16 June 2013

Choosing Happiness: A Sunday Sermon

A few months ago, Mara had a post titled The Work I Did To Be Happy.  It's one of my favorite posts on a topic I find most interesting.  It just so happened that when Mara was writing that post, that same week I was asked to speak in church on the topic of choosing happiness.  My comments are very similar to Mara's, but with a more religious take due to the setting.  I hope you find these thoughts helpful to you on your own journey in understanding happiness, whatever religious connections you may or may not have.  The pictures are from a beautiful sunset this week after a terribly rainy Brooklyn day.  Enjoy.
- Danny


More important than the words I will speak today, if I’m successful, will be the love and confidence you feel from me, and more significantly, through me from God.  The most important prayer I offer as I prepare is not that I will be inspired (even though I certainly pray for that), but that you will be…that each of you will see through the weakness of my words to the truths that I am trying to convey, truths that mean the world to me....

I’m one of those strange people that loves teaching and public speaking.  So it is truly a delight to be here today.  I get even more excited when I’m asked to speak on a topic that has occupied my mind for the greater part of my life, especially the last 5 years or so – and that is the topic of Happiness.  It is a topic which anyone that has sat with me for 15 minutes has discovered that I will find a way to bring it up.   To me, understanding this is one of the secrets of life (or at least a life well lived), and it greatly informs my understanding of and faith in God and my relationship to Him.  In short - it affects every relationship I have, and it does so for the better.  Though I wish I had an hour (or even two), the next 20 minutes will have to do. 

What Makes Us Happy?

To accomplish anything meaningful, we’ll need to begin by thinking about some common beliefs about happiness…..what makes us happy, what thwarts our happiness, etc.   I want you to think, for a moment, about what makes you happy.  What is sure to bring a smile to your face and joy to your soul?  It can be simple or deep…

I’ll tell you some of mine… Happiness for me?  My wife, my family, music (especially playing it myself), deep and meaningful conversations, teaching, and really good Mexican food…especially if it was made by me.   You should see me after I make fresh tomatillo and avocado salsa and drizzle it on homemade pork tacos… I enter a state of pure bliss and nirvana.

If you asked the question of yourself, I wouldn’t be surprised if in some way or another many (but not all) of your answers fell into one of these categories:

Health
Wealth and Possessions
Spouse/Family
Children - at least when they are well behaved :)
Employment
Leisure activities

In this sense, it might be fair to state that for many of us, a good portion of our happiness is strongly tied to temporal things and to circumstance.  Besides, we might say, who wouldn’t be unhappy, or at least have a lesser degree of happiness, if one or more of these things were missing?   Shouldn’t there be less happiness and contentment and peace to be found in the middle of serious illness, or at the loss of a marriage or the behavior of a wayward child?  Should we expect that meaningful and deep happiness can be found if you cannot have children at all, or if one remains single and without a spouse, or if they’re married with a difficult spouse?  What if employment is lost or unfavorable, and money is tight or non-existent?


"Not as the world giveth give I unto you..."

Is there still room for a sense of well being and happiness even when all circumstances and relationships fail?  The Gospel seems to be telling us the answer to that question…perhaps you will hear it in this promise Christ gave to his disciples in John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.  Not as the world giveth give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

What do you think He means when He says “Not as the world giveth give I unto you”?  How would the world give peace and happiness anyway?  It seems to me that the messaging of the world bases happiness almost entirely in circumstance.  It is mostly about accumulating possessions, that if I make this much amount of money or have this house or that job or retire or have that car I’ll be happy…..or if I could look like that, or be young again, or whatever else. 

Perhaps He’s trying to tell us that His Peace and Happiness, His Joy can come to us regardless of circumstance.   In fact, one thing I have found to be absolutely true, is that the miracle of faith in God is not that He changes the circumstances of your life, but that he changes you and your heart

I submit to you that true Happiness, the deepest and most satisfying kind, is not tied to circumstance at all.  In fact, it has been in my most difficult moments of life, when circumstances seemed to fail me most, that I found some of the greatest peace and the deepest well being. 

This is the very challenge given to us by Deiter Uchtdorf in one of my favorite sermons on this subject, “Of Regrets and Resolutions”.   He says:
So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness: a better family situation, a better financial situation, or the end of a challenging trial.

The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness.

We do matter. We determine our happiness.

