Here are a 6 things that a lot of returned missionaries (and most people) think they need to be happy, but you really don’t. Feel free to disagree and suggest others in the comments. And if you haven’t read it yet, don’t miss the newest post on 14 Reasons Why Happy People Are Happy.
1. To be Married.
How many of you had an interview with your mission president before leaving the mission? (Everyone) How many of those interviews mentioned something like this: “You have completed your mission. Your next mission is to find a spouse and be married.” Most mission presidents say something similar. This is great! Marriage really is an incredibly important thing and an institution that is ordained of God. However, I would like to dispel a myth here. Some think “to be happy as a returned missionary, I have to be married.” Not so. Happiness is not dependent upon your relationship status. Research does show that people who have close relationships are happier, but that could be a relationship with your brother, sister, friend, mentor, aunt, or anyone. 1 Please don’t get me wrong. I’m married and super happy! I love marriage! And the greatest potential for joy exists when you share it with another. But I was a happy person before I was married, and so was my wife. We both chose to be happy people before we even knew each other. And now we are happy people, who are married. Consider the words of Elder Marvin J. Ashton:
I have yet to see marriage, by itself, turn an unhappy person into a happy person. A really happy married person is almost always one who was or could have been happy as a single person…While we are striving for quality conduct in our lives, we must ever realize that being single will never be as painful as being married to the wrong person. Avoid getting married just to be married. 2
I would caution returned missionaries who believe that just being married by itself (the status of officially having a ring on your finger) will make you happier than not being married. Being a quality person (read the talk by Elder Ashton below) and living a happy life will make you happy. Being married, just to be married, will not make you happy. Living a happy lifestyle and choosing to be happy will make you happy. In Mormon culture, it is often difficult to feel accepted if you are a single person between the age of 22 and 29. I know because I was one. Just remember that there is a huge difference between culture and truth. Don’t get sucked into the culture. Remember the truth and choose to be a happy person and live a life of purpose. Then, if you find another person who is choosing to be happy and also living a life of purpose, you may consider marriage with that person. If you are a happy person living a fulfilling life, I can almost guarantee that you are going to attract (and be attracted to), another happy person who is living a fulfilling life. Once you are married, your fulfillment and happiness just increases with someone who is living in the same way. Be happy now. Don’t wait for marriage to be happy or you may end up being more of a “menace to society” than you would have been as an unmarried RM over the age of 25. Though the greatest potential for joy is experienced in married life, happiness is not dependent upon being married.
So be happy now, whether you are married or not.
2. Money and Stuff.
A true measure of your wealth is how much you would be worth if you lost all your money 3 You don’t need money to be happy. The studies show that happiness is not for sale. Money does not have a direct correlation to happiness. It is true that people who have enough to cover their basic needs such as food, housing and health care are happier than the rest, but once the basic needs have been covered, money loses its ability to make people happy. Even the 100 wealthiest people (from Forbes Magazine) didn’t appear to be much happier than the rest of the population who were not as wealthy. The data shows that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. 4
3. The Approval of Others.
The happiest people don’t need approval from people around them. This is one of the great enemies to reaching your potential. If you go around trying to please people your whole life, you may end up becoming someone else’s idea of success. I love this quote by Steve Jobs in his famous Stanford commencement address he gave in 2005:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Don’t get trapped. Live your own life. Make your own goals. If your dad is a doctor and wants you to be a doctor, but you want to be a photographer, be a photographer! Don’t live your dad’s vision of success. You don’t need their approval to be happy. Consider Patricia Holland’s counsel5:
“We are becoming so concerned about having perfect figures, or straight A’s, or professional status . . . that we are being torn from our true selves. We often worry so much about pleasing and performing for others that we lose our own uniqueness, that full and relaxed acceptance of ourselves as a person of worth and individuality.”
And the lovely Sharon Samuelson:
“The world in which we live today tells us that our sense of worth is based upon what is seen or accomplished. We are measured by possessions and wealth, physical appearance and dress styles, social status and achievements. Too many of us strive to gain acceptance using these standards, trying to enhance the perception of our worth by those who are part of our lives as well as those who view us from afar. If we are not careful, we can let others determine and establish our standards and feelings of self-worth. We can become someone else’s image of success rather than our own.” 6
Don’t become someone else’s vision of success. Live your own life. Be your own master. To thine own self be true.
