Are Your Trials Shaping You Into Something Beautiful?

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The desert of Southern Utah is my paradise. The shifting, dramatic colors of the slickrock change from orange, to tan, to deepest red. Slot canyons and hidden nooks abound, and it’s thrilling to simply be at such a place.

I had the opportunity recently to spend three days on a houseboat with my family at Lake Powell (courtesy of my parents). My husband and I drove down from Idaho, and my mood rose with the heat the further south we traveled. (Since the AC doesn’t work consistently in our car, we most assuredly felt the heat!) As the landscape turned more forbidding, it became more amazing.

That first night on the lake, I was awake at 3 am while everyone else slept. I looked out over the smooth water and saw the reflection of the moon and millions of stars nestled within the soft silhouette of sandstone cliffs. The only sound other than that of breathing was the sound of fish jumping every few minutes.

I pondered.

That place, that hot and harsh part of the  country has always lured me in, even if my life circumstances have kept me away for years. I wondered how such a place could be beautiful and inviting when it is so hostile to life. Most of us couldn’t last more than a day or  two out there under the summer sun without water!

Why the appeal, then?

I realized that Southern Utah is beautiful precisely because of its harshness. Its beauty and brutality are inextricably linked.

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All those cliffs and rocks used to be a solid layer of ancient stone buried in the ground under other layers of stone. Then the shifting earth forced it to the surface. I can’t pretend to totally understand the forces of geology that brought it up, but I do know that once it was there, the stone was exposed to a hot sun, relentless winds, and seasonal rains. These forces blasted that stone with an endless abuse that would change it forever.

Rivers would gouge out canyons, meandering deeper and deeper with the passing years. Tiny pieces of sentiment carried in the air would pound out fins and fissures and arches, creating whorls and crevices and gullies. Flash floods would tear up trees that had dared to put down roots in the shifting sands.

The entire landscape is one of desolation, devastation. We humans are reminded of our mortality when we venture there. Yet it is too soul-bolstering to stay away!

Maybe it’s because we each have to face devastating harhness in our own private landscapes. We too get washed out by personal flash floods and hammered constantly by what should be tiny difficulties—but which add up to relentless trials.

Debt. Loss. Illness. Pain. Loneliness. Regret. Fear of not being adequate.

I know all of these trials and more, and sometimes they seem too much to bear. But maybe I’ve been thinking of it all wrong.

I want to be Southern Utah! Let all the gouging, painful, horrible experiences of life shape me into a new form—a better me. Maybe you simply cannot become the beautiful person you were intended to be without the harsh contouring that comes from struggle.

We can never hold back the wind and rain or stop the glaring sun from baking the land, but perhaps we can get a little better at embracing the process that is turning us into something thrilling. I want to be the sort of person that bolsters other people’s souls.

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What is Positive Psychology?

IMGP3560So at first a part of me balked at the idea that psychology could really have anything to say about happiness. It’s science, right? I figured that no one needs a person with a clip board to tell them what they need to do to be happy. Doesn’t being happy come from obvious things like having friends and making good choices and having beauty in the world?

Of course! And that is what is awesome about this movement known as Positive Psychology. It’s extremely practical, even obvious. And yet it’s useful and can help you figure out on the personal level what is lacking in your own life.

Forgive me for being a little academic here, but I want to provide a good, basic understanding of what Positive Psychology is so that I can refer to it in future posts. Consider what follows as a groundwork reference.

Positive Psychology has been called the science of happiness, and it’s the most empirically rigorous area of study ever on what people can do to increase their own happiness. More accurately, it’s the study of what happy people are doing that makes them happy.

So what is Positive Psychology?

It’s a branch of psychology that focuses away from what may be wrong with a person’s mind and instead examines what positive practices make life worth living. And the conclusions are not reached through anecdotal evidence but through actual scientific studies. So what have all those hours in the lab revealed?

  • People are happy when they are physically active
  • People are happy when they are connected spiritually
  • People are happy when they are engaged in meaningful relationships with others
  • People are happy when they are kind to and care for those around them
  • People are happy when they understand their own strengths and abilities
  • People are happy when their work puts them into a state of “flow” or deeply satisfying involvement

All of these areas have been tested and proven, and they simply make sense. As we revisit each of these areas in future postings, I want to explore what kinds of practices apply to each one.

To learn more, watch this video that explains the basics of Positive Psychology. You can also visit pursuit-of-happiness.org here, which is where I got most of my information.

 

Always Something to Try

It must be time to get started. I have run out of excuses, and I have too much to say. So, this is me…

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You should know right from the beginning that depression has always been a struggle for me. And I mean ALWAYS, even in elementary school. Sure, I was silly and studious, and by all accounts happy. But I was also sad and constantly aware of this heaviness of heart. I honestly can’t blame any particular life circumstance for it. In junior high school, I was forced to face the fact that depression was simply a part of my nature.

I tell you this so that you understand that my search for the best life is vitally important to me. In ninth grade as I lay staring at the ceiling with no desire to go to school or see my friends or even move, I knew this darkness would be with me like a second skin, and if I didn’t find ways to combat it, depression would keep me from ever doing anything.

My mom helped me to see that I could do something, that I could try antidepressants or try talking to someone about my feelings. I could turn to my faith and pray with my whole heart. She introduced this concept to me that I did have power. There was always something to try.

Now that I’m thirty years old and still struggling with my old second skin, I’m re-focusing on all that I can do to pursue happiness. I want to show you (and myself) that life is full of joy and light, and YES . . . hope.

So I work on taking care of myself, giving my body what it needs and engaging in the kinds of activities and habits that make good health possible. I keep on learning and reading about other people’s experiences and what the social scientists are saying so that I can cultivate all the happiness that is possible for me. And I keep as close as I can to my faith and my religion so that I can call upon a greater power to get me through the times when my own strength is not enough.

So let’s get started with this thing!