Thursday, October 14, 2010

Learning to Be Happy

This post is a little off-kilter folks.  I would recommend starting here.

A few months ago when I was really struggling, as in struggling so badly that I still felt like I needed validation from a paid psychologist (or "rent-a-friend" as I call them), this wonderful, well-meaning woman told me that I needed to learn how to be happy, and that essentially, all of my life's struggles could be tied back into my not having learned the art of happiness.  I was shocked.  I was angry.  Of course I knew how to be happy.  I had been happy loads of times.  There were many periods of my life where I was really, truly, and serenely happy, if not entirely content.  Why did I have to choose to be happy when I had obviously been given a bad deck.  --It was unfair.  I wanted a do-over.  I wanted to call "foul," and have the hosts of Heaven come rescue me in what was obviously an egregious error on someone's part.

Boy was I conceited, huh?  I'm fairly certain that there's nothing quite like a psychologist to make you self-centered.  Go pay someone $100 an hour a couple of times a week or month, and see how small your world becomes.  Sometimes I feel like my time in therapy was like having an affair with myself.  This is not to say, by the way, that all therapy is bad. I can just say that the couple of times that I have been in therapy, while I'm sure have helped me in some ways, I feel like they have always left me worse off in so many other areas as to make the totality of the experiences negative.  So much so, in fact, that I can't honestly say that I would honestly be able to support any of my children going to get therapy, or my spouse, and indeed, we pulled our daughter out of therapy for just that reason.

I realized, and I'm sure that many of you are rolling your eyes right about now, that what I needed wasn't external validation, or a rent-a-friend, or any other kind of friend really.  What I needed was someone to seriously sit down with me and go through the Book of Mormon, so that every time some idiotic thing popped into my head about how Heavenly Father obviously loved all of His other children so much more than He loves me, or that Heavenly Father was punishing me, or that I was unworthy, or that I was so inherently bad from the pre-mortal existence that I needed this much refining now, I could have someone sit down and point out scriptures.  I could be shown real, tangible evidence of my Heavenly Father's love for me.  And yes, I'm sure I would have struggled quite a bit against it at first, and had to balk, and cringe, and swallow my enormous pride to admit that we all have sorrows and suffering to go through while here, and that there is no lifetime maximum allowance on trials and tribulations.  In fact, I'm coming to understand that there's really quite a bit more choice in just how many trials and tribulations we go through in the first place.  Some of them are unavoidable, certainly... but how we react to them isn't predetermined, unavoidable, or written in stone at all.  We can change ourselves, our priorities, our perceptions, our patterns, our very thoughts, at any point in time.  And sometimes, sometimes I think that's exactly what our Heavenly Father is looking for in the first place.

I can't believe how much more perspective I have on Heavenly Father now that I have children.  When my daughter struggles against me, refusing to eat her vegetables, which I know will help her to be healthy, and strong, and to have joy, and prevent future problems, and instead throws gigantic, fist-throwing, floor-stomping, table-banging temper-tantrums, I go "Oh! So *that's* what I've been doing this whole time!"  --Just because we can't always see, understand, or even don't want to believe that what we're going through is for our benefit, that doesn't mean that it absolutely isn't divine intervention that's happening in your life to give you the ready-made plans and tools to turn your lemons into lemonade for you.  Sometimes Heavenly Father even provides the lemonade stand for you if you let Him.  I'm still learning this.

It's so difficult for me to believe sometimes that out of the literal billions of spirit children that He has had that have lived on this world alone, of countless worlds untold, that He can find the time to love *me.*  Maybe that is because I grew up feeling so estranged from a loving Heavenly Father, maybe it's my own pride in wanting to feel *special* (don't we all), or maybe, ironically, it's my lack of self-esteem, which seems to make everyone else seem so very much more special than I could ever possibly be in the first place.  There have been so many times, and are still moments, when I look around at all of the born-and-bred Molly Mormons with their perfect children, perfect husbands, perfect houses, and seemingly perfect lives.  And it is only now that I am truly beginning to understand that these seemingly perfect women, whom I have been comparing myself to since I walked into my first Fast and Testimony meeting, maybe aren't quite as perfect as I first thought they were.  And maybe, actually, Heavenly Father needs me to be who *I* am, and not just a carbon-copy convert.  I think that it is such an inherent quality in women (I won't argue nature vs. nurture on this one) to compare ourselves to others.  I compare myself to my mother, my mother-in-law, and all of my sisters-in-law with all of their numerous children.  I compare myself to the women in Relief Society, and in Primary, and at Stake Functions.  I do it, mostly, because I'm trying to make sure that I'm measuring up.  I do it, mostly, because I'm scared.  I do it, mostly, because I haven't learned that my Heavenly Father loves me... no matter what.

It's so funny to me that I have such a strong, powerful, life-changing testimony of the Savior and of the Atonement, and have so very little in my lamp when it comes to my Heavenly Father.  The perfect, all-loving, all-powerful Spiritual Being who took time out of the Eternities to create me, I lash out at more often than I thank.  I get so angry that really, when I compare myself to my daughter, the similarities are so striking that I can't help but laugh most of the time.  At first I didn't really realize that I was putting my emotions between myself and my Heavenly Father, now I do it and cringe.  I know that what I'm doing is wrong, and I know that it's going to hurt me, but sometimes I want to shout out just for the sake of shouting, and because I have no one else to be mad at but myself.  And really, who of us wants to be mad at ourselves all of the time anyway... especially when us "silly women" (see Sister Julie B. Beck's talk), can't help but keep comparing ourselves against every other woman that walks in the door.  I want to know that my Father loves me.  And really and truly, I know that He does-- I just don't always remember that when I need to. 

I am grateful for my Father, and for all of the gifts that He gives me, even if I don't always recognize that they're gifts when they come.  And I can count my blessing all day long and sometimes not feel a change of heart.  It was heartbreaking the day that I realized that while yes, my psychologist had been wrong in a lot of ways, she had also been right.  I have learned the art of temporal happiness, I have not learned how to be eternally happy; that happiness is a gift of peace and joy that comes from having a testimony of our individual worth as spirit daughters and sons of our Heavenly Father, of our ability to overcome all obstacles through the tools that He has given us, and of His deep and heartfelt desire to have all of us rejoin Him and become perfected like Him.  I know that my Heavenly Father loves me; I just don't realize how much.