4. Ideal Circumstances.
It’s not about the circumstances that surround us, but about the attitude we have about those circumstances. And our attitude and mindset can actually affect our circumstances. I’m no Chicago Bull’s fan, but I love the story of Michael Jordan’s 5th game in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. Michael Jordan had the flu. He woke up the night before the game with a cold sweat and feeling like he was going to die. This was a nasty flu. But Michael Jordan didn’t let that get him down. It was an important game in the finals and he changed his attitude to believe that he could play. And play he did. He actually scored an amazing 38 points with the flu in an NBA Finals game against some of the best basketball players in the world at that time. How did he do that? It was all in his head. He believed he could and worked himself harder than ever to pull it off. Michael Jordan easily could have just said: “I have the flu” and just watched the game from his hotel room or just slept. But with his attitude he actually created a physiological change in his body to win one of the most impressive NBA games in history. You can’t always control your circumstances, but you CAN always control your attitude about them.
5. A Perfect Past.
You don’t need to have a perfect past to decide to have an abundant present and a beautiful future. Let’s take a few examples of people who didn’t have a perfect past, but who decided, regardless, to make something of their present.
- Abraham Lincoln: got fired from multiple jobs, his sweetheart died, he had a nervous breakdown, was forced out of his home, his mother died, and he was defeated many times in elections. However, he still managed to become one of the most influential men in the history of this world.
- Both Alma’s: We’ll start with dad – he was a wicked priest who (in the words of Abinadi) committed whoredoms and spent his strength with harlots. How did he end up leading a group of the faithful, baptizing hundreds, and becoming one of the most powerful prophets of the Book of Mormon? Now Alma the younger – he was a very wicked and idolatrous man who led many of the people to do after the manner of iniquities. He became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them. He went about to destroy the church of God (See Mosiah 27:8-14). Then the angel came. And a mighty change happened. After Alma the younger decided to change, he became a great prophet who led the people in righteousness and performed miracles and ultimately was so righteous he was translated.
- The Apostle Paul: Saul of Tarsus was a man of great reputation. He was a Roman citizen. He was well educated and well respected by those in his spheres of influence, but he was persecuting those in the Church and, like Alma the younger’s previous life, was trying to take it down. He even held the coat of the men who stoned one of the apostles to death. He watched it happen and supported the wicked deeds. But he changed. Maybe he was speaking of himself when he said this: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 7
- Oprah Winfrey: She grew up in a broken home, was sexually abused as a young child, was the only black girl in an all-white high school, after living a rebellious teenage life she got pregnant at age 14. Then she read an inspirational book by Maya Angelou and decided to change her life and become a voice for good. She is still one of the most influential women in the world.
6. Control of the Changes in Life or even in Your Body.
There are leper colonies all over India. Seems like if you had leprosy, it would be almost impossible to be happy, right? Well, some of these people are amazing. They run businesses, put on incredible dance performances, create art, and contribute to their society. Some of their fingers or toes are falling off, but they have smiles on their faces.
It’s almost certain that at some point in your life, something will happen to you that you have no control over. There are actually a lot of things that you can’t control. Here are just a few:
- What other people say
- What other people do
- What other people think about you
- The weather
- Your genetic inheritance (I inherited a history of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Yay!)
- Whether or not you will get cancer, heart disease or some other disease
- When you die
- Gas prices
- Who is in your family
- Your age
- Traffic or other people’s road rage
- God’s will
Here are some things that you CAN control:
- How often you smile
- How you react to other people
- Your integrity
- How well you are prepared
- How grateful you are
- Your own interpretation of events that happen
- Whether you compare yourself to others or not (wouldn’t recommend comparing yourself to anyone)
- How much exercise you get
- How much sleep you get (this may be debatable)
- How you interpret your past
- How you live in the present
- The goals you set for the future
- How much you commit yourself to
- Your creativity
- The amount of information you share with others
- The books you read
- Whether or not you watch TV
- The type of and amount of information you consume (thank you for consuming this)
- When you ask for assistance from others
- Whether or not you believe what other people tell you
- How often to share your love
- How often you pray
- Your connection to God
And though you can’t control if you will get heart disease, diabetes or cancer, a great way to decrease the risk of getting these is to stop focusing on all of the things you CAN’T control and focus on all of the things that you CAN control. I hope the list above got you thinking.
We don’t have to wait for the perfect day or the perfect circumstance. Choose to be happy now. 🙂
“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
- Murali Krishna, MD, DLFAPA and David Myers, PhD – Pursuit of Happiness, Characteristics of Happy People, May 2013. ↩
- See talk “Be A Quality Person”, Marvin J. Ashton. ↩
- See the Marc and Angel Hack Life blog. It is really great. ↩
- Excerpts from the previously mentioned article by Murali Krishna. ↩
- Patricia T. Holland, “The Soul’s Center” (13 January 1987), BYU 1986–87 Devotional and Fireside Speeches(Provo: BYU, 1987), 84. ↩
- Sharon Samuelson, A Place Within His Heart, BYU Devotional given January 10, 2006. ↩
- See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. ↩