Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Spiritual Inventory Pt. 2: HAPPINESS...Real vs. Counterfeit

Does there ever seem to be a running theme in things you see online?

This morning, for me, it seems to be "happiness" and "priorities."  The wheels started to turn and it got me thinking.

When I saw the phrase "counterfeit happiness," it really got me thinking.

Counterfeit: "made in exact imitation of something valuable or important with the intention to deceive or defraud."

In other words, something that is counterfeit, like counterfeit happiness, can be very, very convincing. So convincing that we may not even realize it.

Allow me to back up.

When I first woke up this morning, I heard a short three minute podcast about the world's view of what should make us happy. Success, personal glory, wealth, possessions. Pretty shallow, right? And most of us would look at that list and agree that, no, those are not the things that cause true, lasting happiness. After all, there are plenty of people who have achieved those things and became even more unhappy because of them. (The joke, of course is..."let me test that theory!" But, in all seriousness, we already know the answer.)

But when I started to think about the phrase "counterfeit happiness," which I read in a Deseret News article a while ago, I thought of things which "appear" to create happiness that are very easily attained or consumed (for most of us.)

I will be the first to admit that unhealthy food has given me much counterfeit happiness over the years. It's easy to get, it's inexpensive, and it's everywhere in a variety of tempting shapes and colors.  I even used the counterfeit happiness of junk food to overshadow the true UNhappiness of being quite overweight. Talk about a vicious cycle.

Of course, changing weight means you need to buy more clothes to accommodate your changing body, right? More counterfeit happiness. I love new clothes. I love shopping. But I'm trying hard to love them less.

I know I'm not the only one who has been sucked into this vortex. Advertisers prey on our insecurities and tell us what we must have in order to be happy. (Like all of the happy, healthy, thin people with alcohol and cigarettes in magazine ads. The happy mom giving her happy, healthy kids junk food. The list is endless, right?)

Remember when you were a kid and achieving happiness was so easy? My mom's two best friends when I was a kid had all boys. Me and seven boys. We would play baseball. We would dig a hole in the backyard, just for the sake of digging a hole. We would draw on the sidewalk with chalk. We would race our bikes. We would have the dog pull us in our Radio Flyer wagons. We would play with the garden hose. We would play with Play Dough and cheap watercolors. We would pick lemons from our tree and blackberries in the neighbors' yard. Such simple things. And we were happy.

The real question is why does happiness seem harder to achieve as we get older?

I think the answer is found in two things. We compare ourselves with others too much and we often look for happiness externally instead of internally.

The Comparison Game. That is a dangerous game to play, yet we all do it with one thing or another. We walk into someone's house and we immediately compare it to ours. The size, the level of cleanliness, the location, the yard. Women, especially, do that little "head to toe" evaluation of another woman when we see each other. (Not always, but we do it.) At church we compare kid behaviors, marriages, Sunday clothes, callings, etc.

What makes The Comparison Game so damaging is that, even when we are doing it knowingly, we do it unfairly. We compare others' bests to our worsts.

I remember one time our Relief Society presidency went to visit a sister who had not attended church in a while. She felt inadequate and flawed, she said. And she courageously said she was especially intimidated by me. My gosh. I felt terrible.This poor sister was causing herself such anguish by comparing my bests to what she perceived as her worsts. She only saw "Sunday Kristie" and, to her, that was the whole picture. I had to assure this sister that what she saw with me and everyone else on Sunday was our bests. Our "onstage selves."

My "backstage self" is my own version of everyone else's. Monday through Saturday my life is pretty ordinary. She wasn't seeing me do laundry, cleaning out cat poops, putting my husband's lunch together, taking out the trash, struggling with my blotchy skin, sighing every time I get on the scale, and deciding which groceries not to get so I can stay within the budget.

Facebook has created a world a little bit like our Sunday selves. Most people post things that show them at their best. My profile picture is when my husband and I were in Las Vegas in April. I was slimmer and tanner than I am right now. Is it an honest representation of me? Yes. It's me at my honest best. Is it me every day, and even this very moment? Not so much.

People post themselves on vacation, especially right now in the middle of summer. Right now three different sets of friends are in Hawaii, three are in Europe, and several are doing exciting road trips and family reunions.

What am I doing right now? Sitting here in sweats and a silly-looking headband, with legs that need to be shaved and feet that need a pedicure, expounding on happiness.

And that's OK! We've had three great trips this year (unprecedented for us) and I'm very grateful for them. And even if we didn't, it's still OK. We are not in a contest to see whose life is the most exciting.

Last example with The Comparison Game. Purses. For about ten years I wouldn't give a second glance to any purse unless it was a "name brand." They provided me with a delightful counterfeit happiness that I could toss over my shoulder and take anywhere. Once I discovered the "magic of eBay" I could indulge this more and spend much less. About two years ago my husband challenged me to go one year without buying a new purse. I accepted the challenge. And I was successful! There was no tangible prize except that somewhere within that year I realized that a purse is a purse is a purse! It's a bag where you keep your stuff and that's it. Lesson learned. (It only took me until I was forty-three, and if you see me with a name brand purse it is one I bought before the 1 Year Challenge. LOL)

External vs. Internal. Earlier today I found this fantastic article on the difference between "true and fake (counterfeit) happiness. Thank you, for expressing this so succinctly:

1.  "Fake happiness" is all about pursuing "pleasure."
2.  "True happiness" is all about the "education of the soul" ... and wanting to grow into one's highest potential.

In more detail:
1. "Pleasure" is all about immediate gratification.  It often includes lack of moderation, lack of insightful judgement, and lack of awareness of long-term consequences. Pleasure is impulse-driven in your choice-making. Pleasure brings a temporary blip of joy, which is unsatisfying in the long run.
2.  "Happiness" often has a time-delay until that "feel good high" kicks in, but it creates "long term joy." It is about being "growth-driven" in your choice-making. You surround yourself with people and experiences which increase your soul's self-development--hence the joy lasts as long as you last--because the joy created becomes an integral part of who you are as a unique, thriving individual.

OK. True happiness sounds like a lot of work.

Or maybe not.

Here is the conclusion I've come to today:

Pleasure, in moderation, is fine. Eat that ice cream cone. Buy those cute sandals. And then...move on from those things. The minute you tell yourself that you must have ice cream every day or that you need those sandals in all available colors in order to be happy, you are "pursuing pleasure." (Believe me, I can relate to both of these situations.)

Happiness, besides being a conscious choice, is less about pursuit and more about discovery.  Discover it in things you have already accomplished. Discover it in the joy you can bring to others: service, a smile, a phone call. Discover it in standing for five minutes in the sunshine. Discover it in spending time with your family. Discover it in your faith and in counting your blessings.

Happiness awaits discovery in the simplest of things.

Discover it, embrace it, multiply it, share it.  Then watch the ordinary become extraordinary.