what we think, but who we are. 
George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher, poet and novelist, once said, "Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness."   When we begin to tap into our divine heritage, to truly understand where we came from and where we can go, being happy will become part of our character.

Democritus, the Ancient Greek philosopher, said, "Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold, the feeling of happiness dwells in the soul." 

This third type, or stage, of happy comes from nothing we can see or touch on earth.  It is not externally influenced, or internally created.  It is eternally given. It comes from the love of Heavenly Father and His Son.  But, it is up to us to tap into it, to develop it.  

 This type of happiness transcends the others. It does not guarantee that we will always get what we want, or always be in a good mood, or that life will always be easy. We cannot see the reasons for all things.  But we have been told they are for our good.  As we seek His will in our lives, and as our testimonies of who we are grow, we can be happy, even in the greatest of trials.  Perhaps this is why Paul, the great Apostle said, "...we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts"

Aldous Huxley, and English writer said, "Happiness is not achieved by the conscience pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities." 

Jesus Christ has given us the means to be happy: commandments and counsel, his gospel and life-saving ordinances.  As we follow His teachings,  and love and serve our neighbors as ourselves, we not only feel happy, but we become a happy people.  In John 13:17 the Savior says, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."

So, ask yourself these questions again:

Am I happy?

What would it take to make me happy (happier)?

Heavenly Father wants us to be happy.  Not just for a moment, a minute or a mood.  But do be genuinely happy. I wonder if he ever gets frustrated with us as He watches us aimlessly search and wallow.  It makes me think of a quote from a movie I saw when I was young. In the bottom-line words spoken to Elizabeth by her imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred.  She was telling him how she wanted to be happy, but just wasn't.  He tries to help, the in frustration yells "So, why don't you get happy!" (As he her forehead with a shovel.) 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bible Roulette

I love my scriptures.  I have learned so much studying them.  I have study aids and books that I use to help me understand the more abstract and difficult passages (I am about to start studying Isaiah, oh my!)

I wish I could say that my scripture study was consistent. There are times when I get lost in the study, and an hour will pass by before I know it.  Other times it is difficult for me to get into the spirit of things and I only read a verse or two.

What I love most about the scriptures is that I know that they are one of the ways that I can hear what God has to tell me.  I've heard it said, "If you want to talk to God, pray.  If you want to hear him, read the scriptures."

Sometimes I don't want to study the facts, the history and the stories.  Sometimes, when I am feeling down, lonely, or just need a boost, I don't want a history lesson- I just want to hear Him.

When I feel like that, like I did this morning, I do something that my mother taught me when I was young.  She called it "Bible Roulette." I know, the name sounds almost sacrilegious, but bear with me.  It is quite simply, really.  I say a sincere prayer, then, with closed eyes, I run my fingers over the edge of the pages until I feel impressed to stop.  I let my book fall open and read the first verse that catches my eye.

This morning I did that three times.  Here are the verses I came to in order:

Amos 5:4 " me and ye shall live."
Alma 30:44 "...The scriptures are laid before the, yea, and all things denote there is a God."
Deuteronomy 20:4 "For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you, against your enemies, to save you."

Three random verses that, when put together, say something great: Seek me and you'll make it.  Look for me in the scriptures.  I am the Lord, your God, and I am with you.  I will fight for you.  I will save you.  

I tried this once while visiting with a good friend of mine. She was making choices that were bringing her sadness.  She said she wasn't ready to stop her habits and come back to church.  I asked if we could read once scripture before I left.  I ran my thumb across the edge of the pages until she said stop.  I opened to this verse, "I beseech of you that you do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end."  She came back to church.

A few years ago, a matter was weighing heavily on my heart.  I knelt in prayer by my bed and wept. After what seem hours, I still had not received an answer to my plea.  At that point, my prayers had turned into a simple, Are you even there?   Through my tears I grabbed my Bible and let it fall open.  I looked down, and through my tears I read, "And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not."  At that moment, I no longer felt alone. The Spirit testified to me that God was there, and that my Savior also was aware of me. My tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy and relief.

Some might say that it is just coincidence.  They might think that since the scriptures are full of  wonderful verses, that the ones I land on are mere happenstance. Maybe.  But, I choose to believe otherwise.  I believe that God talks to us in ways that we can hear- when we are willing to listen.  Even through Bible roulette.

Try it, and see if you believe, too. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's in Your Closet?

My husband is out of town for a few days.  I can always count on a handful of things to happen when he leaves without fail.

1. I will clean out at least one closet.

2. I will eat ice cream in the morning (afternoon, or night.  Ice cream makes everything better!)

3. I will stay up until 3am watching mindless TV or chick-flicks.

4. I will rearrange at least one room in the house.

This time was no different. I have cleaned my closet out. I have rearranged my bedroom. I have eaten Breyer's Home style Vanilla ice cream with fresh blackberries mixed it it. I have stayed up until 3AM catching up on shows that I've missed lately. And that's just day one!  I still have 2 and a half days left!