You and I are ultimately in charge of our own happiness

Let us resolve to be happy, regardless of our circumstances.
Those are some pretty bold statements.  It reminds me of another bold statement offered by a prophet named Lehi.  In the very same sermon that Lehi is teaching about the opposition that is found in life and the importance of agency and choice (which I’ll get to later), he offers this profound statement: “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.”  Imagine that, we are designed to experience joy, even while subjected to this fallen state.

So how is this happiness obtained then?  How does one experience happiness when circumstance is anything but what you want? 

The Power of Choice

Well, one thing I already hinted at in the example above is that we must first understand the power of personal choice.

Reflecting on the connection between choice and happiness has led spiritual and philosophical teachers over the centuries to offer some of these bits of wisdom to enlighten us:

"Where is the good? In the will. Where is the evil? In the will. Where is neither of them (good or evil)? In those things that are independent of the will (circumstance)." - Epictetus

"Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them." - Epictetus

"Outward things cannot touch the soul, not in the least degree; nor have they admission to the soul, nor can they turn or move the soul; but the soul turns and moves itself alone." - Marcus Aurelius

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it.” - Eckhart Tolle

This too could be the meaning of Lehi’s words when he says “There is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon….Wherefore the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself….and because they have been redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil, to act for themselves and not to be acted upon….  Men are free to choose liberty and eternal life through the great Mediator of all men [Jesus Christ]…and the will of his Holy Spirit, or to choose captivity and death according to the will of the flesh and the evil that is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate you.” (2 Nephi 2:14-29)

Could one aspect of learning to act and not be acted upon be summed up in the way an individual chooses to view their circumstances in life?  They can either view themselves as subject to circumstances (being acted upon), or believe they can act independent of them (act for themselves).  Reflecting on the difference between these two views and their connection to liberty and captivity can be quite rewarding and offer profound insights on life. 

He ends his teachings to his children by saying “I have chosen the good part, and I have no other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls.”  This was his last sermon before his death, and seemingly the thing he thought most important to teach was the power of choice and its impact on the way you experience any circumstance, and whether or not you experience the liberty and joy offered by God.


Choosing Between "Good" and "Evil"

Words are a tricky thing, they do not mean the same thing to all people.  Some will read about the importance of choosing between good and evil and conjure up all sorts of ideas, perhaps many of them correct.  I don’t claim to have the most correct understanding…but it has helped me to understand that when we look at the words Christ used when he taught and what the listener at that time period would have understood according to language and culture, that it is a little bit different than what we generally understand when we hear the words good and evil. 

For Christ, most often the words we now read as good and evil would have been understood in a much softer context of ripe and unripe.  The difference between sweet tasting fruit and bitter.  The subtle difference between something that brings forth and sustains life, and that which cannot. 

Perhaps then, when we are choosing between good and evil, it is not on the dramatic scale that this happens, but the subtle.  Isn’t this what Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount?  It isn’t just about killing or not killing….it is about not being angry with your brother.  It isn’t just about adultery or no adultery in marriage, it is about virtuous intent and thoughts.   It isn’t just about praying and fasting and alms giving or failing to do those things….it is making sure that your prayers and fasts and charitable givings are done absent of pride or the desire for recognition, and with an eye single to God.

Christ was all about the subtle differences that resulted in developing the “kingdom of God which is within you”.  And He was most anxious about teaching people how to “at-one” with God so that God could dwell in them and be with them always.  This kind of unity was a repeating theme in His last sermon to His disciples in John 14 through 17.

What does understanding the subtle level on which our most important choices happen have to do with choosing happiness independent of circumstance?  Everything.   I want to spend my remaining time talking about how we can use our power of agency to deliberately choose virtue as our response to any circumstance, and the promises directed to us as we learn to do this. 

Choosing Virtues as the Path to Happiness

Two great quotes from other religions/philosophers to illustrate this principle and get us started:

“The wise man takes great care to guard his thoughts. Thoughts are very subtle, very difficult to perceive and can slip out of control at the tiniest opportunity. A well-guarded mind brings happiness. We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.  To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” - Buddha

“Happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with Virtue.” – Aristotle

I love those two statements, and think they are full of wisdom…they are a sermon all on their own, and I have felt their power.  Both connect the experience of happiness with the expression and cultivation of inner Virtue and the careful choosing and expression of thoughts.  If I were to add any clarification, I would say that as we learn to respond to the circumstance of life with Virtue (Love, Kindness, Faith, Forgiveness) instead of our natural response (anger, fear, doubt, bitterness), we begin to develop those characteristics which are most consistent with God’s character, and consequently we experience His Peace, His Happiness.

