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The world is a serious place these days. Between hurricanes, floods, terrorists, fires and government dissatisfaction, we’re probably entitled to some serious, long-term cases of the blues and permanent doom and gloom. Our own family/personal challenges often add their share of great heartache and sadness. Miserable, however, is not how our Heavenly Father wants us to feel or live, although the Adversary is surely tickled about it. Good news! Elder Nelson’s talk in General Conference a year ago has all the answers we need. Joy, believe it or not, is the answer! He reminded us:
Clearly, Lehi knew opposition, anxiety, heartache, pain, disappointment, and sorrow. Yet he declared boldly and without reservation a principle as revealed by the Lord: “Men are, that they might have joy.” Imagine! Of all the words he could have used to describe the nature and purpose of our lives here in mortality, he chose the word joy! (“Spiritual Survival” October 2016)
Elder Holland’s feature article in this month’s Ensign (September 2017) entitled “The Gospel Path To Happiness” supplements Elder Nelson’s message and confirms an essential gospel principle: Our Heavenly Father wants us to be happy! If we feel that happiness depends on positive circumstances or good conditions, then Elder Holland adds the element that happiness is a personal choice. Like repentance, baptism and salvation, we each choose and live our own happiness. We cannot give it or make it happen for anyone else, no matter how much we’d like to or try. It is not elusive or conditional. Barring mental and emotional illnesses, It’s a choice.
I have no doubt this is true, but I also believe (especially as a parent and grandparent) that our own happiness positively influences other’s happiness and makes choosing happiness much easier for them. What a lovely gift our personal, self-sustained happiness can be for loved ones!
Remember that expression “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” We laugh at this only because it is, indeed, so very true. Lightening up, finding joy and feeling happy personally (even a little bit) launches a rocket of many more good moods than just our own. In the perspective of service and support for not just ourselves, it’s never selfish to take the time and make the effort to fill our own wells and to “put on your own oxygen mask first” as we’re instructed to do when taking an airline flight. Could it be that finding a way to be truly happy, even when surrounded by conditions that don’t justify it, is one of the nicest things we can do for our loved ones?
Here are a dozen of my favorite quick and easy mood lifters to build upon Elder Nelson and Elder Holland’s messages in a hurry that will leave you smiling and content. I’ve cherished these tips Individually and collectively for years. They are so refreshing, easy and authentic that I’ve shared them more than once in talks and classes.
The first six came from an early 1980’s Homemaking Night (remember when that’s what we called Relief Society mid-week activities?) My half-sheet handout is yellowed and hand-typed. It brings a smile and a laugh just remembering the marvelous Becky who shared her tips that night. The second is from an equally beat up old article from the Readers Digest from 1984. The world is considerably more complicated than when I first received these lists, making their value even greater as Satan digs in to destroy everything in these latter days, including our own good moods.
Becky’s Tip For Chasing The Blues
1. Get Your Hair Cut.
2. Change Your Eating Habits.
3. Break Out of Your Mold.
4. Contact A Long-Lost Someone Special by Phone, Mail, eMail Or A Visit.
5. Try Something New.
6. Do A Small Good Deed For Someone Who Is Not Expecting It.
1. Get Your Haircut
What is there about hair? From one minute to the next (or so it seems) hair that has grown too long or is in serious need of attention can make us cranky. My daughter who is a professional hair stylist says that the most rewarding part of her job is to have someone arrive looking and feeling scraggly and moody, then leave after a good haircut feeling happier, better and lighter.
Some years ago, a very sweet and talented gal in our Ward arrived one Sunday morning with a very flattering new haircut and a little makeup. Of course it doesn’t matter in any real way (and shouldn’t) how we fix our hair or makeup, but her new haircut and makeup (both were unusual for her) brought her lovely face to life! Her hair had a bounce and a shape that you could tell she was enjoying as she smiled and talked.
When I complimented her, she said: “Well, it’s funny. My hair doesn’t really matter to me. But one day I realized that I, personally, don’t ever even see me! I’m on the inside of myself looking out. But my family looks at me day in and day out. I decided I want them to have something nicer to see and enjoy, whether it matters to me or not. They deserve that. I can do that for them.”
Isn’t that a lovely perspective? Whoever thought that a good haircut and making a bit of an effort to look our best could be anything but personal? Rather than being selfish, looking and feeling our best becomes a service when we feel happier and more confident. When we’re kinder and nicer to be around, we foster happiness for and from those around us.
