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The Makings of a Happy Life

I have a confession to make: I am a quote collector.

I can't get enough of inspirational, insightful - sometimes witty - quotes. The only thing that gives me even more pleasure than reading quotes is sharing them. In order to experience that joy on a larger scale, I decided to start posting not just the quotes itself, but a little reflection as well. I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

"Of this be sure: You do not find the happy life- you make it." ~Thomas S. Monson

Perhaps one of the reasons I love this quote so much is because it is a gentle, comforting reminder that I have the power to make choices about how I handle things in my life. It doesn't mean I always love the choices I have, but it reminds me I always have a choice. Maybe sometimes, the only choice I have has to do not with changing the situation, but with changing my attitude. But that is still a choice. Personally, I find accountability for my decisions (including the internal ones) to be empowering.

The funny thing is, if I had read this quote when I was younger, it probably would have irritated me.

Up until around 6 years ago, one of the things that used to make me feel powerless was the way other people treated me. I have been targeted and made fun of for my appearance (more specifically, my weight) by passing strangers in four different countries. It has happened here in my native country of the U.S. more times than I can possibly count.

One time, when I was around 19 or 20 years old, I was home from college for the summer and on vacation with my family at a beach resort. There was a massive argument between me and a couple of other family members. Addiction to alcohol and other drugs was a common source of stress for me growing up, and I lost it that night. I stormed off to the beach, unable to stop crying. But I wasn't just crying. I was sobbing to the point of hyperventilating- which was something I had not done since I was a child. I felt so alone, and like it would never get better.

It was late but there were still plenty of people around. I found the most isolated spot I could and sat on the sand. Trying to stop crying and to keep others from seeing my red, tear-drenched face, I hugged my knees to my chest as tightly as I could and buried my head in them. I thought about how easy it would be to just walk into the water and swim as far as I could until my body gave out. I thought about how much easier that would be than dealing with my family or anyone else for that matter. I thought about how much easier it would be to just die rather than go on feeling the way I felt.

As horrible as it sounds, right then, the thought of taking my own life was comforting to me. It seemed, in that moment, like the only thing I could control. I stopped sobbing, though tears were still soaking my face. I kept my head buried, pretending that as long as I could see no one, no one could see me.

Just as I was calming down and starting to convince myself that maybe, just maybe, things could get better, I felt something. I didn't know what it was. Maybe an odd change in the wind. But something told me to look up. I lifted my head and was stunned to see a young guy (probably around the same age as me at the time) just inches from me. He was slowly crouching down with his arm outstretched toward me.

For a split-second, I actually thought he wanted to check on me. Like, maybe, he was trying to be a decent human being because he saw someone who looked unwell.

Once I actually looked at him, it was obvious that this was not his reason for approaching me.

He immediately jolted up and back, laughing. He yelled, "It moved!" as a crowd of four or five other young men laughed right along. They were distant enough that I could not hear what they were saying about me, but I'm pretty sure I heard the word, "monster."

That night, if you'd shown me the quote I presented you with today, I am quite sure that it would have flat-out angered me.

I can clearly recall a thought that played on repeat throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood: How could I possibly be happy when people go out of their way to tell me how much I disgust them? How can I fix this without bowing to their demands of doing whatever it takes to lose weight?

I am so thankful that I've learned that I have far more power than I used to think. In fact, all of us do. How many times have you gone through something that was so bad, you felt like you couldn't make it through? It's part of life, and part of the lesson is to see how much strength and power we truly have.

If you'd told me that night that one day, I was going to gain back all the weight (and much more) that I'd lost from diet pills and fasting, yet be truly, genuinely happy, I would not have been able to even process that information. Now, I get to live it because I realized my thoughts were not simply weeds that I couldn't kill, but rather, a whole world of plants- some beautiful, some difficult, and yes, some invasive, pesky weeds.

And I have the choice to water the ones I want to grow.

I know what thoughts I need to root out and which ones to nourish. I make a decision not just every day, but multiple times a day, to cultivate the things that I care about and contribute to my happiness. Sometimes that means hard work and sacrifices, sometimes it means just making time for myself, or talking to a loved one. But no matter what is going on my life, I do something for my happiness- even if it means laboring for fruits that will not come for a long time (if ever). Your happiness is worth the work.

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