Let’s see what James and Peter and Paul have to say about this.

James 1:2-4“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;” – now that’s already a strange statement to make….why on earth should falling into afflictions and temptations be a cause for joy?... “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”  Ah, so we begin to get to the heart of it.  James views all things in life as opportunities to develop virtue....especially trials.  And what is his opinion of what the development of virtues, in this case patience, will do to you?   “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”  Choosing to allow patience to work and develop in you helps you develop one attribute which God holds in perfection, and the development of that virtue is linked to your wholeness/completeness which you obtain in and through God.  This is the very essence of at-one-ment.

The way you respond to circumstance either encourages or discourages the wholeness that God is trying to fill you with.  His wholeness and peace come by aligning yourself with virtues consistent with His character and being (see also this post).  This is what He means by “my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth give I unto you.”  His peace comes not by circumstance, but by pursuing virtues that allow His peace to flow into you naturally, because in the moment you embody that virtue you share His heart and His mind.

2 Peter 1:1-8 – Peter begins by recognizing that God has “called us to glory and virtue” and says that it is by this call that we are given “exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature”.   I believe one of the ways we become partakers of the divine nature is by learning how to respond to all circumstances of life in a way that is consistent with the virtues God is a perfect embodiment of.  This causes us to experience His Peace, His Joy, and His Happiness in this life, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in.  Peter seems to suggest the same when he gives a list of virtues to develop, that we should pursue in all diligence:  “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”  And then this great promise “For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I could not possibly agree more.

1 Corinthians 13:1-8“...Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.   Love never fails.”

The promise at the end there is very bold.  Love Never Fails.  But in what way does it never fail?  Is this a promise that perfect love will always rescue the wayward child, bring back a cheating spouse, change a dismissive and rude boss/co-worker, or mend a broken relationship with a dysfunctional parent?  Is this scripture promising that Love will have any effect at all on circumstances or the behaviors of others?  It might make positive change more likely, but it certainly isn’t a guarantee.  That much is evident in Christ's life, where He perfectly embodied charity, yet still met many people who refused to be changed by His love.   So in what way does love never fail?  My answer to you is that Love never fails the POSSESSOR of it.  Learning to offer selfless Love, even to those who offend you, can fill you with a Joy and Peace consistent with that Love, even though the circumstances you face don’t change at all. I have experienced that Joy for myself, and there are few things like it.


Pursing Virtue For The Sake Of The Virtue Alone

My challenge to you? Learn to pursue Virtues as your response,  no matter what your circumstance.   This is the only way for happiness to be something other than a glossy veneer.  In fact, when I say that you have the power to choose happiness, it’s not like you just say to yourself “I’m going to be happy!” when something terrible happens.  If that’s all you do, it may only amount to a smile that masks a heap of negative thoughts bubbling inside.  So when I say that you can choose happiness, what you are actually doing is choosing the virtue of Kindness in the face of criticism, you are choosing Forgiveness in the face of betrayal, Service and Selflessness in the face of self-pity, you are choosing Patience and Love in the face of a disobedient child, you are choosing Gratitude and Love for those you still have when you face the loss of someone dear to you, you choose Faith and Hope instead of fear and worry in the face of life threatening illness.  In none of those examples did you choose happiness...and yet happiness/well-being/calm/peace is the result of these consistently applied virtues. 

This deserves a little bit of elaboration...when you choose to embody these virtues as your response to all things in life, you must do so for the sake of the virtue alone and nothing else (again, this is what the Sermon on the Mount is all about).  If you choose kindness or love or forgiveness now, so that later you can hang it over someone’s head as an example of how your actions have been better than theirs and that they OWE you...well then you didn’t actually choose those virtues at all - you chose vengeance, pride, and the right to say “I’m better than you.”  This will not do. You must choose the Virtue for Virtue’s sake.

I hope you will each pursue those Virtues that will help you truly know God, which knowledge will come in great part because you are becoming like Him (1 John 3:1-3).  If there is any true happiness that I have discovered in this life, it has not come because of circumstance, but because of how I responded to circumstance.  It has come when I have discovered what it means to choose His ways (Love, Kindness, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Hope, etc.) and not my own.  Doing so connects you with Heaven in ways I haven't experienced otherwise.  It's as if choosing those virtues causes you to vibrate at the same frequency as those Celestial spheres, and the Joy that is so natural there becomes your own (i.e. - the Kingdom of God truly is within you).  It seems to me that the deep happiness we so desperately seek truly cannot be found in circumstances or "as the world giveth", but comes only from within as we learn to align with Above.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how your religious or spiritual beliefs influence your approach to Happiness.  Have a wonderful Sunday!

