I was talking to my sweet daughter the other day. She is of an age and a temperament that makes not getting her way an absolutely miserable experience. I was trying to help her through a particularly upsetting disappointment, when she asked me the $64,000 question: “How can I be happy when I’m just NOT?!”
Admittedly, I have been struggling with the same question—I, who have studied and taught principles that lead to happiness! So when I found myself answering her question, I knew the answer was a gift from my Heavenly Father, an answer that was as much for me as it was for her.
The answer consisted of three choices: 1) choose to be happy; 2) choose to be flexible; 3) choose to be grateful.
First, there is power in making a choice. The opportunity and ability to be happy is always present, but it requires that we make a choice to lay hold upon those gifts. Making that choice literally bestows upon you the power to think differently, the power to initiate change in your attitude first, and then in your circumstances. YOU are the agent of change in your life, and change of any kind begins with a CHOICE.
Choosing to be happy in the face of disappointing circumstances can be difficult. It requires that you view life and happiness from a long-term perspective. For instance, will this particular circumstance alter your happiness five or ten years from now? It could, if you choose to become bitter about the disappointment, but what if you get your way? Will having things go as you desire them to make you happier in the future? Sometimes this is a difficult question to answer. But learning to see things from a long-term perspective, learning to believe in the possibility of happiness even if we don’t get our way now is a skill, one that can be learned, practiced, and developed.
Choosing to be flexible is a partner to choosing to be happy. Sometimes happiness requires flexibility (I know this--I am very practiced in inflexibiltiy). Life is full of surprises. If we determine that our happiness is dependent upon a particular outcome, with all the possible variables, we can be setting ourselves up for failure. I remember back to my wedding reception. I hired a company to come and decorate the church where my reception was held, and was so excited about the decor. The crowning piece was to be an antique sleigh, perfect for my winter wedding celebration. The day before the reception, I learned that the sleigh would not fit through the doors of the church. The piece I was so excited about would not be a part of my decor in the way I had envisioned. The decorator brought another, smaller, wicker sleigh. Not what I wanted. But not really the point of the day. It wasn't the decor I had planned, but the reception was still perfect. Perfect because my happiness was centered in being married to my best friend and sweetheart, not in the decor of the building. Choosing to be happy often requires flexibility.
Most important is gratitude. Recognizing the fact that there is much to be grateful for in spite of disappointing circumstances is the key that makes happiness and flexibility possible. Gratitude changes our perspective. Gratitude opens our eyes to the reality of the blessings and abundance all around us, even if we previously only saw lack. Gratitude for our current circumstances--whatever they may be--actually allows us to receive more: more abundance, more peace, more joy, more love.Whenever disappointment or depression sets in, start with gratitude. It will turn everything around.
My daughter, true to her age and temperament, dismissed these ideas, telling me that she had heard that the opposite was true. Her teacher had told her of a boy who was assigned to write about his future life. He was required to re-write and revise it until it became very detailed. When he grew up, he discovered that every detail in that assignment was fulfilled in his life. How can you be flexible when you’re supposed to be specific?
It was a question I had asked myself. If the achievement of a goal requires such specificity that you can see it and feel it before it happens, where does flexibility come in? Again, the answer came to me as a gift. I asked her if she had ever been driving, and had to take a detour. Detours come when, for some reason, the route we are traveling cannot get us safely to our destination. In spite of how inconvenient they sometimes seem, they are intended to get us safely to our destination when our originally planned route will not. How effective would it be to reach a detour sign and, rather than follow it, throw a tantrum about not being able to use the route you had planned? Sometimes the detours take longer than we had planned. But if we keep following them, trusting in the fact that they are helping us get to where we want to go, we will eventually arrive. Without flexibility, however, we would find ourselves stuck at a roadblock with no hope of getting to our desired destination.
I have had the experience in the past year of not achieving many of my goals. It has been discouraging to see what I want, and then have everything NOT turn out. But what I have realized is that the goals that I didn’t achieve were goals that were the means to my end—my preferred route, so to speak, to get my ultimate goal of life fulfillment and happiness. I haven’t failed because I haven’t achieved, rather, the experiences of this year have helped me to identify and clarify what I want most, and helped me to see that sometimes not getting what I want now is really helping me to get what I want later.