So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness, a better family situation, a better financial situation, or the end of a challenging trial. The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness. We do matter. We determine our happiness. You and I are ultimately in charge of our own happiness.
Creation Out of Givenness
November 25, 2012 by
–President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Of Regrets and Resolutions,” General Conference, 2012.
Creation out of nothing is not a biblical concept. Israelite writers understood the creation of the world to be organization out of primeval chaos. God did not create the materials from which he worked and labored and organized. God did with what he was given. Givenness is as foundational and elemental as anything else in the universe, and Mormon scriptural accounts of creation emphasize this even more dramatically.
German polymath Gottfried Leibniz proposed that the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds–of all possible worlds God could have actualized, in his omnipotence and omniscience and perfect loving kindness, he made this one a reality. Most philosophers of religion have been unsatisfied with this account. This is the best God can do? Genocides and rampant disease and the relentless suffering of innocents? Besides, nearly all of us can conceive of a better world than this one. Surely God can do the same and more.
But what if “the best of all possible worlds” really means–not that this is the best possible world that can be conceived, but rather that it’s nothing more than a recognition of the givenness of the universe? That we are surrounded by people and objects and environments not of our own making but which constitute the primordial materials of a given life, the only materials with which we have to work, in which we have to really make a life? In this sense, that which is given is that which is “best” in the sense of “all that there is; only that which is.” There is nothing else beyond that which is given. There is no fantasy world that we can create out of nothing; not even God could do that. The materials we have been given are the only materials available.
But significantly–recognition of the givenness of our lives need not be mere passive acceptance of circumstance, or even fervent, Buddhist-like acknowledgment that the present is all there is. God found himself surrounded by chaos and intelligences, and yet saw fit to put forth his hand for the purpose of advancement and progress. All we have is that which is given to us. And yet, there is much we can do by way of assembling, shaping, conjoining, building from that givenness. President Uchtdorf insists that we determine our happiness–yes. But notice that his entire address is laden with awareness of the rich reality of other people, of loved ones and neighbors that we didn’t necessarily choose in the beginning and yet they are those that constitute the fabric of what is given. We determine our happiness, but our happiness is derived from a layered environment full of the givenness of others, of people, places, and things. When we try to violate this materiality by creating materials that cannot be created–out of nothing–misery, anxiety, frustration, alienation, are the results.
Moses learned that this earth was not the only one God created. Similarly, our own individual worlds are not the only ones that matter, and in fact can only be perceived as worlds in the first place because they exist in a firmament of other worlds, the worlds of others. True it is that happiness does not–cannot–exist beyond our reach, because our reach only extends to that which is given. The worlds we create are worlds fashioned from givenness.