Update:  Last night I came across a quote from Leo Tolstoy in "War and Peace" that was particularly relevant connecting the virtue of Love to Joy:
“Yes, love, ...but not the love that loves for something, to gain something, or because of something, but that love that I felt for the first time, when dying, I saw my enemy and yet loved him. I knew that feeling of love which is the essence of the soul, for which no object is needed. And I know that blissful feeling now too. To love one's neighbours; to love one's enemies. To love everything - to Love God in all His manifestations. Some one dear to one can be loved with human love; but an enemy can only be loved with divine love. And that was why I felt such joy when I felt that I loved that man. What happened to him? Is he alive? ...Loving with human love, one may pass from love to hatred; but divine love cannot change. Nothing, not even death, can shatter it. It is the very nature of the soul." ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

40 comments:

  1. This post is blowing my mind!
    I've sat through hundreds of sacrament meetings and many general conference sessions and have learned the principles you mentioned,and loved them for that matter, but what I never pieced together until now is what you said here

    "So when I say that you can choose happiness, what you are actually doing is choosing the virtue of Kindness in the face of criticism, you are choosing Forgiveness in the face of betrayal, you are choosing Patience and Love in the face of a disobedient child, you are choosing Gratitude and Love for those you still have when you face the loss of someone dear to you, you choose Faith and Hope instead of fear and worry in the face of life threatening illness."

    I love that you gave application. Many times I hear the principle over and over, but don't really digest it into daily life. I love that you explained/provided examples of choosing happiness. I just love it and am so excited to practice those virtues!

    Oh and the pictures - incredible. THANKS!

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    1. Thanks Mer. And I'm glad that part hit home with you...because that is one of the parts that means the most to me.

      It took me a long time to find the words to describe what I had experienced under difficult circumstances. I truly did find a peace and contentment that didn't match the circumstances of my life, and it was greater than I could have imagined. And at the heart of it all, it always came back to trying to embody those virtues. Those virtues were the way I connected to God. When I felt an absence of peace, it was usually because I'd strayed in some way from the basics of Faith, Hope, and Love. I'd allowed doubt and fear to seep in, or anger or bitterness, and those things robbed my of how I knew I could feel, because I'd felt it before. I started being much more introspective, and I began trying to identify the root emotion/attitude behind my thoughts or my actions.

      It was no longer enough to go through the motions of a correct action...much like Christ says that it is not enough to go through the motions of praying, fasting, or giving. I had to make sure that my motives behind an action were rooted in Love, Faith, Hope, and all the other good virtues. And if they were, peace ALWAYS accompanied the action...even when it didn't have the desired outcome.

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  2. Beautiful talk. I appreciate how well thought out this is! Thank you for helping me understand that "choosing happiness" is actually choosing forgiveness, patients, humility, etc. I have never thought of it that way.

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    1. Well...hopefully it won't be the last time you think of it that way :)

      I didn't used to think this way either. But discovering this process in a time a great need for healing made it so I approach all of life's circumstances this way. I'm very blessed that this is the thought process that Mara uses as well, and so we, together, get to tackle whatever life throws at us in the same way, and help each other when one of us is struggling to do it in that moment. It was very rewarding even when it was just a personal journey, and it has been even more rewarding to have in Mara such a dedicated partner.

