“Nobody makes us mad. We allow ourselves to become mad. Nobody makes us happy. We choose to be happy.”
One of the great joys being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the opportunity to occasionally have the chance to speak in church. I did so last Sunday…
It’s a great day to be alive!
Many studies have shown that mindset is a very powerful influencer and plays a large part in our happiness or lack thereof. Having gratitude for what we have, allows our minds to feel peace and happiness, while greed and envy destroy our happiness and peace. Continually wanting more and focusing on what others have, or hoping they don’t find success, only fosters feelings of resentment, and displeasure with what we do have.
Most of us have tried walking or running on a treadmill. No matter how fast we run on a treadmill, we never move further than a few feet, always returning to where we started. Happiness can be similar. As human beings, we tend to quickly return to a state of relatively stable happiness even when we experience a significant event in our lives—whether positive or negative. This is referred to as the Hedonic Treadmill or Hedonic Adaptation.
In their 1978 study, authors Brickman and Campbell interviewed 22 lottery winners and 29 paraplegics. Their studies show the lottery winners level of happiness after winning, was roughly the same as it was before they won. Likewise, the paraplegics interviewed, showed their happiness levels had returned to a similar state experienced before their accident. Whether negative or positive, people will gradually revert back to the level of happiness, or unhappiness to which they choose.
In a recent conversation with a friend who had traveled to several countries in the African continent, he commented on how unbelievably poor the people are. He said, “They have nothing! Absolutely nothing at all. They don’t have homes to live in. They don’t even have clothes to wear or food to eat.”
After pausing briefly, his voice lowered almost to a whisper and he continued, “But I have never seen a happier people in all the world. They are so joyful; they are so full of love, and they are so full of peace.”
Five years ago, I suffered a tragic accident that left my hand mangled, broken in ten places and my pinky finger severed. After the initial surgery and treatment, I learned from other doctors that the procedures performed on my hand were completed incorrectly and left my hand with more significant damage. As a result, I had to endure four more surgeries over 12 months and engage in nine months of physical therapy. Medical bills and my frustrations, seemed to race to see which could grow the fastest.
One evening in a fit of frustration, I lashed out, cursing the situation and voiced how unfair it was that we had to pay so much in medical-care expenses. Jen sat patiently listening, understanding my emotional outbreak. After a few moments of silence, she softly spoke, “Well, you have two options; justifiably, you can choose to be frustrated, to hold ill feelings, and seek recompense. Or, you can be grateful.”
“Grateful? Are you serious,” I said. She continued, “Yes, you can be grateful that we have the means to pay for these medical bills. You can be grateful that you still have a fully functional hand. It’s your choice.”
We all choose how we respond to life. Each of us is in control of our response to any situation. Nobody makes us mad. We allow ourselves to become mad. Nobody makes us happy. We choose to be happy.
Nuisances are everywhere. In a world where we have so much, it is easy to get caught up in issues that pale in comparison to what blessings we do have.
Never before has humankind had so much to be grateful for. Hedonic adaption skews our views and can affect our happiness…if we choose to let it do so. It is our choice. Too many times, we are so busy with life we don’t recognize our great blessings.
My family and I recently visited one of the big amusements parks most people are familiar with.
We had spent a day walking 14 miles, quickly scurrying from one place to another, trying to take in all that the massive theme park had to offer. We waited in one long line after another, all for very short, almost insignificant, bursts of speed experienced on each of the different rides. The walking and the waiting tested everyone’s patience and stamina. By the end of the day, we were all tired, with aching feet and frazzled nerves. It is no wonder that when the fireworks show began, all we could think of was quickly getting to the next ride, while there were fewer people standing in line.
We hurried from one part of the park to another as we struggled to determine the GPS’s directions. With each wrong turn we felt greater pressure to move quickly before the fireworks show ended.
With Jen at the lead, and Piper and Hailey right behind her, I made sure from the back that Jack and Isabelle kept up with the group. At that moment, I stopped.
