“I am determined to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery is dependent upon our dispositions, not our circumstances.”
This has been my favorite quote for many years. I have most often seen it attributed to either Martha Washington or the ever-wise “Anonymous,” but I haven’t been able to authenticate either. Regardless, it is a truism that I have experienced in my life. When I was first introduced to this quote at 15 years old, my Young Women’s leader challenged me to look at myself in the mirror while I repeated this quote with conviction. I did. After several weeks, I recognized that I was seeing things in a more optimistic way.
Today as I was thinking (as I am apt to do), this quote led to a broader truism: the greater part of my happiness or misery is dependent upon my own thinking. When I think and act in accordance with natural law, I experience happiness. When my thoughts and actions run contrary to natural law, I experience misery.
At our Stake Conference last Sunday, our wonderful Stake President spoke about repentance. It was an excellent talk! One of the things he said was that he is so grateful for guilt. Guilt is a gift. These are bold and confusing statements when you consider how much effort we as a society put into NOT feeling guilt. But he reminded us that guilt helps us to recognize a need for change, and then to seek it. If we continue to make choices that violate moral or natural law and expect positive results (i.e., happiness), we will be miserable because such a thing is impossible according to natural law.
As I was pondering these new thoughts, I watched one of my daughters become angry with her sister (again. It’s an ongoing battle!). I recognized immediately that this principle was at work: if my daughter would change her thinking, she would not have to experience so much frustration with her sister. We accept so much as “normal” (sibling rivalry is “normal”; the generation gap is “normal”) that really could be changed by a change in our thinking. It is most certainly “normal” to encounter these feelings, but we don’t have to invite them to be our constant companions. We can recognize them as invitations to discover a train of faulty thought, and then correct that faulty thinking. Believing this—acting on this—makes happiness attainable in every circumstance. Instead of an emotional state that we hope will happen to us, happiness becomes a choice. It is available to us anytime we choose.
I remember once as I read over this favorite quote again, I got stuck on the word determined. For the first time, I didn’t like the connotation. It’s possible to believe that this quote is encouraging us to use our determination to power through feelings of sadness or frustration, and make ourselves feel happy instead. Pushing away those negative feelings in an attempt to be happy is trying to force something contrary to natural law. To read this quote in that way will yield more frustration and more disappointment. But if we remember that to determine something means to make a choice, then we can read the quote like this: I have chosen to be happy in whatever situation I may be…
It makes a difference. It is choosing to tap into the power that will bring happiness, rather than trying to force happiness when it isn’t there. It is choosing to feel and experience negative feelings, and to use them as tools to rediscover happiness, by identifying and changing our faulty ways of thinking. Happiness cannot come just because you will it to be so. Happiness is a direct result of living and thinking rightly, according to natural law. I will not just “happen” for anyone, but it is available to everyone.