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Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Practice of Happiness

(Originally written June 7, 2011)

Happiness is an interesting thing. Everybody is looking frantically around for it like it's a lost wallet, searching under every cushion, cause, and career path.

"Why aren't I happy?" we ask ourselves. Our brain hears a question and obediently begins collecting proof of reasons why we should not (cannot?) be happy. (Perhaps, tasking the obedient brain with the project "Why am I happy?" would serve us better.)

Happiness takes practice. Some of us practice being not happy everyday by asking things like "Why do things suck?" "Why must he make me so angry?" "Why is she trying to ruin my life?" "Why can I never get ahead?" "Oh, great. What next?" "How can I just get through today?"

We are so used to practicing not being happy that when an opportunity of joy comes along, we enjoy it only halfway because "good things don't last long."

Now, I admit this practicing may be harder for some people than others. It depends how long each person has been practicing non-happiness or how deeply their early caregivers drove in this lesson. I didn't realize how long I had been practicing not being happy until I noticed my husband had been for several months interrupting my whining bouts with compliments to the day's sunshine or to the mountains' beauty outside our window. How long had it been since I had noticed these things on my own?

One of my favorite stories of spiritual resilience is that of Immaculee Ilibagiza who survived the Rwandan genocides. Though her account was very difficult to read at some points as it described incredible acts of violence and apathy, I could not help but marvel at the thoughts she would occasionally dwell on about God and His love for her. Even while hiding for 91 days in a cramped and dark bathroom with 7 other women, she practiced quiet moments of happiness that ended up shaping her into a hero by the time she re-emerged into the light of day.

How could someone in such devastating circumstances practice happiness? Immaculee decided the alternative thought process was scary.

We hear or read survival stories like this and wonder how someone can come out of extreme situations with optimism and faith in humanity. When we look at them from the outside, they seem like saints and we deem them different than you and me. However, we don't see them practicing; we rationalize that they are born that way and that there is something wrong with us, which inevitably leads us to look to external causes.
  • I must not be reading my scriptures.
  • I must not be taking good care of my body. 
  • I must have some sort of chemical imbalance. 
  • I must have a broken childhood.
OK, how about this? The habit of not being happy leads to not reading scriptures as much. It leads to ignoring one's health. It leads to physical dis-ease and imbalances. It leads to distraction from activities that one values. It leads to dwelling on the painful moments of the past.

I've learned, happiness really does take practice! We each choose each day which thoughts to practice. The more consistently we commit to practice happiness, the easier happiness becomes to practice each day. This is not an easy thing, but the challenge of it is better than the scary results of the alternative!

Happiness is not at all like a lost wallet you must frantically search for and mourn. The funny thing about happiness is that it is more like a pair of lost glasses, and they were on the top of your head all this time waiting to be slid down over your eyes.


Wendy said...

Amen. I've been contemplating this very thing lately. Well put. :)

lisapants said...

Thank you.

Kristen said...

Are you happy?