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  3. Dear Danny, please write a book, this is beautiful and aims straight for the heart and soul. You are very talented and can help many, many people. And since you asked, I will tell a little story. At the end of my daughter's memorial service, I had just read an email she wrote to my husband and I about how she did not take for granted one minute of the work she was doing in Israel (going into the desert teaching Bedoin children English, a chance for their future, working with one of the Peace Corp founders), then the Cantor read Psalm 23. A wave of peace was entering me as my family and friends prayed along. Then, very loudly and WAIT - She's looking straight at ME - She commands "NOW GO, AND LIVE YOUR LIFE" Wait, I just buried my beautiful daughter, I want to go home under the covers for a month, have my mother-in-law spoon feed me matzha ball soup, my mother spoon feed me Italian wedding soup, I want to eat in one sitting all twelve of the home made chicken pot pies a chef/friend sent us. Why is she staring at me? I can't do this. I can't take my ten year old daughter, along with some friends to the start of a summer nature camp. I can't have the kids here having "fun". I can't go to my cousin's daughter's wedding shower and share in the joy, why the girls grew up together, I am going to be so jealous, envious and oh the pain. OH, why is Cantor Dana still looking at me, she is going to ask me next week about this. Now I have to wake up tomorrow morning and get these girls to camp. And go to the shower and talk to people and plan the girl scouts camping trip, etc., etc. And a funny thing happened while "living life", people were filling my broken heart with love and wait, I'm laughing? Living? Hmmmm, I love these people
    and they're charging in. I am so grateful for their love and kindness. Wait, where is the anger, bitterness? Thank you Psalm 23, I recited you endlessly, thank you Cantor Dana and all my beautiful people. Thank you GOD, for your gifts of comfort, peace, strenth and faith. I have received the greatest gifts. Danny and Mara, I hold you in my heart, Denise

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    1. Thank you for sharing Denise, this is really beautiful. You had commented on Mara's post a few days ago and hinted at some of those lessons learned with the passing of your daughter, and I really appreciate you sharing in more detail here.

      The Peace you spoke of truly is a gift from God, and is able to come in our darkest moments against all odds. Thanks again for sharing, I will hold you and your words in my heart as well.

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  4. It's always a treat to partake of your wisdom! Thank you for taking the time to share this. It's a keeper, a repeat reader. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.

    "Many who have not come to a state of spiritual awakening, may, in fact believe that circumstances are the deciding factor in happiness...We alone decide where it is that we stand on the continuum between total frustration and complete fullness of joy." (Enzio Busche)

    God bless!

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    1. Ahhhh....Enzio Busche is one of my favorites. He was quoted in one of my favorite books a few times, and the quotes were so powerful that I had to go seek him out and read whatever I could. I read his talk titled "Unleashing the Dormant Spirit" and loved it, then I picked up his book "Yearning for the Living God" and marveled at the stories of a man who truly has sought for and experienced a living God.

      Thanks for sharing the quote. :)

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  5. I love the part about choosing the virtue for the virtue's sake. I think that's so important because even if we have all the best intentions in the world to be positive and happy we are human and we want results out of our "good works". I love that you talked about God so boldly here in this post. I know it's behind everything you talk about, even if not directly stated, but every once in awhile it's nice to have a hearty dose of the foundation of why any of this is even possible.

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  6. Loved the bits about softer context of ripe and unripe and the love never fails bit. Often people become bitter when the think they have been failed. The softer context is so awesome and reminds me of when Elder Bednar visited Australia and taught us about the 'commandments not a few' scripture - in the sense of once you know better you do better.

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  7. I loved this. Thank you so much for these thoughts.

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  8. I struggle with fear and anxiety at times. I agree about what you wrote about guarding your thoughts, but it can be hard for thoughts to not keep going back to the anxious thoughts.

    I really liked what you said about choosing Faith and Hope instead of fear and anxiety. And just all of what you wrote about the virtues. I guess it takes practice for it to become more of a natural response and for the thoughts to not keep returning to the anxious ones.

    I appreciate you and Mara and all you share, thank you so much. It's been so helpful. Any more insight on how to deal with fear and anxiety would be great! I think a big part of fear and anxiety has to do with wanting to have control to try to get a desired outcome (like good health, or healing). Are you always able to give up control, to "Let go, and Let God?"


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    1. Anon, you are very correct - it does take practice and it doesn't come all at once. There are certain aspects of my life that I am very well practiced with at this point, and don't take much thought at all to go into a path of virtue as a natural response.

      But there are other areas of my life that maybe I haven't had that kind of practice...maybe it's a new trial I'm unfamiliar with, or a new kind of stress. I'm sure that if/when parenthood comes, it will present to me and to Mara a whole bunch of new scenarios that will test us in ways we've never known. And we will have to start at the very beginning and develop a little muscle memory with those new tasks.

      Keep in mind that psychology studies show that your brain has created quick pathways that form your natural response. If you are having trouble not returning to anxiety and fear, in some ways it is because the neuro-pathway to that is just shorter and easier and very well developed. Sometimes it can help to think of it in those terms, and realize that when it's difficult it's because you're fighting against bad neuro habits and thought patterns. That means you're likely to fail regularly in the beginning....but if you can be patient with yourself, experiment, and quite literally PRACTICE doing something different...you can begin to form a new pathway that will one day become a short cut. Sometimes, that might involve just going through the motions even though you don't feel it.