2. Change Your Eating Habits
I’ve written way too many articles on how sugar affects our moods, dispositions and actions. I speak from years of personal experience on this one about what a difference cutting out sugar can make to our moods.
Any positive change, no matter how small, makes a difference! There’s much to document (and we’ve had family members prove it) that you can lose up to 15 pounds in a year by simply giving up soda (including diet soda which is loaded with chemicals). Within a very few weeks, you won’t even miss those sodas. Now that’s a major day brightener!
In addition, while it’s true that it takes some time to lose actual body weight and inches, I believe there’s a near instant lightening of your emotions and optimism within hours and days of deciding and taking action on an improved health habit. Whether you’ve lost any weight or seen any actual results or not, it’s exciting and motivating to know that you’ve turned the corner and are headed in a happy direction. Those cheerful, encouraging feelings weigh in as importantly as lost inches and that just feels … happy!
3. Break Out Of Your Mold
Sometimes you just need to shake things up! Whether it’s the color of your lipstick or socks, the route you take to work or the Church, what you eat for meals or what you’re reading, breaking out of a rut can be a great little emotional lift to dispel the blues.
When my husband turned 60, after thinking about it for a long time, he started wearing bow ties! From purchasing one, then a lesson on how to tie them from our son (who has made his claim to being a snappy dresser and standing out with them) and then on to rave reviews from our adult kids and those we attend Church with, it’s just fun. Everybody smiles when they see Bob and his sharp bow ties! It’s given several other men in our circle the courage to wear them too. It’s a cheery thing to see the General Authorities sporting their hats and a bit of style in different settings – and a reminder to us all that shaking things up a bit is a very good thing to do.
You can break out of a mold by shaking up schedules and routines for almost any daily activity. We got a nice pick-me-up when we joined the local gym after working out at home. By the same token, just taking a different route for your morning walk can do the same!
Whether it’s how the living room or bedroom furniture is arranged or breakfast cereals or a set of colorful inexpensive dinnerware (the Dollar Store has great choices!) it’s good to “shake-it-up baby – twist and shout” with all kinds of daily things.
4. Contact A Long-Lost Someone Special By Phone, Mail, eMail or a Visit
I’m sure we’ve all had wonderful experiences when out of the blue someone calls or we are prompted to call someone That glow can last for days as you recall past times and people. For me, it was a BYU friend from the early 70’s. I had dearly loved Sara and our two years together in old R Hall of Deseret Towers, but we had lost touch many years ago. When her name showed up several years ago through Meridian Magazine as a customer for our herbal detox,
I briefly said hello in an email and felt happy as I saw her name monthly and sent her orders But then one day over this past summer, I just picked up the phone and called her! She answered! It’s been over 40 years since we talked, but we jumped into our conversation as if it had been 20 minutes ago. She had stayed in touch with several of our common friends whom I’d admired most, and well-remembered my wonderful husband who had been in that same BYU Branch way back in the early 70’s.
What a day brightener it is to reach out. It is a happy thing to reflect on people, memories and happy circumstances of the past. It even fosters the existence and development of happy people and circumstances for the present!
5. Try Something New
This has long been a favorite saying for our family. We raised our kids on it, often saying it to picky eaters and reluctant teenagers. Just last January I wrote an article for Meridian entitled “Try Something New” that generated a whole new little business for my husband and me: sharing our wonderful therapeutic power socks.
To date we figure we’ve provided 1750-2000 pairs of socks to individuals. Many of these people are experiencing truly marvelous changes in their own health and well-being. Now there’s a happy day brightener that would never have happened for us or for them without … trying something new!
What’s something new for YOU to try? While trying something new may seem identical to breaking out of your mold, breaking out of your mold applies to daily or routine things you need to do or are already doing. Try something new means just that: TRY SOMETHING NEW!
We have recently joined a vegetarian supper club. Once a month, everyone brings a prepared vegetarian dish to enjoy potluck style and visit. The supper is followed by a short video (from personal collections or the library) on some aspect of healthy living and healthy eating. It’s very informative, refreshing and fun.
At last week’s meeting, one of the participants shared that she had signed up for a “Fruit Challenge” which was to find and eat 20 new fruits that she had never eaten before! As she elaborated on the shopping and eating she’d done, it inspired us all to see that our Heavenly Father really went overtime on making sure there are delicious sweet treats from nature. He very much wants us to enjoy and indulge that sweet tooth!
