Tuesday, June 22, 2010


It REALLY all comes down to this:

“It is vital to know that there really is a God, that there really is a Savior, Jesus Christ, that there really is impending immortality for all men, that there really will be a judgment with genuine personal accountability, and that there
really is purpose in life and a divine plan of happiness for man.

“When we know such basic truths as these, then we know what really matters, how to approach life and how to view man in the universe. There is great power in perspective. Therefore, the adverb ‘really,’ as used by Jacob [ Jacob 4:13 ], is deeply significant” (Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are, 4).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What brings happiness?


What makes one happy? Or, how can one be consistently happy? This has been on my mind a lot lately. Of course, I know that being obedient to the commandments and covenants we make brings happiness, and that the plan of salvation brings happiness, but what about all that day to day stuff not related to religion and faith. What of that brings happiness?

Over the past many, many years, researchers, psychologists and economists have tried to figure out what makes one happy, or what makes an entire nation happy. I googled “happiness’ and found entire websites and blogs dedicated to helping people discover their true happiness. The official wikipedia definition is: Happiness is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy, and research galore! Webster defines it as good fortune/prosperity (which I thought was very interesting); a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience. I think I agree most with the middle definition of “a state of well-being and contentment.”

Recently I asked friends for some book suggestions and someone suggested a book by Eric Weiner entitled: The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. I liked the title a lot and thought it would be a humorous book as well as intriguing with my recent reflections on “happiness”. The book is basically about the author’s search for what makes a nation happy? Is one country's sense of happiness the same as anothers? He chose his destinations in the world by going through all the research – I didn’t even know there is an academic journal entitled “Journal of Happiness Studies” because there is such a focus on this topic right now!! Currently Americans are somewhere in between the happiest and the unhappiest nations. I was shocked to find that Iceland is one of the happiest considering for major parts of the year it’s too cold to even LIVE and it’s DARK!

In his book, Eric speaks about the U.S. obsession with happiness relative to our country’s founding documents ~ Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness ~ “We suffer from the unhappiness of not being happy,” Eric says. I believe this is really true! There is this pressure and added stress on us in America to figure out WHY we’re not happy, if that is the case, because gosh darn-it, life isn’t worth living if you’re not 100% happy every minute of everyday … and it’s all your fault! On his travels, Eric observed that other countries obsess about happiness less and tend to be happier for it. He spoke about the great paradox of happiness ~ “It’s a ghost, it’s a shadow. You can’t really chase it. It’s a by-product, a very pleasant side effect to a life lived well.”

He also found it refreshing and happiness-inducing to be introduced to other cultures, and reminded that our American values are not the only/best values -- in fact, they're often counterproductive in the search for happiness. It's an obvious statement, of course, but there are definite things we can learn from other cultures: not to fear failure, not to over-analyze our own happiness to death, not to deny the inevitability of the moment.

He goes to Thailand, and finds that not thinking is their method of being happy! He comes up with a

“Be Thai” Happiness Recipe:

*Don’t obsess about happiness;
*Don’t think too much;
*Put much effort into life, but lower your results expectations;
*Don’t be envious; and
*Cultivate trust and relationship

…. Hmmmm. Some of those are interesting, but I think I agree with all of them!

Gross National Happiness (GNH) - He goes to the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and discovers they have an official policy of Gross National Happiness! Did another wikipedia search and basically found that the concept of gross national happiness (GNH) was developed in an attempt to define an indicator that measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than the economic forecaster gross national product or GDP. GNH is a strong contributor to the movement to discard measurements of commercial transactions as a key indicator and to instead directly assess changes in the social and psychological well-being of populations.” Read more about it here... but interestingly it serves as a unifying vision for Bhutan's five-year planning process and all the derived planning documents that guide the economic and development plans of the country. Proposed policies in Bhutan must pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement!

