What are we made of, “Fantastic plastic stretch elastic”?* I believe that everyone is given at least three vital gifts when we are sent to this earth. One is the freedom to make deliberate choices, one is something inside to guide us toward happiness, and one is the ability to adapt to external change.
Humans are hugely adaptable creatures. Consider all the environments in which we live on this planet. Think about the range of housing options we’ve created, the ways we communicate, the different kinds of music we consider beautiful or the varieties of foods we eat. Some of our global distinctions are diminishing, but that only goes to show how much we like to change when we see what someone else has.
I teach my children that happiness is a choice. I still stand by that, but I’ve been thinking about how one remains happy in the midst of change. I really, really love where I live. But what if I had to move away to a place I wouldn’t necessarily choose? Could I be happy? Yes. Could I be as happy? Maybe. Could I be happy anywhere? Well, um, I guess so… right? Could I pick up my family and move to (choosing randomly here) Boca Raton, Florida, and feel the same daily joy that I do in Vermont? (Pause.) I’m not really sure.
In a conversation with my husband, we concurred that one’s happiness in a new circumstance is dependent on whether the individual is focused on the self or on others. If one’s goal is to contribute, happiness is always easier because need is a global phenomenon. If one’s goal is to gain, the way to happiness is much more difficult.
I ask these kinds of questions because I wonder how much inside us is supposed to be able to bend and how much is meant to stay fixed. Most of us have core values on which we base our deliberate choices. These values are internalized from our experiences with family, religion, and cultural philosophy. We might also value personal comfort and safety, a certain standard of living, privacy, weather, community strengths, etc., but here we wander into things about which some people are more flexible than others.
As a small test of my own flexibility, I decided to part my hair on the other side this week. That’s minor and laughable, I know, but it nearly ruined my day on day one. (Of course, I started this experiment on a day when I really needed my full powers of concentration… doh.) Go ahead, try it- or wear your watch on the other wrist. Wearing your wedding ring on the other hand a week before your anniversary is fun, too. How flexible are you?
Overall, too much rigidity makes daily life hard because change is inevitable and we need ways to cope. But too much flexibility makes commitment difficult and perspective elusive. Life begins to lose its purpose and one begins to lose the self.
We all have things without which we think we can’t live. We have all seen people on the news as they deal with a terrible disaster or tragedy and we say, “I don’t know how they can survive that.” Yet they do. They go on without loved ones, without houses, without so many things. Under the right circumstances, we adapt. We survive. We learn.
In April, Thomas S. Monson said the following to our church: “When compared to eternal verities, most of the questions and concerns of daily living are really rather trivial. What should we have for dinner? What color should we paint the living room? Should we sign Johnny up for soccer? These questions and countless others like them lose their significance when times of crisis arise, when loved ones are hurt or injured, when sickness enters the house of good health, when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens. Our thoughts become focused, and we are easily able to determine what is really important and what is merely trivial.”
If we have clearly defined core values: family, friends, health, spirituality, etc., we are better prepared to deal with change when it comes from outside ourselves. When part of us is rooted securely, the rest can bend with the wind of life.
We’re meant to change, but not too much. We’re meant to be constant but not inflexible.
As they say, change is the only constant in life.
ccc *From “Kansas City Octopus”, a poem by Calef Brown