6. Do A SMALL Good Deed For Someone Who’s Not Expecting It.
We all know that the golden key to feeling better ourselves is to lose ourselves in service to others. But that key can be very little and still be solid 24 karat gold – especially if it’s a surprise. The list is endless for small kind things we can do, but doing it for someone who’s not expecting it might be the bigger part of this one, and the most fun! Whether it’s playing a quick board game with a bored child who knows how busy you are or dropping in on a housebound neighbor with a small treat or bouquet, the result is wonderful, memorable and a day brightener for both of you! So does a little visit with a dog while you’re out walking, or letting someone go ahead of you in the grocery store line or in a traffic jam.
The funny thing about service is that we think it’s for them, but it’s really for US. Indeed, the good feelings in taking our minds and actions away from ourselves boomerang right back to us!
If you’re enjoying this train of thought, I encourage you read the following article that’s a classic from the Readers Digest. I recall reading it in the magazine itself when it was first published in 1984. Since then, it has been copied and shared many times. With good reason. It’s a day and a life-changer. My own beat-up copy of it is in the same folder, right next to Becky’s six tips.
Here’s a sneak peek at the tips, but please don’t skip the inspiring story that follows. It’s especially comforting for those of us who are single or widowed.
Aunt Grace’s Rules To Live By
1. Do something for someone else.
2. Do something for myself.
3. Do something I don’t want to do that needs doing.
4. Do a physical exercise.
5. Do a mental exercise.
6. Do an original prayer that always includes counting my blessings.
Lessons From Aunt Grace
By Nardi Reeder Campion, first published in the Reader’s Digest, October 1984
The day we moved away I hit bottom. Saying good-bye to my friends and to the house I had loved made me feel as though my moorings had been ripped loose. Now, in what my husband kept calling “our new home” (it wasn’t new, and it wasn’t home), I was so awash in self-pity that I almost ignored the white leather book I found while unpacking an old trunk. But something prompted me to examine it.
The gold Victorian script on the cover spelled My Diary. Opening the book, I recognized the spidery handwriting of my great-aunt Grace, who had lived with us when I was a little girl. Aunt Grace belonged to a species now extinct – the unmarried, unemployed gentlewoman forced to live with relatives. All the cards had seemed to be stacked against her. She was plain-looking; she was poor; she was frail.
Yet the thing that I remember about her was her unfailing cheerfulness. Not only did she never complain, but she never seemed to lose her gentle smile. “Grace always looks on the bright side,” people said.
I sank down on the rolled carpet to read her diary. The first entry was dated 1901; the last was the year of her death, 1930. I read casually at first, and then with riveted attention.
Three years have passed since my dear Ted was killed at San Juan Hill and yet every day is still filled with pain. Will I ever be happy again?
Ted? I thought of Aunt Grace as the complete old maid. She once had a sweetheart! I read on:
My unhappiness is a bottomless cup. I know I must be cheerful, living in this large family upon whom I am dependent, yet gloom haunts me…Something has to change or I shall be sick. Clearly my situation is not going to change, therefore, I shall have to change. But how?
I have given much thought to my predicament and I have devised a simple set of rules by which I plan to live. I intend this to be a daily exercise. I pray that the plan will somehow deliver me from my dismal swamp of despair. It has to!
The simplicity of Aunt Grace’s rules-to-live-by took my breath away. She resolved every day to:
1. Do something for someone else.
2. Do something for myself.
3. Do something I don’t want to do that needs doing.
4. So a physical exercise.
5. Do a mental exercise.
6. Do an original prayer that always includes counting my blessings.
Aunt Grace wrote that she limited herself to six rules because she felt that number to be “manageable.” Here are some of the things she did and recorded in her diary:
Something for someone else. She bought three calves’ feet, simmered them for four hours in water, with spices, to make calf’s-foot jelly for a sick friend.
Something for myself. She trimmed an old blue hat with artificial flowers and a veil, receiving so many compliments that she thought the thirty-five cents well spent.
Something I don’t want to do. She “turned out” the linen closet – washed three dozen sheets by hand, sun-bleached them, and folded them away with lavender sachet.
Physical exercise. She played croquet and walked to the village instead of going by horse and buggy.
Mental exercise. She read a chapter a day of Dickens’s Bleak House, “which everyone is talking about.”
To my surprise, Aunt Grace had trouble with number six. Prayer did not come easily. “I can’t concentrate in church,” she wrote. “I find myself appraising the hats.” Eventually she discovered a solution: “When I sit in solitude on the rock overlooking our pasture brook, I can pray. I ask the Lord to help me bloom where I am planted, and then I count my blessings, always beginning with my family, without whom I would be alone and lost.”
