The Happiness Project

OK, so I’m starting a Happiness Project. It seems a strange time to start one, considering all that our family has faced in the last three or four years: diagnoses of Down Syndrome, congenital heart defect requiring open-heart surgery, new onset type I diabetes, epilepsy, and now some unknown, very serious neurological problems. Not to mention Mike having four different jobs in four years with the accompanying four different medical insurances. No wonder I feel overwhelmed and depressed most of the time.

I know that I am not alone in my feelings. I read blogs of women, mainly mothers, who struggle with anxiety and depression. And these are not just non-LDS women. We recently had several Relief Society lessons focused on depression. I was surprised at the large percentage of women in our LDS ward who are on anti-depressant medication. Why is that?

Lately I have spent many hours pondering my situation and the situation of other women around me regarding depression and happiness. I know that Spencer W. Kimball said in 1979 that the growth of the Church in the last days “will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.” (“The Role of Righteous Women,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 104). So how are we to fulfill that prophecy when we are all depressed and taking anti-depressant medication? What do I need to do differently to fulfill that prophecy?

Let me be clear–I am not advocating that anyone not use anti-depressants. I am not a medical doctor. However, I am not sure that the Lord had in mind an army of medicated women who would then attract others to the Church because of their use of anti-depressants. I truly believe, at least for myself, that the kind of happiness spoken of by President Kimball has to be found through other ways and means, and can be found, despite the challenges and downright anguish we feel in this mortality. However, by this statement, I certainly do not mean to imply that if you are feeling depressed, then you must not be living the gospel. Even Jesus himself wept (John 11:35).

I think that there must be a way to reconcile the temporary feelings of anger, frustration, hurt, loneliness, fatigue, and depression, with the eternal feelings of contentment, happiness, and joy, even in our mortality. That when we experience those negative feelings and face difficult, gut-wrenching challenges, we can put them in their proper perspective and press forward to that time when “eyes that are wet now ere long will be tearless.” (“Do What Is Right”, Hymns, #237).

It is in that spirit that I am starting a Happiness Project. I have found an online resource that helps me to plan out and track my quest to have a happier life. I am planning on reporting my experience here in my blog. I did a similar thing last year when I made a goal to lose 30 pounds by my birthday and to run in a 10K. I found an online program that helped me to track exactly what I ate and how much I exercised. I found that tracking my progress every day helped me to stay on task and helped me visualize my goal. I cannot tell you how much better I feel about myself now that I am in shape. I feel better at 44 than I did at 24. And so many people have commented on how good I look.

I am planning on the same sort of progress with my Happiness Project. In six months, I plan on being happier at 44 than I was at 24. And I plan on it being noticeable to those around me.

One thing that has come to me as a bolt of inspiration. Negative emotions such as hurt, anger, frustration, even depression, are just that, emotions–temporary feelings that come and go. Happiness, on the other hand, is a state of being, an overall sense of self, of one’s value, of one’s place in the world, of one’s relationship to and with God and others. Can we be happy and feel hurt? or lonely? or angry? or afraid? The answer must be yes. The challenge of mortality is not to mistake the temporary for the eternal, and endure the fleeting negative emotion while nurturing our eternal state of being happy. To quote one of my favorite musicals, “God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor!” (“To Life!” Fiddler on the Roof, 1964).

So, here’s to happiness! Here’s to LIFE! I’ll keep you posted.

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Park Time

Emily has discovered the park. It is amazing to me how observant she is. We have a group of women in our church who get together every week for play group. I have usually attended with Emily and our next oldest, Jacob, when they meet outside (less exposure to sicknesses that way). Until recently, Emily has been content to sit with me and chat with the other women. Not so much now. She discovered that there were children her age who were swinging and sliding and climbing the rock wall. She now insists that she participate in all these activities. She will let me help her walk to the swing, and then back to the slide, and then she must climb the rock wall with everyone else. What is incredible in all this is that she will walk to all these activities. At home, she usually refuses to walk, even with help. But not at the park. 

What is also incredible is how the other children respond to Emily. I have so many helpers catch her at the bottom of the slide, or walk slowly with her up the stairs, or cheer her on as she is climbing. I was worried about how others would treat Emily, but I feel now that she will be OK. There may be a few cruel people out there, but for the most part, the children in our neighborhood all love Emily, and love to help her.

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Itsy Bitsy Spider

Emily uses her hands well

Emily knows how to sing the Itsy Bitsy Spider, well she knows all the actions and when to do them, and she makes noises while doing it. Her favorite part is when the rain washes out the spider.

I would definitely advocate teaching children with Down Syndrome how to sign. Emily can sign “more food, please,” “more books, please,” and she knows the signs for Dad, Mom, cheese, and yogurt. She really likes the nursery rhyme songs that have actions, too. I was worried that she would not communicate verbally if we taught her to sign, but the opposite has happened. We always speak the words while we do the sign, and she tries to say them too, as she makes her signs. She babbles non-stop.

I say it that she must have triple Italian chromosomes, especially the ones that control speaking. She is Italian that way. And she has to talk with her hands, even when she is not signing. If we want her to keep quiet, we just hold her hands. She usually stops babbling that way.

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Emily’s Blog

I have started this blog to chronicle my experiences with Emily Grace, our little one with Down Syndrome. The last two years have given us experiences we did not ask for, but we would not exchange. We have learned much about love, life, and the grace of God.

Some view a diagnosis of Down Syndrome as a tragedy. But we have never seen tragedy in Emily’s life. She has triumphed in all of her challenges–no matter how many times she has been poked, prodded, or hooked up to monitors. And she never loses her smile that lights up any room and makes life worth living. For all of you who have a child with Down Syndrome, you will know what I mean.

I do not feel sorry that we have Emily Grace, even with all her challenges. More often I feel sorry that not everyone can be blessed with such a child. Many times I wonder how we were chosen as a family to be graced with her–probably because we needed her more than she needed us.

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