Happiness along the Way


From an eternal perspective, much of our impatience with ourselves and others is over concerns of this world.

Tumbleweeds blew about the prairie sod home that Christmas Eve as a young mother looked out the only window, knowing Christmas would be a disappointment for her children unless she found something to create happy memories for them.

While reading to her children the familiar Christmas story from Luke that the idea came to her. She tucked the children into bed, then whirled into creative activity. She gathered a few tumbleweeds and fashioned them into a tree, then cut brightly colored ornaments from catalog covers and fastened them to the branches with yarn. With some lace, she made a rosette to crown the top. Finally, she arranged small portions of raisins on several plates—one for each child—each bearing a note telling of her special love for them.

With only a Christmas Eve of time, this mother wasted no energy wishing for what might have been. She created fond memories from the ingredients of her prairie surroundings.

The principle guiding that young prairie family years ago is still true. We have eternal choices to make and an alloted time in mortal life to make those choices.

“For it must needs be, that there is opposition in all things. … man could not act for himself save it should be that he is enticed by the one or the other.” (2 Ne. 2:11, 16.)

Happiness is much on our minds during times of trial as we wonder how to live our todays with honor and humor. Often, just doing what must be done at the moment is the right thing. Then, when we are finished, we place the event on the shelf of memory, wrap it in the bright paper of “I gave it my best,” and allow time to transform the trial into an honorable reminder.

Most of our trials come to us unsolicited, but we do have the agency to choose our attitudes toward them. I began to learn this lesson when I was ten years old, assigned the job of peeling potatoes for dinner each night. In response to my daily complaints, my grandmother told me I might as well learn to like what I was doing because I had to do it anyway. Another time, a visiting aunt touched my shoulder and grinned, “This too shall pass.” That wisdom has helped me through many years of unpleasant and tedious chores.

We live in a less-than-perfect world filled with too much negative self-criticism. Negativity reinforces itself until we see ourselves as sorry creatures with few abilities or gifts. But understanding that there will be problems throughout life diminishes pressure and allows us growing room as we work our way toward our goals.

Poverty or illness may well be part of life, but to dwell on our problems is to restrict our growth and guarantee more stumbling than necessary. When we are busy juggling all the “should be’s,” we don’t have time or energy to get on with the doing.

My young daughter stood on the steps of a Netherlands home, pondering a “should be” as she rang the door bell. She was far from home, serving a mission for our Heavenly Father. She was also discouraged because her mission hadn’t turned out as she had planned.

Although she had mapped out her life’s plan years before, she now felt that happiness always seemed a little beyond her grasp. She had completed high school early, thinking happiness was in college. But college was not what she had expected. Now serving where she thought she surely would be happy, she was surprised at her inability to deal with the complexities of a mission.

In her journal that evening, my daughter penned a commitment to find something positive about each experience. She would also cultivate a sense of humor about daily events. To her immense joy, she found that happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response. She is still applying that principle learned some twelve years ago as she now mothers five children.

Another roadblock on the journey to inner contentment is to fail to let the past remain in the past. Although all of us find ourselves in less than ideal circumstances in our mortal probation, we can look at each day as a new opportunity for achievement. Accepting ourselves is a learning process that opens doors for progress not otherwise possible. Let me mention a few personal challenges.

I grew up in a motherless home where there was verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Christianity was taught, but kindness was scarce. After marriage, I was childless for five years, gave birth to one child, then adopted six. My husband became ill and died soon after the children were grown, at just the time we could consider serving a mission and enjoying old age together.

Have these circumstances made a difference in who I am? These experiences are who I am. I made a decision long ago to serve the Lord in whatever situation I found myself. When I am under stress, I try to figure out how what I am thinking will help me become more celestial. This self-examination, coupled with prayer, helps me face and overcome the negative aspects of my life.

For me, the message of 2 Nephi 31:20 has the hope I need in my daily efforts: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” [2 Ne. 31:20]

Even when we feel weak, this goal of feasting and enduring is worth continuing effort. With humor and honor, we can overcome all obstacles and be victorious. In the view from eternity, much of our impatience with ourselves and others is over trivia. Even the story of a friend’s car problems can be a small incident to laugh about rather than a source of frustration that escalates blood pressure.

While yet new, this vehicle was bruised while pausing at a stoplight. Then, as it was parked quietly on the street, it was bashed in the middle of the night by an unknown passing car. After two parking lot fender benders, the owner began worrying over life and limb and sold the car, after carefully reciting its history to the new owner. A week later, the new owner related his luck in walking away unhurt after being rammed while driving!

Life is often like that; while we are in the pursuit of righteousness we feel bruised and slammed and don’t always know what hit us.

Because I take life so seriously, it has taken me years to realize that a healthy sense of humor helps give perspective to the vision I have of my spiritual identity as a child of God striving to realize my celestial potential.

Our family’s first mountain camping trip was an experience in turning frustration into laughter. As the chill of night filled our tent, we put on every sweater and coat we brought, then stuffed ourselves into sleeping bags and snuggled close for warmth. We could hear other families readying their tents for the cold night. Finally all was quiet at the campground. From the silence of our little group came a frustrated four-year-old cry, “Mommy, I can’t turn over.” Giggles from other tents echoed around and we all felt warmer.

When trials cool your ardor for life, snuggle into the warm companionship of friends and family. Be open to the humor that can bring light to the darkest night. When tumbleweeds blow about your winter evening, invent happy memories. Choose joy over sorrow. Be enticed toward happiness.

[illustration] Illustrated by G. Allen Garns

Mildred Barthel, a free-lance writer, is music director and a Relief Society teacher in the Mount Vernon Branch, Cedar Rapids Iowa Stake.