When I put down Aunt Grace’s diary – aware now that we all fight – tears filled my eyes. But at first I ignored her message. I was a modern woman who needed no self-help crutches from a bygone era.
Yet settling into our new life proved increasingly difficult. One day, feeling totally depressed, I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. Should I try Aunt Grace’s formula? Could those six points help me now?
I decided I could continue to be a lump of misery, or I could test Aunt Grace’s recipe by doing something for someone else. I could, for instance, phone my eighty-five-year-old neighbor who was ill and lived by herself. One of Aunt Grace’s sentences echoed in my head: “I alone can take the initiative to escape from ‘the sarcophagus of self.'”
The sarcophagus of self. That did it. I would not be buried by my own ego. I got up and dialed Miss Phillips. She invited me for tea.
It was a start. Miss Phillips was delighted to have someone to talk with – and in her musty parlor I listened to details of her illness. Then I heard her say something that snapped me to attention.
“Sometimes,” said Miss Phillips, “the thing you dread doing is the very thing you should do, just so you can stop thinking about it.”
I walked home, turning over that insight in my mind. Miss Phillips had cast a new light on Aunt Grace’s third rule. Do something I don’t want to do that needs doing.
Ever since we moved, I had avoided organizing my desk. Now I made up my mind to get the blasted pile of paper in order. I found a file and folders, and every paper on my desk went into one of them or into the trash.
Two hours later I put down a new green blotter and a small philodendron plant. I beamed. I had done something I did not want to do, and it made me feel good.
At first, “doing a physical exercise” wasn’t quite so successful. I signed up for a jazz-exercise class and hated it. I tried jogging, until it dawned on me that I hated it, too.
“What’s wrong with walking?” my husband asked. He offered to join me each morning before breakfast. We found walking to be wonderfully conducive to communication. We enjoyed it so much that evening walks eventually replaced our evening cocktail. We felt healthier than we had in years.
At “doing something for yourself” I excelled. I began with Aunt Grace’s idea of bath therapy. “A bath should be the ultimate place of relaxation,” she wrote. “Father fresh lemon balm, sweet marjoram, mint, lemon verbena, lavender and rose geranium. Steep the dried leaves in boiling water for fifteen minutes and strain into the tub. Lie in the bath with your eyes closed, and do not think while soaking.”
Miss Phillips happily supplied me with herbs from her garden. I put the herbal mix in the tub, turned on the water and stretched out to let the tensions of the day melt away. It was sensational.
Soon I started an herb garden of my own and made herbal sachets for Christmas gifts. Doing, something for myself had turned into doing something for someone else.
the “Mental exercise” was more of a challenge. I couldn’t decide what to do until I read about a poetry course at the local community college. The teacher was a retired college professor who made poetry come alive. When we reached Emily Dickinson, I went into orbit. I read all 1,775 of her poems and was enthralled. “I dwell in Possibility,” wrote Emily. Marvelous.
Our professor was big on memorizing, which turned out to be the best mental exercise of all. I began with “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” and progressed to more difficult poems like “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.” How I’ve enjoyed recalling these poems while waiting in supermarket lines or at doctors’ offices!
Aunt Grace’s prayer assignment was the most helpful of all. I try now to make up a short prayer every day, and I always include some thanksgiving in it. Writing a prayer isn’t easy, but it’s a valuable spiritual discipline. I don’t have Aunt Grace’s meditation rock, but I do have a peaceful village church where I can attend to that inner voice.
I don’t worry how well I fulfill Aunt Grace’s six rules, so long as I do them daily. I will give myself credit for just one letter written, or one drawer cleaned out, and it’s surprising how good feelings about a small accomplishment often enable me to go on and do more.
Can life be lived by a formula? All I know is that once I started to live by those six precepts, I’ve become more involved with others and hence, less “buried” in myself. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I have adopted Aunt Grace’s motto: “Bloom where you are planted.”
And that, my dears, are my favorite dozen a day to help us choose to be happy, no matter the storms of life. I can easily imagine our Savior’s delight when we implement any of them … and the Adversary kicking and screaming as he sees how delightfully we have beat him by chasing the blues far, far away.
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband, Bob, are the parents of five children and grandparents of eleven. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson, Tennessee, close to Memphis, where they center their online business for an amazing herbal detox. CLICK HERE