A couple of months ago, my bishop called and asked me to take about ten minutes during our combined Relief Society/Priesthood meeting to share my thoughts. The topic? Happiness Requires Effort.
I laughed. Happiness requires effort. Really? All through my preparation, whenever I thought of the topic I would laugh again. I couldn't decide if he had asked me because I am happy, or because it obviously takes me a lot of effort.
The world may never know.
Anyway, I have been hanging onto these notes, waiting for the perfect time to form these bullet points of happiness efforts into a blog post.
And the time is now.
[Insert "The Eye of the Tiger" here.]
[Wait, is that happy enough? It just seemed to go so well with the line, "And the time is now." Hmm. Perhaps I'll re-think the song and get back to it later.]
What I decided, thinking about happiness, is that it's less like a light switch and more like a continuum. There are days of less happiness and there are days of more happiness, but rarely do I wake up and think, "Man--today I feel happy!" What I tried to do was figure out what I can do to keep my days on the greater happiness side of the continuum.
Here's what I came up with.
- Listen to happy music. Whether it be show tunes, a favorite band from high school, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I attest there is power in music. It has the ability to reach our hearts and change our emotions more than just words alone (which is also why, if you're feeling a bit gloomy, you should steer clear of the angst-y stuff).
- Notice things. In the slap-dash, rapid-fire pace of today's world, it's easy to forget how amazing the earth is. When we take the time to notice the little things--the way a leaf uncurls in the spring, the way plants make food and oxygen, the way rain sounds as it falls--we're better able to recognize how some things that seem urgent and important really aren't.
- Keep perspective. Whenever I fly out of Seattle, the clouds are a solid gray ceiling. The plane gains altitude and WHAM! We come above the clouds and the sun--the sun is still there. Naturally, I know it's still there, but it's easy to forget when you haven't seen it for weeks (or months) at a stretch. God is in control, even when bad things happen. Maybe especially when bad things happen? Keeping a journal and specifically recording the ways God touches our life, like in this talk, can help remind us of this.
- Spend time with children. Preferably not your own. (Just kidding! Sort of.) For a little while, focus less on parenting and more on enjoying the unique views that come from those under six years of age. Borrow someone else's children if you have to, and be sure to ask them lots of questions.
- Laugh. Together or alone. Watch a movie or read a book (P.G. Wodehouse is a personal favorite of mine--I think every single book he ever wrote has made me laugh out loud [LOL, PG!] more than once). I know it's totally cliche (or possibly just Readers' Digest), but laughter really is the best medicine.
- Work. The feeling of accomplishment you get when finishing a project, whether it be sanitizing your entire kitchen or organizing the junk drawer, will lift your spirits. This I know (even if I don't speak from first-hand experience about the sanitized kitchen).
- Exercise and eat right. It's amazing that what thousands of doctors have been saying for years is true! The first thing I do when I'm feeling crummy is look at my eating habits and my sleeping habits. When our bodies are physically, mentally, and spiritually well, we're better able to cope when emotional challenges arise.
- Do less. We really can't do it all. Prioritize what time you have and decide what is essential, what is necessary, and what is nice, then act accordingly. Read this talk for more ideas.
- Serve others. A friend in my ward is fond of saying, "When you're feeling sad, bake a cake and give it to someone else." It's completely true that taking the time and effort to give to someone else lightens our own load. I'm not sure why it works that way--possibly it's one of those mysteries we'll find out more about when we get to heaven.
- Do something you enjoy. And don't think about all the things you need to be doing and feel guilty about doing something you enjoy instead of those other things. That completely defeats the purpose.
- Keep the commandments. One of my favorite scriptures is in Mosiah 2:41. "And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it."
So there you are--a few bullet points to help you on your way to greater joy on the happiness continuum. As Joseph B. Wirthlin once said, "Yet in spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser, and happier as a result."
It's possible. Not easy, but possible.