“Everyone just stop and wait for a minute!” I said firmly.
They all looked at me, wondering what I was doing.
“Now, look up!” I continued.
Everyone looked up at the amazing fireworks as they lit up the sky with immense colors and booming explosions. It was a spectacular background to the beautiful fairytale castle and starlit sky.
Our children gazed at the spectacle, some with their mouths wide open, others commenting on how beautiful it was.
“Wow, that is so incredible,” one said. “Those are the best fireworks I’ve ever seen,” another added.
I found great joy watching their reactions, more than I did in actually watching the show. Their faces said it all, this was a wonderful and memorable experience and they were taking it all in.
At that moment, I was reminded of when I was a young missionary, my wonderful mission president used to always say to me, “Elder Savage, you need to realize that this life is a journey, not a destination. You need to stop and smell the roses along the way or you’ll miss out on life’s greatest joys.”
As my family scurried to and from one ride to another, it was that moment we stopped that I realized, because we were so determined to make it to our destination, we were missing out on an opportunity to participate in a spectacular show and wondrous joyful experience. Instead of rushing to the next ride, we should stop and look up at the event right before us.
When we have struggles, it is easy to overlook the countless joys we experience daily. It is easy to focus only on the struggle. I do not in any way want to downplay any of life’s great struggles each of us has endured or continue to endure. These struggles are real and they are difficult. Sometimes, even when we want to choose joy, our struggles can make that very hard.
Elder Richard G. Scott has said, “Sadness, disappointment, and severe challenge are events in life, not life itself. I do not minimize how hard some of these events are. They can extend over a long period of time, but they should not be allowed to become the confining center of everything you do.
He continued, “[You experience joy] as you obey the commandments, have faith in the Master, and do the things that are necessary to have joy here on earth. Your joy in life depends upon your trust in Heavenly Father and His holy Son, and your conviction that their plan of happiness truly can bring you joy.”
In one of my most favorite addresses, Elder Holland expressed, in his talk titled, Like a Broken Vessel, “Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend. That love never changes. … It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there.”
There is so much good in the world that we can become so preoccupied with the good that we don’t allow ourselves time for what’s best.
As we seek for joy in this life, we need not look further than the great counsel given to us by President Dallin H. Oaks:
“As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best.”
We often times fill our lives with so much good, that we neglect the best things that can envelope our lives in joy and happiness. Moments of fun are fleeting, but joy and happiness bring us lasting peace and comfort.
I am a list person. I love making lists of items I need to do. I put the most important items at the top of the list, working to accomplish those items first. Temple attendance, helping a neighbor, spending time with my family, and other BEST items, unfortunately often times fall down my daily list of Things to Do, because I focus too much on the good items on my list and not the best items. To find joy, we need to focus on what’s BEST in life.
As we seek for joy, we never need look further than to our Savior Jesus Christ and His plan of happiness. Our Savior has taken upon himself all of the pains, sorrows, sins, and infirmities of this world. Everything we experience in this crucible called life, He too has experienced. He is the reason we have joy. He loves us…you and me. And He stands ready to help us find joy. After all, Adam DID fall that we might come to earth, and we ARE to have joy while we are here learning and growing.
It is my prayer, that as we all seek to find joy in this life, that we will understand that the free agency God has blessed us with, allows us to choose to have joy and happiness.
I pray that we will stop and smell the roses of life and appreciate what God has so abundantly blessed us with. That as we struggle, we might keep an eternal perspective, recognizing that trials are part of our mortal experience, and that if we will look to the great healer, even Jesus Christ, who stands ready to help us, who is the only one that can fully understand every pain and sorrow and struggle, we will find peace and joy and happiness.
I testify that God lives and loves us. I know President Russell M. Nelson is God’s true and living prophet on earth today. Joseph Smith did in fact, see God the father and His son Jesus Christ, and was called to restore the true Church to this earth. The Book of Mormon is true. I so testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.