Sunday, April 26, 2015

Happily Ever After Means Choosing to BE Happy

A few weeks ago I went with my husband - yes, he may have been one of only two men coerced into the theater - to see the new Cinderella movie. I loved its beauty and simplicity and goodness, but I came away from it feeling depressed and irritable. I couldn't help but think "Why isn't my life a fairytale?" When I was a little girl I had watched Cinderella and left with the expectation that once I found my prince my life would be perfectly happy and relatively easy. I'm sure my leaders and parents tried to correct that in me, but I wasn't listening. When things were just as hard in my marriage as they had been in my life my previously I dealt with it by crying a lot and wondering how I was supposed to manage.

It was not until I CHOSE to try to be happy on my own and for myself that I began to truly be happy. Too often we come into marriage with the expectation that our loving spouse will carry our "happiness box" so to speak for us. Cinderella's life was hard and sad before she met the prince and apparently blissfully happy once they were married so this is the unrealistic expectation we have grown up with. I think what we often miss is that in spite of all the hardship Cinderella experienced in her life prior to marriage she still chose to be happy. She would sing and make friends even with the animals and mice for company. She worked hard and served those around her even when they did not deserve it. It is because she learned how to be happy on her own and carry her own happiness that she was so attractive to the prince and able to live "happily ever after" with him.

It is NOT the love of a spouse that enables us to live happily ever after, but rather the love and service we give no matter our circumstances. Watching Cinderella reminded me of how much I had fallen short of that and continued to demand that others around me provide my happiness rather than selflessly giving and finding my own. Now, I want to be clear that I do NOT agree or support the idea that service means allowing ourselves to be abused the way Cinderella was. Service means setting our own terms of how we feel inspired to serve others and NOT allowing other people to make all the demands and caving to their every whim. Kindness and service can still be had with appropriate boundaries and not allowing ourselves to be merely used. That is true courage and kindness. The "kindness" that enables other people's selfishness, abuse, and unhealthy behaviors is not love or kindness at all, but rather fear. And fear is not of God. I appreciated the way Cinderella stood up for herself at the end of the movie by telling her stepmother that she had never been and would never be her mother, but I wish she would have to stood up for herself more. Cinderella has never been my favorite princess - I much preferred The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas - but I loved the truth taught that true happiness comes when we have "courage and be kind." I simply think that she too was imperfect at having true courage and being kind.

The reality is that we will never be perfectly courageous or kind and neither will those we love. But just because our entire lives here on Earth certainly won't be fairytales does not mean that we can't have fairytale moments and days and even months. We can always strive for happiness while realizing that other negative emotions and experiences will intrude. There are some specific strategies I have adopted to practice and "live after the manner of happiness." But even so, sometimes I'm just sad and angry at how my life isn't what I envisioned it to be and that's ok. That's just part of this mortal experience. The important thing is that I be accountable and responsible for my own emotions and don't allow myself to dwell in the negative even if I must pass through it. By becoming more like the Savior I continue to practice and get better at living happily ever after no matter my circumstances.

I love how Bonnie L. Oscarson acknowledges in her talk "Defenders of the Family Proclamation" that not all of us or even the majority of us will experience an idyllic family situation. We create families to grow and learn, not just to be happy. "One of the hardest challenges in this life is to have faith in the Lord's timing. It's a good idea to have an alternative plan in mind, which helps us to be covenant-keeping, charitable, and righteous women who build the kingdom of God no matter which way our lives go. We need to teach our daughters to aim for the ideal but plan for contingencies." I would like to teach my daughter that life will almost never be easy and that's ok because even when it's hard we CAN still choose to be happy if we follow the Savior and become His hands here on Earth.

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