Work/Life Balance? --Interesting research I also found: Data shows that another important factor in a nation’s happiness is work-life balance. While Scandinavian countries boast a high GDP per capita, the average workweek in that part of the world is no more than 37 hours. In China, which got a low score of just 14.8, the workweek is 47 hours and the GDP per capita is just $3,600. Hmm….. I think this is one problem in America!! Another would be unemployment. (UH-OH… this is soon to be me!) Research has found that low unemployment also contributes to happiness. Denmark's unemployment rate is just 2%, according the C.I.A.'s World Factbook. Norway's is just 2.6%. The Netherlands: just 4.5%. Many economists concur that a 4% unemployment rate reflects a stable economy. The U.S. unemployment rate is currently 9.7% and that’s only lower than it has been recently because of the 500,000 temporary census workers hired (of which my mom is one of them… and that’s stories for another post I should have her write!! Stories to make you laugh and cry… stories that also make you wonder what the census organizers are doing for 9 years in preparation because it all seems VERY disorganized!)

Think Differently?
One major lesson the author learned along his way was that people in foreign countries think differently. Why would this matter, I thought? I know they dressed differently, ate differently, talked differently, but understanding that they THINK differently is important, he explains. Not only should it make one more understanding and tolerant to know this, but maybe thinking, but not thinking too much, has an impact on our happiness?!

In America, the majority believe that thinking and analysis are important, but the Thais don't think so. One of their expressions is ‘Don't think too much.’ J As I thought about this I found virtue and value in it! I know, CRAZY thinking on my part. I work in a school. My job is to promote education and THINKING! And I do. I think that examining ideas, literature, cultures, politics, etc. is very important. However, I think many of us have taken it too far and we OVERTHINK. My mom loves to watch these news programs where all they do is talk and debate all day! It drives me CRAZY. I think you should listen to the facts and then decide for yourself—and that’s that. Maybe listen to a few others share their thoughts and opinions, but MY WORD, why debate and argue all day long just to prove you’re right?! Why debate and argue in the first place? Or, overthink something until you can’t decide how you feel about it and it becomes a stumbling block in your life.

Another example of this is the show Seinfeld. Yes, this show is funny but it also drives me crazy too! They spend the entire show talking about nothing, nitpicking every detail of everything and no one seems to be very happy. If we OVER THINK, I THINK this is a good example of how it leads us to misery!

And, I am not saying we should be ignorant or close/small-minded. But, why think and worry so much about things that are of no matter to you? Or, recently I heard the best advice and try to remember it everyday. DON’T think or worry about things you CAN’T control!!! Ha, ha… one of the best comments in the book was his noting that they don't sell a lot of self-help books in Thailand, or England, or anywhere else really other than the U.S. And, I’ll admit. I am a succor for them!

At the end of his book, Weiner's concludes: "Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. … A little bit of money will buy you a lot of happiness, but a lot of money won’t buy you much more.

Side note: According to a 2005 editorial, published in the British Medical Journal and authored by Dr. Tony Delamothe, research done in Mexico, Ghana, Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K. shows that individuals typically get richer during their lifetimes, but not happier. It is family, social and community networks that bring joy to one's life, according to Delamothe.

Back to his final thought: “Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude....Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people: family and friends and neighbors and the woman you hardly notice who cleans your office. …

Happiness is not a noun or a verb.

It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue.

I LOVE THAT. And firmly believe from my own personal life that it’s true.

"Happiness is one hundred percent relational,"

as also stated by one of his interviewees, Karma Ura, Bhutanese scholar and cancer survivor. We can only be happy with other people, because happiness does not exist in a vacuum. This also relates to his recipe for happiness. There are the basic ingredients (as mentioned above) but there are variations on the recipe depending on where you live in the world because of cultural influences. The author compares happiness to the atom carbon: arrange it one way and it is coal. Arrange it another, and it is a diamond… but in the end, in my opinion it all comes down to people. The people we’re around every day, those who love us and we love in return… and all the others that cross our paths along the way… how do we treat them and what is … our relationship with them??

29 Simple Secrets of Happy People ... need one more!

One of my favorite roommies gave me this book "100 Simple Secrets of Happy People" a few years back. I went through and pick out the ones I liked the most... there are 29. I'd like to have 30!! Please comment and add what you think it should be at the end!!

