January 18, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness

I've had happiness on my mind lately a lot. What exactly is happiness? Sometimes I think in our society we get caught up in thinking that happiness comes only from having things, like more money, a nicer house, better cars, great clothes, perfect kids or spouse, beauty, exotic vacations, etc. But I know people who have all those things, yet they're unhappy. And I've known people with virtually nothing who seem genuinely happy.

I've realized how much I've been changing in the last 5 months since leaving the church. Recognizing the church wasn't good for me was a good start. Then I started blogging and have discovered in myself a real need to have communication with myself and others, something I had been missing yet never recognized or felt the absence of until I suddenly felt the void being filled. I've begun to look at my life and who I really am with open, clear eyes...and there are parts of me that I'd like to change. I'd like to be happier. I'd like to become the woman I know I can be.

A friend of mine had some great advice on finding out who you are:
  • Make a list of all the things that make you happy. On the other side of the paper, make a list of all the things that drain you.
  • On the list of what makes you happy, put down other activies, actions, movies, hobbies, enjoyments that you might have but aren't sure yet.
  • Your purpose of the list is to find out who you are and what you want.
  • Continue to do the 'happy' things on the list and you will form a positive identity of who you are and what you want in life.

Happiness has been on my mind because of this list. I want to create one, but have discovered that I have no idea what makes me happy. I am someone who has always deferred to others, doing what they wanted to do, and conformed myself to be what they wanted me to be. I have rarely taken opportunities to reach for and obtain those things that I want, and suddenly I'm discovering that I don't like being that way. It is actually difficult for me to say, "This is what I want, and I will have it."

I could lay blame on others or the Mormon church for perpetuating this mindset. I have always been someone who detests confrontation, and sometimes I find that when I reach for something that makes me happy, I am thrown into confrontation with others who have expectations that are not met when I try something different that makes me happy. I feel like the little kid who reaches into the cookie jar, only to have my hand slapped just as I take the cookie, so I drop it and run crying from the room. I've learned over time not to even try to do some things that make me happy, as the battle and aftereffects negate the happiness I'd have felt if I'd gone for it. This is wrong, I see now. It's not fair to me, or to my kids who see this as an example.

Mormonism is so good at subtly and not-so-subtly giving women the message that we aren't worth much. We have to run every leadership decision that we make through the bishopric for approval. We always take a backseat to the men, from the time we are young. Even the temple sealing ceremony (so I've read) gives the message that women belong to men and must answer to them. Having this message reinforced throughout your entire life that as a woman you are somehow inferior does nothing for a woman like me, who resists confrontation and enjoys pleasing others.

It's something I've got to evaluate now, so I can undo those things that I've done to enable this circumstance in my life. I can lay blame all I want on others and the church, but really, if I'm completely honest, it has been within me all along to either accept or reject this kind of treatment. Now that I can see that, I recognize I've got some serious work to do.

It's not going to be easy.

To begin, here's the start of my list of things that make me happy:

  • Reading blogs
  • Writing in my blog
  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Talking about stuff
  • Reading books
  • Being with my girlfriends, including my sisters and sisters-in-law, doing things like ladies' nights out, shopping, going to lunch, talking on the phone
  • Travel

So what exactly is happiness? To me, it's being able to just be me, and do what I love doing, without fear and without apology.


Pete Dunn said...

It sounds like what you like is connecting with people and being social. Maybe a book club or something like that would hit the spot.

Just one of many said...

OMG, you must be reading my mind!! I am finding it hard to figure out what will bring me "happiness" in the career zone. I am going to try your list idea!!

Aerin said...

Good for you! What a great idea!

Perhaps I'm being too negative, but there is some drudgery that we all have to do. From cleaning the bathroom to (for us parents of toddlers) changing diapers.

I think it's a great idea to re-evaluate what you're doing. Unfortunately some things won't be able to be taken off the lists (like cleaning the bathroom). Unless you decide to invest in a house-cleaner...

As far as confrontation goes, my Dad's advice was to pick your battles - not sure if that will be useful or not. Sometimes it's worth confronting someone on something - sometimes it's not. It was good advice for me because I found that there are things I can deal with but are annoying - and things I definitely need to speak up about.

And I've enjoyed reading your blog as well - so I hope you keep it up!

Cele said...

Have you every wondered why it's called a Bishopric? As a "never been/will never want to be a Mormon" I definately wonder, and see the irony of a title that can only be worn by men (who of course want women, usually, to hold it.)

I digress....