      It's not unlike muscle memory in sports or training of any kind. When you have a bad habit that impacts performance, you have to slow down a little, and do a ton of drills to try to rewire your muscle memory to something that will work better. That doesn't happen without effort and practice. But soon what felt awkward and was a struggle becomes second nature and something the athlete doesn't need to even think about.

      And yes, you are correct about that last paragraph...the desire to control is related to the need to have a certain outcome...a specific circumstance. And as I showed above, in some ways you really do have to let go of the idea that specific circumstances will be the only way you can have what you need in life. When you aren't "attached" to an outcome, you no longer feel the need to control it as much with your fear and anxiety, and you begin to trust that you will be fine no matter the outcome. You literally "let go, and let God". You have to come to a place where you believe that a less than desirable outcome/circumstance will not ruin your day.

      I know there is so much more that could be written...but I'll leave those who have written books on the matter to address. It might not hurt to read a little Eckhart Tolle. I have a friend who loves Thich Nhat Hanh - a Buddhist author/philosopher who is very gifted in writing about this. If I understand correctly, even Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is related to this as well if you wanted professional help. If you are religious, do not ignore the spiritual connection in all of this and the value of scripture...they teach more about this than most of us are capable of seeing.

      I hope this has helped, I know I've barely scratched the surface. But know that growth and development and change is absolutely possible.

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    2. Thank you so much Danny! Like anon above, I also struggle with anxiety and have for many years (it runs in my family. a few of my family members need medecation to function with this anxiety). At times, it can feel like implementing these beautiful truths into my life might be impossible for me and some of my loved ones, despite strong desires and efforts to change. I get discouraged after giving it my strongest effort, not much seems to change, and this can make me wonder if it can be done. Honestly, I am still not sure that I believe happiness is possible for every person, I have watched as some of my family members have struggled to change for decades. But I really want to believe that seeking after virtues, enjoying the peace of God, and this happiness can be available to me and my dear family. This has given me a new hope and a new resolve to try harder and never give up! thank you.

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    3. I think one important thing is not to ask if happiness is possible, but if greater happiness is possible.

      I think it can be very difficult when we set up as a goal some level of happiness that someone else has obtained under very different circumstances. The question shouldn't be can you be as happy as them (whatever that means)...the question is can you be happier than you are now? I think you know the answer to that one.

      For example, did reading this post increase your hope and make you feel a greater sense of trust? Did writing a comment offering gratitude increase at least for a moment your joy? What very small and simple expressions of virtue today could bring you one step further along the path of happiness? It's the small stuff that adds up, and it happens step by step.

      If we pretend for a moment that happiness can be measured on a scale of 1 to 100...and you are currently a 25...worry less about whether you can be 100...and see if you can do what it takes to consistently reach 26. And when you're at 26, 27 will now be within your reach. I know I'm not at 100...I'm still learning the principles of happiness, and I'm trying to apply them more consistently.

      Is there anyone in the history of the world that has ever had anxiety and still managed to find greater happiness? If so, then the following quote by Marcus Aurelius "Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also."

      Keep in mind, Mara was once in a place where she thought it was impossible. She worked on one principle at a time, and in the beginning it was very difficult and required serious "rewiring".

      I believe in you, and anyone else to sets out to move forward on that scale. It's about taking the next step, not jumping all the way to the top all at once.

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    4. Danny, thank you for this last comment of yours! It is something I've been thinking about, but you put it in much better words than I could have.

      After 3 years of living through my hard circumstances (being a single mom, among others), I have found myself making progress on the happiness scale, but not yet to a point where reacting in a positive way has become second nature. I still find myself feeling discouraged and anxious more often than I would like. It never lasts too long, but I can't wait for the day where I can just avoid reacting that way in the first place. Often when I read the posts here, I tend to see Mara's journey as having gone from one extreme to the other fairly quickly, and I feel a bit disappointed with myself that I haven't reached "the other side" yet, where choosing happiness seems easy and second nature. I already knew that this kind of thinking is unhelpful and that I shouldn't compare myself. But your comment here really nails it for me! Thank you for the reminder to pursue just one incremental unit at a time.

