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“Would you just get out of the way?” A husband was yelling at his wife in the parking lot, where she was unwittingly standing in front of the car’s back door. He was rolling his eyes as if she were the most annoying person he could possibly be stuck with. Had he spoken this way to a complete stranger the person might have said, “Excuse me?” and a shoving match might even have ensued.

But the wife just offered a hasty apology and scooted aside. We’ve all cringed when we’ve seen a wife, or a husband, accept such disrespect. Sometimes we’ve wondered why they tolerate it. And we all know that, sometimes, they’ve simply gotten used to it.

We’ve all seen—or been—the person who settles for second-best rather than face change. Some people order the same thing whenever they eat out, they keep wearing uncomfortable shoes, they remain in unfulfilling jobs, and even in abusive relationships, all because change is scary. Change offers the unknown and at least I know this. It’s why we have the idiom, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”  

It’s not only human nature to keep the status quo, it applies to the physical world as well. Inertia is Newton’s First Law of Motion: Something at rest tends to stay at rest.

But this is harmful when that status quo is unhappiness. Some of us get comfortable with unhappiness, regardless of its source. Yes, awful things happen and there will always be reasons to get discouraged or sink into gloom. Sometimes, especially with grief, we need to give sadness its time. But we can’t let unhappiness become a permanent guest.

When we adopt despair as a self-definition (“I’m just an unlucky person,” “Things never go my way,” “God has forgotten me”) we accept defeat. We lose faith and hope. We stay put in a mud puddle because at least we know how to navigate that puddle.

This kind of thinking does several things. It keeps us from trying (“What’s the use?”), it keeps us from accessing help and inspiration from our Father in Heaven, it robs us of the joy and fulfillment we might otherwise find, and it can lead to depression, along with physical health ailments.

Those who have accepted a second-rate life as their whole future wake up tired and downhearted. They go through their day frowning, sighing, sometimes complaining, even becoming bitter. People avoid them, which only validates their opinion that the world is horrible and everybody in it is horrible as well.

Many unhappy people think optimists are naïve, wasting time anticipating good outcomes when life is just going to slam you down, anyway. They take no steps to better their situation because they’re convinced it won’t matter. They no longer try. They adopt victimhood as their neighborhood.

But God does not want us to be miserable (that’s Satan’s goal) or to wallow in despair. He wants us to be happy. In fact, God’s entire plan is called The Plan of Happiness. He wants us to be useful and loving towards others. He wants us to believe in our own worth. He wants us to innovate and solve our problems, turning to him for guidance. He wants to bless us for our obedience. He wants to forgive us when we repent. He wants to endow us with power. Everything he wants is about our ultimate happiness.

So how do we act upon paralyzing inertia and pull ourselves out of the misery mire? Here are ten ways:

  1. First, we need to take inventory. Have we accepted a situation that’s harming us or holding us back from righteous goals?  Are we frightened of risk, change, and newness?  Are there areas of life where we’ve gotten so discouraged that we’ve stopped trying?  Might this situation be salvaged if we can work on it, perhaps together? If you’re absolutely terrified of change, professional counseling can help. Prayer can help. Priesthood blessings can help.
  2. Enlist a friend. Sometimes it helps to share your desire to turn things around. Choose someone you trust who can offer encouragement, and perhaps offer that “hand up” to pull us along on a frightening path.  This person can mentor and help keep you accountable, making sure you don’t give up and sink back into unhappiness again.
  3. Next, we need to change the language in our heads. When we think, “Just my luck,” we need to catch ourselves and rewrite the mental messages we tell ourselves. Too often we react negatively, but we can reframe our situation as one that’s in progress. So instead of muttering, “Typical—all the cabs are full,” we can think, “I’ll get the next cab.” This also means that self-criticism is off the table. Once you determine to watch for this, you’ll be astounded at how often you put yourself down. And, once noticing it, you can stop it.
  4. Experiment with other changes that are inconsequential, really, but will get you into the mindset of change being okay. Take a different route to work. Have something else for breakfast. Try a new hairstyle. Change up the way you read your scriptures. Little changes will teach you that the world will not fall apart if you break from all tradition. In fact, the world becomes a more exciting place. You feel empowered by taking charge instead of being a slave to habit. Often small changes will actually improve your life immediately.
  5. We also need to set measurable small goals, realizing that we’re trying to change what could be years of bad habits. When you reach a baby step, it’s energizing. It gives you that sliver of hope that things really can improve and that change is not going to kill you. Like entering a cold lake one toe at a time, perseverance is key. Bold confidence will grow as you see yourself making one positive change after another.
  6. Practice happiness. Smile. Attend an event where you can socialize with happy people. Get involved in your community to serve, which always brings happiness. Look for the good in others and give compliments. Pet a dog. Help a child with schoolwork. Do good and you’ll feel good.
  7. Keep a gratitude journal. Every day, jot down at least five things you’re thankful for. This not only keeps you looking for the good in life, but it makes you believe good is out there. Good things are in your immediate vicinity. You’ll start believing you’re a good person who deserves a good life. You are worthy of blessings. You can do it.
  8. Stop accepting poor treatment. If you’ve allowed others to disparage you, put an end to mistreatment and stand up for yourself. Again, counseling may help you with methods that will work in your particular situation.  But we have to resolve that we don’t deserve to be abused. When we refuse to accept bullying or hostility we earn respect—our own respect as well as that of others. We become less vulnerable to hurt and sorrow because we see it as completely belonging to the individual trying to inflict it. We reject it and refuse to breathe it in. We taste a bit of self-determination, and we feel an instant rush of contentment.
  9. Watch for the enemy. Satan will be working just as hard (probably harder) as you will on this quest. But he will be trying to push you backward. He’ll throw more and more obstacles in your path, more reasons to quit and accept unhappiness again. He’ll have negative associates pop up from nowhere, people who always drag you down rather than inspire you. Just know his tactics, recognize them when they appear, and shove them out of your way.
  10. Last, and most importantly, remember that true abiding happiness comes through Christ only. It isn’t our outward circumstances that bring us joy, it’s our love of the Savior and our desire to please him. How we behave shows our Lord how thankful we are for his atoning sacrifice. We aren’t earning our way home through deeds—he already did that. We are showing him how much we want to live with him again, how supremely grateful we are for what he did for us. This makes us want to obey, love others, and live like Jesus as best we can. The elation that can fill our hearts as we draw close to our Savior can abide with us even when trials roll in like the waves of the sea. We have found true happiness, we are changed creatures, we can never again settle for second-best.

Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle.  All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website.  She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.