My 29 Simple Secrets of Happy People:
1. If you want to know if people are happy, don’t ask them how much money they have in the bank, ask them about their friends!
2. You’re life has meaning and purpose
3. Choose companions wisely
4. Cultivate friendships
5. Turn off the TV
6. Accept yourself-unconditionally
7. Are open to new ideas
8. Share with others how important they are to you
9. Don’t face problems on their own
10. Are not overprotective or overly worried
11. Do what they say they’re going to do
12. Are not aggressive with their friends and family… even if they are right!
13. Know what really matters in life
14. Little things (like the tone of your voice or the words you use) have big meanings!
15. Know that it’s not WHAT happened, it’s how you think about what happened
16. Share themselves… they don’t hold their feelings, thoughts or hopes inside
17. Don’t blame themselves
18. Never trade their morals for their goals
19. Get a good nights sleep
20. Accomplish one thing every day
21. Are flexible
22. Serve others
23. Smile a lot and are agreeable
24. Don’t forget to have fun and reminisce
25. Give themselves time to adapt to change
26. Need to feel needed
27. Say “So What” when necessary
28. Have a Purpose
30. … hmmm…. What do you think has been left off the list?!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A special day :)

Today was a very, very special day.

Not only have I been hearing about the events of today for the past three weeks, but I just can't even believe that this little boy that I have known since birth graduated from preschool! Where have the past 4.5 years gone?! It was a happy celebration today, of course, but a little sad too as I realize how precious time is and how quickly it can pass us by!

Well, my little buddy graduated today with FULL HONORS :) He is such a smart, funny and gentle little boy. He blows me away with how curious he is, how he is able to put information he is learning together, and his determination. He makes the most random comments, hilarious at times, but very intelligent at other times! He wants to be just like his big brother and sister and gets frustrated when he realizes his limitations because of age and size. He doesn't know the meaning of the words "use indoor voices" and loves to talk, talk, talk! However, around new people he gets so shy that sometimes others don't get to enjoy the experience of getting to know the REAL Jeremiah! He's got the funniest giggle, the cutest smile that will light up your day, and so much energy, optimism and enthusiasm! He's got a HUGE sweet tooth (like me) and loves going to Target with me because he knows he'll always get his blue frostee treat before we shop! He also has these gorgeous blue eyes and dark, long eyelashes that women pay tons of money for! He's stolen my heart... and I am sure will steal the hearts of many girls in the future!

But, today was his special day. The day, as Jeremiah has been telling me for weeks, you get to eat CAKE BEFORE DINNER and have TWO parties!!! Needless to say, he was beyond excited!

Well, it just so happened that today was GORGEOUS until about 15 minutes before the scheduled graduation when a TORNADO warning was posted and storms quickly rolled in. Hence, a very expedited graduation ceremony.

Few quick words by his teachers followed by the children gathering in a circle to sing the song they sang every morning to start off the day as a class. (He's in the black shirt right next to his teacher who has such a lovely British accent!)

Then, it was the famous diploma awards ceremony.
The kids climbed up into the tree house.
When their name was called they got their diploma,
ran down over the rickety bridge and down the slide.
And, of course, a picture with a proud mother
and her preschool graduate!
And, then it started chucking it down! Rain, thunder, strong wind and lightning! What a scene. Cake was still to be had. It was just a little damp and eaten inside :) Then... of to the graduation parties with lots of juice boxes and goldfish, I'm sure!!!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Proud to be an AMERICAN!

So, usually my Memorial Day weekend activities revolve around lying in the sun, Bar-B-Qing, cleaning/errands, and relaxing. When I was growing up, we always had the annual Valley Forge Fun Run in Valley Forge park... which I truly miss!

And, I did get plenty of relaxing/eating this weekend between going to Lake Anna for a day and chilling at my pool for a while, but I also had a wonderful time actually doing some "Memorial Day" activities to honor those who serve our country.

I got very excited about doing this when I first heard about the "Rolling Thunder" group on Friday while watching the news. Now - a little unknown fact about me is that I have a fascination for
biker dudes and dudettes

They are top-ranking on my "VERY COOL" LIST!
a list, which for example includes my little brother,
who I found out today is thinking of BUYING A MOTORCYCLE
AND he only lives 5 minutes from me!!