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    5. Sorry, I'm crashing the party. Some things that help me with fear and anxiety is first to know that Satan uses those tools to keep us from progressing and reaching our potential. On a more physical note getting enough sleep is a big thing. If you cannot sleep for an extended period of time you possibly may need medication. In a recent general conference they talked about depression and other things like fear and anxiety. Faith is also a big help, when job searching or things of that sort pray for guidance and if someone says no that means that was not meant to be. From a fellow sufferer:)

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    6. I don't think you crashed the party at all. I think what you wrote is still is absolutely an important part of the balance we all seek to obtain.

      When saying we can have happiness no matter circumstance, I'm not trying to suggest that the normal things we do to care for our body do not also contribute to our overall wellbeing. Your link between adequate sleep and the proper and healthy functioning of the mind is an important addition, and not something I meant to either explicitly or implicitly ignore.

      Thanks for adding your experience!

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  9. isn't God great. he teaches to love like he loves. holds our hands and lead us through difficult times. his love is priceless.
    http://saidthatfirst.com/tag/god

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  10. Thanks for sharing this, it's amazing. And as others have said, while you are laying out eternal truths, the way you say it and the application really helps me to see it in a new way-- and encourages me to practice. "Chose happiness" can seem too abstract. But it makes a lot of sense to practice a virtue (that may seem counter intuitive) in response to adversity. In that way, we can actually bring and feel some light and love even when the darkness threatens. I have been reading bit by bit, at Mara's recommendation, The Light in the Wilderness, and it's a gorgeous exploration of eternal truths in a way that really speaks to me.
    I hope Mara and you and those little embryos are doing great!

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  11. Thank you so VERY much for this insight. Just like your first commenter, I'm making a connection that was missed so many times before. Thank you, Danny.

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  12. I just added an update to the post because I came across a quote by Leo Tolstoy that recaps the entire post. I'll add it here as well:

    “Yes, love, ...but not the love that loves for something, to gain something, or because of something, but that love that I felt for the first time, when dying, I saw my enemy and yet loved him. I knew that feeling of love which is the essence of the soul, for which no object is needed. And I know that blissful feeling now too. To love one's neighbours; to love one's enemies. To love everything - to Love God in all His manifestations. Some one dear to one can be loved with human love; but an enemy can only be loved with divine love. And that was why I felt such joy when I felt that I loved that man. What happened to him? Is he alive? ...Loving with human love, one may pass from love to hatred; but divine love cannot change. Nothing, not even death, can shatter it. It is the very nature of the soul." ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

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  13. Thank you for this Danny. The religious context actually really helps me understand this better and will help me apply choosing virtue.."Choosing God's way over my way." So many light bulbs went off as I read this. Sorry I don't have much to say by way of answering your question, but I wanted to thank you for this post!

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  14. AMAZING! I continue practicing pursuing virtues in my own life (after being inspired by the blog when it first began) and have felt firsthand that deep happiness and peace that you talk about. You and Mara are so inspiring(and inspired) and I am so grateful that you are sharing yourselves with all of us! THANK YOU!

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    1. Ahhh, so glad to hear that you have had personal success with this and that this blog has helped inspire you. That is truly our prayer every day.

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  15. Great talk, Danny, as always! You have a real talent and a lot of great insights to offer. So many of the things in this talk struck a chord with me. Over the last few years, I've slowly come to the realization that growing closer to God and trying to live his gospel is what will truly bring me happiness. It's easy to say, and so hard for me to do, though. I struggle with trying to improve, and more often than not, fall short. Your explanation of pursuing virtues is helpful--it breaks down the big idea of "growing closer to God" into smaller steps that seem possible. Thanks for sharing this talk on your blog--it made my day.

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    1. As I commented above in response to Anon, the small steps are really all that matters. Glad it seems a little clearer to you, and I hope you find some opportunities to practice your new insights soon!

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  16. Oh my my my. Thank you SO VERY MUCH for this Danny! This is something my husband and I talk about all the time, because I'm one that tends to be acted upon in many circumstances. I've never been able to wrap my head around the concept of "just being happy", and this gave me some beautiful perspective. You and Mara have such a way with words and with people... it's a wonderful blessing to have you both share your wisdom with us. If you don't become parents in the near future, you can take GREAT comfort in the fact that you are blessing and changing lives; both seen and unseen. THANK YOU!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words! You're not the only one that tends to be acted upon...it's a very natural thing for us to fall into and it takes conscious, deliberate effort to do otherwise. But awareness is the first step, and with awareness comes a greater ability to make decisions that will help you actually do those things that bring greater happiness.