My closet was a mess.  I found things shoved in the back of drawers that were from the Bush Era.  There were  clothes that haven't fit me for years. There was over a dollar in change collected, hair bands recovered and missing single socks reunited. Hidden and neglected, many items in my closet had not been seen or touched in many moons.

Three hours and many sneezes later, I am proud to say my closet is clean.  Clothes are neatly hung and folded, draws are organized and labeled, shoes are paired and orderly, and the floor can now be seen.

As I cleaned I am listening to a conference of my church leaders that is broadcasted twice a year. One person asked, spiritually speaking, "What do you know?" and began to ask a series of questions to those listening.  "Do you know God lives?" etc.

It caused me to do a personal inventory of my faith and what I knew. It was a process akin to the cleaning out of my closet this morning.  There are certain aspects of my testimony that I think of all the time, but were there parts of what I know that have been tucked away? Were there things that I once knew, that have faded into the background because of doubt and neglect? Are there elements of my testimony that are hidden under a bushel?

I love my clean closet. I feel good. I like knowing what I have.  There were many things found that I hadn't used, simply for the fact that I had forgotten they were there.  Now that I know what is in my closet and where everything is, I can fully utilized it and it's contents.

It is the same with my testimony.  I feel good when I know what I believe in. As I revisit through pondering, scripture and prayer the pieces of my testimony that have been left neglect and malnourished,  I feel stronger and closer to Him. There is great power that lies in the minutia of faith.  When you know what is in your testimony, you can fully utilize the principles in your life and the lives of others.  You open yourself to receive greater blessings and an even stronger testimony.

Take a moment or two and ask yourself what's in your spiritual closet.  Take inventory of your testimony, evaluate your faith and enjoy the feeling of knowing what you believe.  Then have some ice cream for me :)


Monday, April 11, 2011

The Door is Open

I have a chocolate lab named Tess.  We love her and she is madly devoted to us. She is a sweet dog that has moments of brilliance, but for the most part is not that bright.  For example, often times when open the back door to let her outside, she will walk onto the patio, then turn around and come right back into the house - even when I know she needs to "go potty" (yes, we talk to our dog like she is our forever-toddler.)

This morning was no different.  She hadn't been out since last night so I knew she needed to go.  I opened the back door.  She walked onto the porch, then immediately turned around and stared up at me, tail wagging.  She would have come back inside but I was still standing at the door.

"Go potty."


"Go potty."


"Go potty!"

Pitiful stare.

Finally, I just walked away from dumb dog on the porch and the open door, fully expecting her to follow me inside.

But she didn't.

She stood there for a minute and stared through the open door.  Then she turned around and ran out the to grass.  Soon after she came running back inside and straight to me as if to say, "I did it! Are you proud of me?"

I looked at my dumb dog then back at the open door. Then it hit me.

Tess knew was she needed to do.  But it was only when the door was left open - not closed to her- that she went to do it.  When she knew there was a way back in the house she felt she could go.

I realized then that Tess wasn't so dumb. In fact, she is a lot like us.

We used to live in this beautiful place with our heavenly family.  It was our home. We loved our Heavenly Father, and he loved us.  He loved us so much that He created this earth for us so that we could learn and grow. We don't remember that life before. That was purposeful, so that we might be able to develop faith in this life.

So, here we are, in this sometimes very cold, world.  Just like Tess, we sometimes find ourselves staring back home and not wanting to budge.  It's scary down here.  It's hard down here. I am hurting.  I feel alone. 

Luckily (although it isn't really luck) the door has been left open for us.

Life can be hard and scary.  And sometimes we just want to feel safe - feel peace - like we did when we were "home." But take heart. The door is open.  There is a way home.

The Savior has opened the door, through His Atonement. And He has shown us the way back home. So let's have courage in tough times, and faith in the night. Let's find joy in our imperfections and strive to be more.  Let's love and serve others while loving ourselves.  Let's learn of His commandments, and follow Him. Let's be like Paul and "fight the good fight."

The door is open. We can go about our work here with faith and confidence.  We will never be left out. We will never be lost.  We will be forgotten. There is a way home.

As I type this, Tess is lying on the floor at my feet.  Her tail is gently thumping in peaceful contentment.  She is home.

No, she isn't so dumb after all.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?

"Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?" The question dreaded by men (and best friends) the world over.  Especially if asked by a woman with extra layers such as I.  We women ask that question with no real interest in the truth - we know we do look fat.  We just want to make sure that the people we surround ourselves with are in an equal state of denial as we are.  We want to make sure they have our backs, so to speak. We need validation (that awful  V-word.) So, we ask them the loaded question and wait for the predictable - albeit expected - answer, "No, of course not." And we feel better - or do we?

