Sunday, August 12, 2007

Doctrine of Happiness

I've been thinking a whole lot lately about the concept of happiness. Mostly in light of the path that I am pursuing, but also in light of some of the recent posts by some bloggers. (Gimple, Stripping Warrior, Elbow, Young Stranger, Forrester) Everyone wants to be happy including me. The pursuit of happiness can be found in almost everything we do -our jobs, school, relationships, goals, hobbies, religion, morals, etc. Yet if everything we do in essence is in some way related to our overall happiness why are so many people unhappy? Shouldn't we be experts on the subject by now?

I think there is a misconception about happiness. People all too often view happiness as if it were a physical tangible gift that comes to you on account of the things you do with your life. I do no believe that happiness is a destination or a place. It's not like we make a choice and then suddenly we say, "Okay, I've arrived! I'm happy now!" Rather, happiness is a progression, a journey, a way of life. I believe that happiness is dependent upon progression or achievement. When I say achievement, I don't mean, winning a medal, getting a job, making a friend, or having a talent discovered and becoming famous. It is the attitude towards earning the achievement that makes one's journey to the achievement full of happiness.

A couple months ago I met a couple that were about to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. What an achievement! They were a happy couple. They did everything together. I could tell, though time had seasoned their minds with cloudiness of age, their love for eachother was strong as ever. I doubt that on the day of their 65th anniversary they turned to eachother and said, "At last! We are truly happy!" Yet so often I hear people say, "I will be happy when I get this or that. If I can just change this about myself then I will be happy. When I get to this destination in life, then I will be happy." I believe that this concept fools people into unhappiness.

It fools people into unhappiness because it is not the achievement itself that brings happiness, but rather the journey itself can truly be a happy one if we let it. For me, when I make mistakes and do self destructive behaviors it is usually on account of shortsightedness or an unmet need. But through it all, I can still choose to be happy. Wherever or whatever the situation is, I can choose to be happy.

For me, happiness is dependent upon progression. Again, not the progression of achievement, but the progression of who I am, my character, and my calling in life. Achievement is merely a mile marker in that positive progression. Because of that, no one can tell me what will make me happy.

If I can choose to love myself independent of my actions though; love myself as God loves me, then my weakness can be overcome. And when I have overcome the weakness or the trial or made the achievement, it is not the arrival of the reward that makes it all worthwhile, but rather the journey.

Thats why life is hard. Heaven wouldn't be worthwhile if it was just a matter of hanging on long enough to make it from birth to death. Yet so many people treat their membership in the Church with much of the same sentiment. "If I can just hang on and white-knuckle my way through the Church and fulfill my calling, read my scriptures, be obedient, etc. then I will get the reward!" Or in other words as long as I keep trying to be obedient to the Church then someday I will achieve my happiness. Don't get me wrong. I'm not dissing obedience. I'm speaking about happiness. Happiness comes from within. It is independent of any of life's variables. Sin and disobedience are natural parts of mortality and therefore sorrowing over it does little good. Pick up, move on, and be happy.

The well quoted verse, Alma 41:10 states, ...wickedness never was happiness. I completely agree. But too often people reverse the statement and twist the meaning to say: Wickedness is unhappiness. Happiness is independent. Alma was speaking of the resurrection and the restoration being restored to happiness or in other words being restored unto exaltation. If you take it in the context that it is so often portrayed in the church, no, wickedness never was happiness, but neither was righteousness. Happiness is independent.

"Most people measure their happiness in terms of physical pleasure and material possession. Could they win some visible goal which they have set on the horizon, how happy they could be! Lacking this gift or that circumstance, they would be miserable. If happiness is to be so measured, I who cannot hear or see have every reason to sit in a corner with folded hands and weep. If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life, — if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing." Helen Keller in Optimism

I could sit in the corner and fold my arms and say, "I'm Gay and I'm Mormon! Nothing I can do will change that and consequently I am going to be unhappy with it." Or I can choose to be optimistic and make something of myself.

I've been asking myself a lot lately, "Am I happy? Am I really, truly happy?" I had a conversation with my mom about a week ago about this. Certainly I wish that there were certain aspects of my life that were more perfect. I bet Helen Keller would have liked to be able to see and hear. I would like to be straight. But my happiness is not dependent upon that. Neither was hers. If happiness is not dependent upon my circumstances then it doesn't matter what my circumstances are. I'm glad to be me because I can be happy. I am not the only one in life who suffers with less than perfect circumstances. I can learn and grow in the life that God gave me and I can be happy. I'm not just saying this to convince myself or out of an obligation to convince others but truly because I believe it and I feel it to be true.

So then, am I happy? I really think I am. It's not like a big roller coaster either where one week I'm happy and the next week I suffer, but over all I've been steady. I feel great about life. I feel good about the direction I'm moving and the changes I'm making. Life is really good. I am happy.


Beck said...

I find I am happy when my arms are extended around someone, bringing them close to me and telling them that I love them - be that a lost, but now found friend, a struggling neighbor with health issues, a newly baptized 81 year old widow in the ward, my young daughter before going to bed, a fellow Moho and dear new friend I met on Friday, or my wife each and every day.

Go reach out to someone! That's when I'm happiest.

Brady said...

I think your second to last paragraph really summed it all up. Circumstances don't determine happiness. Sometimes it's not what you do with your circumstances either, but how you deal with and respond to your circumstances. One can be happy married, celibate, or in a same-sex relationship - regardless of their sexual orientation.

playasinmar said...

I agree. Happiness isn't a thing; like Tupperware.

Happiness is a thing; like liberty. More presence-of-mind than thing you hold.

iwonder said...

I really liked what you said to our mutual friend tonight. I thought a lot about it, and have been thinking on just that subject for a while now. I posted a few of my thoughts.

I agree with you. I am more or less in precisely the same situation as I was when I was suicidally depressed. And yet, I am happy the majority of the time.

This experience has taught me a lot about the true nature of happiness. For that, at least, I am grateful.

GeckoMan said...

Happiness, in my experience, can be such a fleeting thing. Yes, I believe it is in itself a choice; but I also observe that it is often the direct result of other choices I make as well.

Do you recall Joseph Smith's famous quote on happiness? " Happiness is the object and design of our existence and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God."

Now I don't quote this to disagree with what you said. The genius of Joseph's teaching is that we must pursue the path, ie., it is a journey. It may be a journey of ups and downs, but we must "pick up and move on," to quote you. I equate that with being willing to learn from our mistakes, which is yet another key choice, along with happiness.

Thanks for your thought-provoking post.

Elbow said...

Exactly. Life is not about suffering. Life is and can be as easy and as beautiful as we need it to be, or as much as we want it to be. I'm so proud of you. LIVE YOUR LIFE!