      Good luck!!!

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  17. Danny, This is insightful, wonderful, beautiful and actually feels achievable. As I sit here thinking about 'could I really do this?' I admit that there is still this very strange and uncomfortable feeling thinking about living this way--I think it comes down to vulnerability (something I'm not very good at) and feeling completely stripped of my defenses (once again vulnerability). It may sound strange but I feel like I could do this and BE this way around certain people, but would have a hard time living and BEING this way around other people. Did you or Mara ever struggle with that particular fear? I really want to read this again and again...so much wisdom. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I understand what you're saying Miggy. And although you are correct in that it is sometimes easier to do it with some people and not others, the fact that you can do it with anyone at all suggests that you can do it with everyone.

      I think one thing that is sad to me, is it is often those that we need to do it with the most that we don't. I don't know why that is, though I have some suspicions. For some reason, I see many extending this kind of charity to those who are just friends or acquaintances or even strangers, and yet withholding it from their spouses or children. It is a sad thing that we demand the most of those closest to us, and therefore oftentimes get the most offended with those we have been most vulnerable with. And I think vulnerability has a huge part to play in this. It is the opening up and the willingness to love others that begins to set the expectations for a certain kind of returned love or a deserved behavior...and yet that goes against the heart of the message I was trying to share in those last few paragraphs and what Leo Tolstoy suggests.

      We cannot expect to love with conditions and receive the joy that is being promised us. It takes greater vulnerability than we are often prepared for. It requires loving for the sake of love alone...because it is the offering of true unconditional love that brings you the peace you desire, and the deep peace does not come from whatever behavior you hope to get in return.

      I know it is difficult, but it is so so so worth it. Not only is it possible with those that you think you'd have a hard time applying this with, but it is usually even more rewarding. It is at the heart of being one that acts for themselves, instead of simply being acted upon...the result of which is Liberty and Life through the Great Mediator and His Holy Spirit, the opposite of which is Captivity and Death (and I can't think of two better words to describe the way any of us feels when full of anger and bitterness and hatred, or of fear and self doubt, or whatever else).

      Obviously it takes practice, and one must be careful. It is possible for one to misunderstand the process and think that we are suggesting being a doormat to those who would hurt or abuse us in the name of pursuing virtue. That is not what we are suggesting.

      Anyway, you CAN do this...and it is wonderful! It is the very heart of the Gospel as I've understood and experienced it.

      With Love,
      Danny

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  18. Thanks Danny. Yes that is exactly it. I want something in return. If I'm going to try my best, then you better be on board too. That is definitely what makes it so very difficult...the idea of not getting this kind of love, respect and kindness in return. That is definitely at the heart of my fear and vulnerabilities. BUT it's also what I know makes it the truth serum that it is... doing it for any other reason than being a better person yourself, or to seek the love and favor of God--any and all the right and actual reasons for living this way are of course the antithesis of what it's all about. I get that. Anyway, thanks agin and God bless you two.

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  19. Beautiful talk Danny. Thank you for sharing it here in this forum! I really appreciate the spiritual insights too.

    Give that sweet wife of yours a hug for me this week.

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  20. Our institute teachers shared your talk last night here in Hawaii. We really enjoyed it.

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  21. This post blew my mind! This was just what I needed to hear today. I was so taken back by the words from this post, that I share it with some of my friends and family and printed it off to add to my journal collection of quotes, scriptures, talks, and other inspirational stuff. Thank you so much. I would love to read more posts like this one.

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    1. Thank you Kimberly. The post means a lot to me as well, and I am very pleased that it is helpful to you. I'll try to get something up like this every once in a while :)

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  22. Thank you for taking the time to layout these truths and your understanding... I am grateful to know a little of this. You are right it is a process! Someone asked me once 'Do You Want To Be Right or Do You Want To Be happy' The only true happiness I have come to know is through this process.
    You are awesome! Thank you for creating a place for the goodness you and Mara have come to know. I pray for your blessings**
    I just shared this blog with a co-worker!

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  23. So incredible. I stumbled across this blog several hours ago, and have been reading posts in between crying and writing in my journal all afternoon. You and Mara have an amazing gift for speaking the truth in love. Thank you so much for sharing yourselves on this blog. You have truly blessed me, and I shared the blessing with my bible study group! I will be returning regularly to be encouraged on this lifelong journey of learning how to love.

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  24. I just came across this post, thank you so much!

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