Tuesday, November 2, 2010
"If you want to be happy, BE." Leo Tolstoy
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about being happy. You see, I used to rely on things around me to make me happy; those things varied depending on where I was at in my life. As a missionary, I often hung my happiness on the choices of the people that I spent a great deal of time and energy teaching or whether or not I had a letter waiting for me in the mailbox or my companions' reactions to a myriad of different things. At various times my ability to be 'happy' has depended on attention which might or might have not been given by a certain young gentleman. When I really sit down and think about it, all of that seems so...ridiculous. Immature. Self centered. (Do I need to go on?) How rude (Stephanie Tanner flashback, anyone?) of me to put that kind of pressure on another person when, in reality, I have almost complete control over how I react to the circumstances I'm faced with in my life.
Today I was talking to a fantastic friend who made an inspired comment. She said that people often remain in certain situations because they feel it gives them license to complain about how crappy and unfair their life is, but in reality, their complaining is what makes life so undesirable. It was as if she had finally verbalized a feeling that had long been driving me to make some big changes in my own little corner of the world. For a while there, I wasn't very happy. Just ask my mom. Or my sisters. By choosing not to take control of those things that were in my sphere of influence, I played the victim, seeking validation in my unhappiness. By continuing to complain about anything and everything I was inviting negativity into my life and pushing away my normally cheerful and sunny nature. For the longest time I felt discontented by my circumstances, telling myself that I'll be happy when:
I have a boyfriend.
I have my PhD.
I'm not living in Utah anymore.
I have time to hang out with my family more often.
I have kids.
I can travel.
I have money to shop at all of my favorite, but oh so expensive clothing stores.
Someone thinks I'm beautiful.
The list could go on for miles and miles. If one really tries, it's easy to put off happiness because, honestly, sometimes it's just simpler to remain stuck. It takes much less energy to keep up the status quo than it does to make a change in your attitude, but the reality is this: staying in the same position and expecting things around you to miraculously change is perilously close to the definition of insanity. You not only deprive yourself of all that time you could have spent being happy, you pull everyone else around you down into a swirling vortex of misery and unhappiness.
Now. Please don't mistake me: I completely understand that there are some individuals who do not have the power, because of various chemical imbalances or other circumstances, to make this kind of change on their own. There's no shame in requiring extra help. Why do you think God invented medicine? Better living can be achieved through the odious branch of chemistry. (I say odious because I'm terrible at it. Don't believe me? My little sister currently has the same chemistry teacher that I did in high school. He still remembers how bad I was and has told her multiple times.)
I can only speak from my own limited experience, and what I am saying is that happiness is a choice, not something that just suddenly happens. It's worth working towards, worth the energy it takes to change our thought processes. How sad if we waste our time because self pity and self deprecation appeal to our need for attention or our lazy nature. Honestly, the only reason I got up on my soap box about this is because deciding that I was going to be happy has changed my outlook on just about everything I deal with on a regular basis. Knowing that in a world where little is controllable, I have the ability to change something so great, something so fundamental, something so central to who I am, has made all the difference.