Mary Lisa, while you are seeing a large part of this due to the Mormon Church I have to say it is worse for you, because you got a double dose. The American culture is set up this same way, although it is slowly turning around. Example, I've owned my house for 25 years. Ducky and I married 12 years ago. We refinanced the house in 2004, and I added him to the title. Now it is legally his house, his name is first on the papers, the bank ask for him, my insurance company ask for him. Oh gosh tell me to quit now, I get really mad over this, and Ducky gets mad too. Wow, I really digressed...

I'm going to echo Aerin's sentiment, good for you. You are beginning to network. You're beginning to see your value outside of a "church," your husband's shadow, you're beginning to see your own value. That is highly important for anyone. As you grow you will see your list will include making the people you love happy within your parameters. Giving to others, as well as giving to yourself. You will find the you buried under the crap heaped on by a reglious cult and society. More power to you.

Sideon said...

What an exciting time! Evaluating, examing, and re-thinking beliefs is one thing, but to discover yourself and YOU at the same time is quite an adventure.

I love how you summed it up: it's being able to just be me, and do what I love doing, without fear and without apology. How lovely, being.

I'm glad that you're blogging and sharing yourself. You are in my top 10 list of "must meet."

JMK said...

Excellent list, Lisa. As time goes by you'll find more and more you like and you'll find that doing what you like doesn't take away from or hurt your children (unless you decide you like heroin. Then there's a problem.)

My mother finally looked at my dad last year and told him he'd had everything he's wanted for the last 39 years, but those days are over. She just spent a week in SLC with her sister--something she didn't do because dad didn't like it or there was never enough money or she wanted all of us to do it and didn't want anyone to feel left out. Whatever the excuse, though, my siblings and I always found them to be lame and are thrilled she's taken this trip.

Here's to turning over a new leaf and finding your happy places!

Genilimaa said...

Good for you, SML!

I would surely have a "meet the bloggers I want to meet" on my happy list. Just to nessle my way into belonging to your "be with girlfriends" category!

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Pete, a book club sounds fun, but I've been not reading to dedicate more time to art, which to me is happiness too...so good suggestion.

JOOM, good luck with your career choices!

Aerin, my happiness is a battle I'm thinking needs to (finally) be fought.

Cele, thanks. Your words are kind. I hope you're right.

Sideon, you're on my top 10 too!

Janet, Heroin, no. I really liked what you said about your mom. That's exactly what I feel like right now.

Gen, GOD! I wanna meet you and so many others in person!!! Sigh.

supernova said...

Good for you, SML! I'm glad you're taking this stand! Isn't it wonderful how it's almost always the little things that bring happiness to most?!?

Bishop Rick said...

Sideon stole what I was gonna say,so I will just echo.

Your closing statement is timeless.

A little off topic but I have to share my Word Verification

fkthof - kind of a gaelic way of telling someone off.

Sideon said...

Bishop Rick - I didn't steal! I disclosed a personal fact, though the deliverance was hardly poetic. I get points for ernestness, though. And still adoring SML.

And run-on sentences.

Freckle Face Girl said...

When you find yourself in a place that you didn't expect (like outside the church), it is a great time to evaluate who you are & what you want. Happiness is hard to nail down, but you are right it is about getting a chance to enjoy what you love.

There are a lot of things bothering me lately & your post reminded me that those things aren't important and shouldn't affect my happiness. Thanks!

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Supernova, yes, it is the little things that make me happy. Or a combination of many little things, anyway.

Bishop Rick, thank you for the compliment.

Sideon, you make me happy with your "adoring" me.

FFG, yeah, it can sometimes be easy to focus on those things that really truly don't matter.

Bishop Rick said...

It was really Sideon that complimented you since he stole what I was going to say.

He knew I was going to say it too, that's what makes it so dastardly.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Fine, BR, I'll compliment you on the cool usage of the word 'dastardly.' I LOVE that word! You actually made me laugh out loud when I read it.

Simeon's Peep Stone said...

Thanks SML. I've been realizing that happiness is something you have to go get as well.

Sideon said...

Bishop Rick: thank you. I haven't been called "dastardly" in a while. I was feeling rusty!

Yes, SML - ADORE. You're my new crack, my new religion, my new mantra. If I were straight and single, I'd wine and dine ya.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

OK, it's obvious. I really need to add all my blog friends and their comments to my list of things that make me happy.

I love you guys.

Eric said...

As a younger person, I battled a bit of the depression. Which one of us didn't? Or still doesn't for that matter. So, I've thought a lot about the subject of happiness. I don't believe that it's easy in life to just eliminate the things that don't make you happy. Here's some big brother wisdom that I've learned about myself over time.