I never do for two reasons.  First - I know I am not thin.  Second - I know they are lying (or stretching the truth, like the dress stretches across my hips) just to be nice.  I don't believe them.  And that makes me sad, too.

I asked my dad once if he though I was fat.  I was about 17 years old.  It was spring time, approaching summer.  I needed some validation.  He looked at me with loving eyes, and after a long pause said, "Well, you don't have what I would call a "bikini body", but you are not fat."  At first I was crushed.  I went up to my room in disbelief.  How could he say that!  Even at that young age I was somehow inherently aware of the "fat-question" rule.  He completely violated it by being.......honest!   I'll admit, I was hurt.  But, what I found was the validation of my physical appearance that I desired was replaced by something far more important- honesty.  I learned that day that I could ask my dad anything - anything- and he would tell me the truth.  Even if it hurt my feelings.

Because I knew this about my dad, I found that I was afraid to ask him certain questions for fear that my insecurities or fears might be valid (was I smart, was a special, etc.)  I sometimes wished he wasn't so honest.  On the other, sweeter, hand, when my dad said kind things to me and about me (which he did often) I found that I actually believed him.  I knew he did not have ulterior motives.  I knew he did not lie.  So, when he told me I was special, I believed him.  When he told me I was beautiful, I believed him.  When he told me I was amazing, I believed him.  When he told me I would be alright, I believed him. I believed him because he did not lie.  Because my dad loved me, and was honest with me, as a young woman (and even now) he gave me the gift of confidence in and a love for myself.  I love him and trust him - and will be forever grateful to him for that.

I was reading in the Book of Mormon this morning.  I was reading a story of a young missionary who went off to preach the gospel to his enemies.  They hated him, and their people were often at war with one another.  This young man, Ammon, fasted and prayed for strength, comfort and direction.  I read "And it came to pass that the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted. And they were comforted."  What a sweet answer from a loving God.  But- what struck me was this young man, and those who were to accompany him, stood in the face of danger and the unknown received an answer from the Lord and believed him.  No doubts, no questions, no second-guessing or giving into the fear of possible destruction.  The Lord spoke and they believed.  He told told to be comforted, and they were.

He may not give us the answers we want.  We may ask, "Does this sin make me look unworthy?" hoping for a polite, "Oh- no!  You look just fine!" and rather get the honest (but loving and divine) answer, "Yes. You need to repent and change."  The Adversary would have you second guess God.  Sometimes logic itself might cause you to question Him.  But, remember this: No matter what you ask Heavenly Father, He will tell you the truth. He does not lie. He will never steer you wrong.

When He tells you He loves you, it must be true. When He tells you that you are special - even  amazing - believe it.  When He tells you things will be hard, and life is tough -  but you will be OK,  believe Him.  When He tells you He has a plan for you, believe Him.

He tells you the truth because He loves you.  He tells you the truth because He knows the truth will bring you the greatest joy.  He tells you the truth because that is the way back to Him.

I am grateful to Heavenly Father for showing me the truth.  I am grateful to my earthly father for telling me telling me the truth.  And................I am (truthfully) thankful for my husband who knows precisely when to omit the truth ("No, that dress doesn't makes you look - oh, is that chocolate over there?")

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I am not much of a daredevil. Oh, I talk a big talk. I like to sound all tough, but I am really not. Remember the story of the cliff-jump? Yeah- there's no cape on my back.

A few years ago the youth in our church went on a hike on Mt. Rainier. We had lunch on a small plateau by a cliff. Some of the kids walked to the very edge to look over Of course the boys spit over the ledge and watched it fall hundreds of feet to the bottom. The sun was out, the youth and leaders were laughing and enjoying their food, and I was the one herding the kids from the ledge, nauseous from worry. Even my husband told me I was worrying too much. But I just couldn't shake the fear- what if one lost their footing and fell? What if they didn't have anything to hold on to?

I read in a book a few years ago that has never left me. The author described a plain brown package wrapped with a piece of twine. Do you care about the twine? No, you want what is in the package. Now, say, you are hanging off the edge of cliff above certain death, and the only thing that is keeping you alive is the piece of twine you are holding one to. Do you care about the twine now? Do you hope and pray that it is strong?

We are all "hanging over the cliff" in this life. None of us can make it back to safety- back home- without help, without a Savior.

A testimony isn't merely a state of mind, a personal preference or even a set of beliefs. It is more than that. Our testimony of Jesus Christ and his gospel is the spiritual twine that is keeping us from certain spiritual death.

I asked myself a few questions today. Do I care how strong my spiritual twine is now? Is it strong enough to hold me up?

You could take a moment to ask yourself some questions: How strong is your spiritual twine? How strong is your testimony? Is it strong enough to hold you up? If not, then change it. You have the power to: get on your knees, open your scriptures, lend a hand, and turn to God.