Oh - how awesome is that!!!

Now, he doesn't fit my stereotype
of how a biker dude should look (SEE BELOW),
but he does fit the BIG HEART stereotype!

Now, I could never pull it off and be half as cool as these "biker" people, but I can always stand in awe, right?

So, why this fascination? Well, motorcycles just rock! Such a little thing making such a loud "thunder" as it roars up the street... wind on your face and blowing your hair... just sitting ENJOYING a drive. I've only ridden a motorcycle 3 or 4 times and each was a crazy, thrilling experience (esp the one going up Provo Canyon at 11 PM at night in the middle of winter!)

Now I know this is a stereotype - but it's a good one. All the biker men and women I've met... all decked out in their biker outfits, with tattoos, and gruff look are really some of the "softest hearted" people I've ever met as well! They look all rough and tuff... but it's deceiving! So, that adds to my fascination with motorcycles and those who ride them!

Back to the "Rolling Thunder". I had never heard about them before. Here's a brief description of who they are: Members of the Rolling Thunder are veterans, and many ride motorcycles, but neither qualification is a prerequisite. Rolling Thunder members are old and young, men and women, veterans and non-veterans. All are united in the cause to bring full accountability for POWs and MIAs of all wars, reminding the government, the media and the public by our watchwords: "We Will Not Forget."

It all started in the mid 1980's with their decision to hold a rally in DC. Their arrival being announced by the ROAR of their motorcycles... hence, they would call themselves "Rolling Thunder". Word quickly spread about the group and what started out with just a few hundred motorcycles in the rally in the 1980's now attracts around 900,000!!!!!! All "ROLLING" into DC this weekend for me to see :)

How could I be so lucky to be here this weekend?!

Many have said that experiencing the thunder from the bikes and the roar of the crowd as you cross the Memorial Bridge as something that moves them to tears. ... and I can attest to the veracity of this because it brought me to tears! Here's my story:

I found out they were having a ceremony at the Navy Memorial downtown on Sat morning. I had never been to that memorial so I was excited to see it and their museum. I got there early and had the chance to walk up and down the row of bikes. Fascinating!
Of course, I had to take a picture of this license plate:
It goes along with my stereotype
The Navy Memorial
The ceremony was nice. A short one honoring those who have served in the navy and those who have lost their lives as well. A wreath was laid by the statue and these are the "Rolling Thunder" members who have served in the navy.
I toured the museum and then took the metro to Arlington National Ceremony (only because I wasn't special enough to have a motorcycle and travel there with everyone else!)

Well, I got there ...

to catch the group traveling across the Memorial Bridge, past the Arlington National Cemetery, and was truly brought to tears as I saw A TON of people on the sidewalks cheering on hundreds of "Rolling Thunder" members on their motorcycles, with the flags on their bikes flapping in the wind, and in the background looking at the rows and rows of gravestones of those who have served and lost their lives all so that I can enjoy the freedoms I currently have while living in this country.

The rows and rows of graves
All with a flag placed EXACTLY one foot in front of it
Then, an unexpected encounter... On Sunday as I was driving to Lake Anna I saw people lined along the overpasses as I was heading south. Not realizing or thinking, I assumed they were along some parade route for their town. Well, 5 or ten minutes later - TA DA... much to my pleasant surprise on the other side of the road was a long STREAM of motorcylces being escorted by police. Literally thousands! The police blocked all on ramps and halted traffic for about ten minutes so they could pass by on the highway. I pulled over so I didn't get into an accident as my attention was drawn to them. It was an incredible sight. Literally thousands. They just kept coming and coming... all with their flags waving in the wind. That's why all the people were lined up along the overpasses, duh! Oh -I so wanted to be a part of them!

Living now in this area, I have had the privilege of associating with many members of our armed services and also meeting their families. At the schools I work at, I work with children of deployed parents, trying to help/support in ways I can. It's a type of life I am not familiar with, but have enjoyed the opportunity to understand it a little better as I work with these students. I truly am grateful for the sacrifices those serving, and their family members, give our country.