1. The feeling of happiness is directly related to the expanse between how we PERCEIVE our situation is, and how we PERCEIVE our situation should be. The greater the gap in how we think things are vs. how we think they should be results in less happiness. The trick is realizing that neither one of these points in our mind are fixed. Happiness is our reaction to bringing one of those points closer to the other.
For an example: "I don't have a girlfriend and I just can't find the right person. It seems that everyone I know is in a relationship. Why not me?" You see it all the time.

Perception How Things Are = Can never find the right person. Everyone else is in a satisfying relationship, I'm not one of them.
Perception How Things Should BE = Needs to be in a relationship. When you're in a relationship, you're not lonely and are very happy.

To find happiness close this gap by moving one expectation closer to the other. This is so super simple. It requires a little quiet time to think clearly. No bar hopping or pining over match.com required. Put yourself in the 3rd person as if you're giving advise to a friend and ask some simple questions:

Moving Perception How Things Are CLOSER to Perception How Things Should Be: Is it true that you have NEVER enjoyed a relationship with someone. Have you ever been in a relationship where you were the less satisfied of the two. Is EVERYONE ELSE really in a great relationship, or is that your ideal super-imposed upon them? Are there 2.5 million other people functioning normally, and happily as singles? Is it true that you can't find the "right" person or are there other issues inside yourself at play here?
Moving How Things Should Be Closer To How Things Are = Is having a relationship REQUIRED for happiness? Is my expectation of having a girlfriend all the time realistic, or is life more complicated than that? Am I "not normal" because I'm not in a relationship or is my expectation of how my love life should be not so realistic? Is it true that everyone else is in a relationship and a happy one? Could I possibly be so easily brainwashed by Mr. Disney's vision of happily ever after!

Understanding that EVERYTHING we experience is filtered by our emotions helps us realize that NOTHING we perceive is actually absolute reality.
Thus, both ends of the happiness equation are capable of being moved closer to one another by simply thinking outside of ourselves. Simply put, "We're unhappy because things should be different" really should be "We're unhappy because we're inflexible on our vision of reality AND our expectation of reality".

I think as you make a list of the things that make you unhappy, chew on them through this equation and figure out which end is easier to move. Then change your mind.

2. Emotions are an almost instant by product of thought.

Remember when we were young and one of the babies would trip and fall? Mom taught us to say Boom!, in a playful voice. That way, the toddler would quickly know to think that their situation was fun & not cry. Same principle.

It's so easy to think that emotions come first, or that they originate in our hearts. In my experience, they are the split second reaction to my brain. They are led by it.

Every time I feel a strong negative emotion, I try to go back and identify what caused it, and how I thought about it that is making me feel the emotion. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. :) I'm pretty sure that it relates to our defense and survival mechanisms. That is why emotions are so difficult to regulate. Including sadness and happiness. I do think that with work, you can learn to steer them a bit. Or at the very least become conscious of why you feel the way you do.

3. When thinking about your happiness is simply not in your frame of interest.
PROZAC! Mommy's little happy pill!

As I see it, I'm extremely intelligent about happiness and I should be extremely intelligent about everything. Therefore my reality is close to my expectation and I'm as happy as a little schoolgirl in spring! Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!

Thank you once again for indulging my genetically over inflated sense of intelligence!

Rachel said...

Love your list of what makes you happy. You will be amazed at how large the list will become when you focus on it.
Smells, sights, sounds, tastes will become more important when you evaluate what makes you happy.
I LOVE lying in a hammock on a warm summer night staring at the stars listening to the crickets chirp. So relaxing and restful.
I find that when I am doing things alone instead of with kid in tow I find my happy places and then can choose whether to share them or not.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Thanks, Eric. Your wisdom is showing again! I'm seriously trying to look at my emotions, and my happiness, and my life in general, with objectivity and intelligence. I'm also considering the happiness of my children and their reality in the home we have for them.

Rachel, the hammock thing sounds awesome. I've got to try that someday.

wry catcher said...

Hey SML, I dig your blog.

I am totally in the same place you are, despite leaving the church many years ago. And I'm sort of your photo negative, in that I don't feel I deferred to everyone for years. Rather, I saw *everything* as a fight, and I fought them all. It's the same problem, just the flip side. So now, I too am trying to figure out what I like, what I want, who I am. And that not everything is a battle. (And all "authority" isn't trying to kill me, metaphorically speaking.)

Strange, isn't it, how life just has its way with you? It's hard for me to come up with things to fill the list you put up, but I'm going to give it a try. :-)

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Wry Catcher, good luck with that list of yours too. It's interesting to look at myself so openly. I think I can be happy with very little problem, so long as nobody tries to constantly tell me that it's not OK to want to do those little things. That's what makes me unhappiest.

ruadamu2 said...

