Monday, December 2, 2013

After the Manner of Happiness

After all of the drama of fleeing the murderous mobs of Jerusalem with his father and family, dealing with his older brothers' self-absorbed immature jealous attacks, surviving a trip across the ocean, and finally having to just break all ties with said brothers after his father died, Nephi and those who wished to follow the teachings of the prophets were finally on their own where they could live as they so chose without the constant fear of hateful antagonism. 

As Nephi documents the story of his people, he lists the efforts to build up a new community - the building of homes and places of worship, planting, crafts-work, and the defenses should his brothers decide they don't want to leave well enough alone. After these details he makes this simple statement:
 27 And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.

I'm sure most of you have experienced having read something more than once and later recognizing a depth to the idea previously missed. I've seen it happen with Shakespeare, Harry Potter, various movies, and obviously the scriptures. Years ago I had a particular 'a-ha' moment with this verse that has had me pondering for still greater understanding.

On a young adult camping trip, years back, some of us were in the cabin one afternoon playing the game, 'After the Manner of the Adverb'. It's quite simple. One person is chosen and must leave the room while the rest choose a particular adverb. The person then comes back in and can call on the others to perform/mime a verb, an action. The candidate performs it after the manner of the adverb and the person must try to piece together the clues from various mimes to figure out what adverb was chosen. Once he does, a new person is chosen and the game goes on.

I can't say why that game was near my surface thoughts when I later heard or read this verse but the pattern of words made me think of that game. To live is the verb, the action, performed after the manner of the adjective, 'happiness'.

The First Presidency message in December's Ensign begins by talking about being open about why we are happy, even in the hard times, and sharing the 'good news'. I confess I didn't make it much further than the first paragraph as it reminded me of this verse and my not-yet-complete efforts to process what it means to live after the manner of happiness.

Previous posts make it rather clear that I grew up in an atmosphere where happiness was never a concern. While I am not depressive by nature, I am not exuberant, either. I can be excited and passionate when there is something that strikes me so, but I have lived so long where 'happiness' never really came into play. No one cared at home or out in the world whether I was happy and simply trying to survive often preoccupies one's full attention.

I would describe myself as optimistic, stubborn (I won't let the hard things of life defeat me), reflective, observant, intuitive, intelligent, and with the dysautonomia I am now also frequently quite tired and sometimes even discouraged, but I've never been one to actively consider whether I am 'happy'. In fact, to avoid thinking about it when things were bad at home I began answering, 'I'm alive', when people would ask how I'm doing. (It did take me a year or so to realize most who asked didn't actually want to know the complicated details of a hard answer...)

So then, what does it mean? I suppose, taking the cue from the game, it means how we choose to do things. Instead of thinking of it as a location to arrive at, perhaps happiness is rather found in the way we choose to travel. Do we follow the warning signs, obey traffic laws, be a friendly driver, help when we see need, stay alert at the wheel, be respectful and kind to people we meet along the way even if they hog the arm-rest, etc... (I am speaking metaphorically here, in case any of you suddenly got confused...)

Or, are we quick to road rage, temper flares, pettiness, vengeful-ness, scorn, greed, etc... Typing this out, it seems that the attitude we bring to things colors our world so if we hate the world and everyone in it, can we be surprised to be unhappy? Whether you see it as karma, the golden rule, or simple self-fulfilling prophecy, it makes sense to choose to live after the manner of happiness. Cause all that negative emotion? So not worth the energy!

Since I have spent the last couple years on working to get over the fear of my dad and the other problematic peoples of the family, it occurs to me that perhaps it is time to actively consider what it is to be happy. I suspect I manage it some proportion of the time but it is hard to tell since that column's data was turned off years ago. (Think iTunes song details.)

As I ponder this and other references, I think I'm already mostly living in the right sort of pattern. I suspect that those who are true practicers of their religion are as well. Perhaps, in my case, I just need to work on rebooting the awareness factor to more fully enjoy what that means.

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