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.) 

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