Ah happiness. It can be found in many places:
A bottle
A magazine
A restaurant
A bedroom
A friendship
A romance
A one-night stand (see bedroom)
A book

Did I say bedroom yet?

Michelle said...

Wow, it's like you are writing my biography! I love how you've expressed these feeling that you have..."it's being able to just be me, and do what I love doing, without fear and without apology."

I just love this and I too struggle with the same issues. I need to stop worrying so much about what others think and if I will dissapoint someone and just focus on myself.

You may remember from Christy's blog that I am a never-mo (is that the correct term?-LOL), although I am dealing with very similar issues...I am going to try that list idea and see what happens!

I love your blog and will be back!!

Liseysmom said...

I love it!! I was just sitting on my couch this morning, looking out at my back yard, drinking my morning coffee and watching the trees swaying in the wind. And I thought - wow, at this moment I feel very happy. So I am totally digging your post today!!

Lemon Blossom said...

This is so something I have been thinking about. In the past I always based my 'happiness' decisions on what was supposed to make me happy. Now I have to figure out how to make those decisions based on what I think will make me happy, what I enjoy doing. Weird how hard that habit is to break.

Thanks for giving me another idea on how to figure it out!

C.L. Hanson said...

What a beautiful post about a beautiful journey!!!

I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what makes me happy, but it seems like every time I've got it figured out, it changes...

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Simeon, we CAN reach out and get happiness, right? Good luck with yours!

ruadamu2, I've tried some of the items on your list...the one night stand, though, I've never tried. Could be interesting.

Michelle, thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you around here again! I love your blog too.

Liseysmom, your description of your morning sounded like my kind of happiness too. Good for you. Hope the cat scratch fever is over now...

LB, I agree, it is a hard habit to break. It's not easy to admit that I've been the one hindering my own happiness by inaction all this time.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Chanson, it's true, that can happen. I think that it takes very little to make me happy, especially when I'm not being told that those things are stupid or not worthy of my time.

Holly said...

I know I'm late to this comment party, but I still want to add my two or three cents:

First, you left the church only five months ago?! You're so freakin' sane in comparison to so many people I've known when they were at that point--myself included. Five months after leaving, I was a mess.

Second, I like your list of what makes you happy--a lot of those things would make my list. The thing for me is that I've always had a pretty clear sense of what makes me happy--but I often felt really guilty about that happiness, no matter whether or not there was any confrontation over it. For instance, on my mission, I got permission to read novels on P-day. I had permission, mind you, but the fact that reading a novel made me so much happier than talking to Chinese people about the Mormono church threw me into despair--surely, surely something had to be wrong with me if I preferred carefully wrought literary art to rambling, semi-fluent discussions of Mormonism!

So my problem has never been figuring out what makes me happy, but figuring out what I want, because I don't know what I'm allowed to want, or what's possible. I mean, I knew what made me happy, but I didn't know if I had the right to want to be happy. And even choosing my own way of being happiness involved such sacrifice and pain--leaving the church was incredibly hard for me, which is one reason I was such a mess five months after I did it.

Anyway, I am still trying to figure out what I want, what I want that I can achieve, what I want that's lacking, what I have that I don't really want, not in terms of possessions but in terms of the way my life is structured and what I do each day.

I could give examples but this actually a topic that makes me diffident and shy. I'll discuss my past in considerable graphic detail, without a qualm or any self-consciousness, but talking about my hopes and aspirations? That makes me really uncomfortable.

This is a very useful discussion for me, and one I'm really glad you initiated.

(am I the only blogger who doesn't blog primarily on blogger? The new version doesn't include the link back to my blog, even though I dutifully type it in every time I leave a comment)

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Holly, I'm only sane due to careful editing and careful self control. My life is changing so drastically and quickly that it's hard to deal with. It's evident everywhere. And, I got psoriasis from the stress of the doubts I was having about the church, lucky me. Shee-it. That's a real pain in my ass.

Your thoughts here are totally what I've been feeling and didn't explain well. It's hard, so hard for me to feel like I CAN and SHOULD do what makes me happy. If Mormonism gave this feeling to me, then I'm super glad I got out.

You wrote: "Anyway, I am still trying to figure out what I want, what I want that I can achieve, what I want that's lacking, what I have that I don't really want, not in terms of possessions but in terms of the way my life is structured and what I do each day."

That's exactly what I'm feeling. It's interesting to me how hard it is for me to figure out.

Thanks for your great comments! Don't ever worry that your comment is coming too late. I'd even take comments in my archives!