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Bastian’s speech on personal happiness

In 2018, Bruce Bastian was the keynote speaker at the Weber State University Peace and Possibility Speaker Series, which aims to bring high-profile LGBTQ+ leaders and advocates to the campus to “provide cultural opportunities, enhance the ‘welcomeness’ and inclusion of campus, and cultivate our ally community.” He spoke on how to achieve personal happiness.

Here is a transcript of his speech:

I want to thank Weber State for this invitation to speak with you today. I really am honored to be here. I should have worn purple, and I’m sorry. I also want to pay a special tribute to Jane and Tami Marquardt for making these events possible. Jane and Tami are dear friends; I’ve known them for many years now. They are wonderful examples to me personally and fellow advocates for many great causes here in Utah and beyond.

I want to start today by asking you to ask yourself a question: what is your main goal in life? What do you want to be when you grow up? No, really, what is your main goal? What are you aiming for? As you think about that, I think we should remember that for many human beings alive today, millions, maybe billions, their main goal every day is to stay alive. They want to get enough food, water, shelter to just survive. Hopefully, all of us in this room today don’t have to worry about that so much today, so we can concentrate on other things for this next 30-40 minutes.

So, I want to concentrate on something else that is very basic, very important, and common: happiness. When I was a boy, which is now many, many, many years ago, the world seemed like a very different place than it is today. We didn’t have a TV; that was something very new, very rare, and very expensive. We had lots of books. We had a radio, one radio. We would gather around that radio in the evenings and listen to music and news programs, mostly music. We talked to each other a lot as a family, verbally, not text messaging.

However, as different as the world was, I think the main goals were the same as they are today. My father went to work every day and many nights as well. My mother took care of the home and the kids. We lived on a farm, so my mother worked in the garden, and my dad took care of the animals. We all wanted to survive and be a happy family. We just went about achieving those goals differently than most people do today.

So, while I cannot relate to some of the precise activities younger people engage in today, I think and I hope I can share some thoughts and things I have learned in my life that are similar, if not exactly the same, as things people encounter today in everyday life. So, I want to share a short glimpse into my path to happiness in hopes it might give some ideas or insight to you and your search for happiness.

I grew up spending a lot of time alone. That wasn’t necessarily by choice because we didn’t really live close enough to anyone I could call a friend. My friends were my brothers, my sisters, and our dog. I remember sitting at a large fruit tree in the front yard and pretending I was flying a big plane. It wasn’t too long after the Second World War, so with a lot of movies and stuff about the Air Force and war, I liked to pretend I was flying a bomber, and I’d drop bombs on different things. Usually, they were apricots or apples, but you know. I would find a clear spot of dirt and build a town of dirt roads, and I would divert water into ditches and pretend they were rivers running through the town. It’s where I learned how to think and imagine and dream. I was a happy little boy, at least I thought I was a happy little boy.

Maybe that’s why I think it’s so important today to allow and encourage kids to imagine and dream. Then I went to school, and I started learning what adults thought I should learn. Then I went to junior high and started to learn more creative things like music and art, literature. I also had to learn how to fit in socially with other humans. I thought that was a little weird but necessary. Then I went to high school, and the social interaction almost became more important than what we learned in classes. You could be the best student in school and still not have any friends. I thought that was really unfair.

Each time I graduated to the next level of learning or society, my definition of my personal happiness changed somewhat. Now, as I look back at that, I wonder if my happiness, my definition of happiness changed because I made a decision to change it, or did it change because I thought my happiness and my ability to fit into my society were interdependent upon each other? I looked around at my friends, some of whom I thought were very happy and some of whom I imagined weren’t so happy. I have noticed for years that some people my age lived in families that were as happy as I thought mine was. Some people were poor; some people were richer. That did make a difference in their clothes and the cars and their houses. It didn’t make much difference in the level of happiness, though. What I did start to see as a teenager was how wealth seemed to make a difference in how people treated each other. Even as a teenager, that didn’t seem right to me. It was as if some people were saying poor people couldn’t be as happy as rich people or weren’t as valuable as friends. That is an idea that took me many years to learn how untrue it is. Today, I know many rich people who are very unhappy, and their quest for money doesn’t really ever make them happier.

I grew up as a member of the Mormon Church. If any of you are Mormon, then I suspect probably many of you are, you know that the church becomes a huge part of your personal social network as a child, as a teenager, and also as an adult. I believe that’s true with any religion, though. I don’t think that’s just the Mormon Church. My definition of my personal happiness was greatly influenced by the church, not only by the teachings of the church but also, and perhaps mainly, because of the social interaction I had or was expected to have with other members of the church. I wanted to fit in. We all do. I went to church and thought for me to be happy, I needed to do this and that. I needed to live a certain way. I didn’t have to set a lot of my goals because most of them were set for me. What was I going to do when I graduated from high school? Go to BYU, of course. What was I going to do when I turned 19? Go on a mission, of course. What was I going to do when I came home from a mission? I was going to find the perfect girl, get married in a temple, and live happily ever after, of course.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m saying that others defined my happiness, and I do not believe that is how we should live if we want to be truly happy. Well, I did go to BYU. As Jane said, that is when my personal definition of happiness really got challenged. It felt like my happiness was really interdependent on my social life, which was also very interdependent on church life. I started to believe the only way I could be happy was to accept everything I was being told about how to live my life. Did I really have to stop thinking for myself? Were all the strange ideas and feelings I had inside just bad or evil?

I started to retreat back to being that boy who wanted to get away by himself and pretend and dream. I started reading things again that I thought were interesting, just because. I started learning things that made me question other things that I had been taught or told. I started to question my own personal definition of my happiness. I think it’s important to state here that I do not believe my definition of happiness is the same as anyone else’s. I believe every person’s path to happiness is unique. That is why I believe we have to discover our own path to happiness and not have it defined by anyone else. I believe in that still, small voice that prompts us to do certain things that are unique to us. I just don’t believe that any church has a copyright on that.

Changing our definition of personal happiness, I believe, is very much tied to learning who we really are. As we grow up, much of, perhaps most of, who we believe we are is defined by people around us. We have people who really love us, yes, they really do love us, tell us from birth who we are, what we should believe, and what our goals in life should be. It goes much further than a father telling his son or daughter that they should be a doctor or a lawyer. It goes to the point of actually having them tell us where we should live or what our goal should be, or even whom we should marry. That might make the person telling us that very, very happy, but it may not make us happy at all. We cannot live our life to make other people happy. It’s not their happiness we seek; it’s ours.

We are also told by people all around us, many of whom really don’t like us, maybe a religious person, maybe a politician, that we should change. We should be someone different than we really are. They don’t approve of what we do, what we say, how we live. They want us to fit into their mold like they are. I suspect a lot of these people aren’t really happy themselves either. They just want to make us as unhappy as they are. We need to be wary of those people, however, because they are always there.

We grow older, we have our own personal experiences, we learn about the world around us and the people around us, and we start to understand more about who we really are. We start to form our own views of happiness and what our happiness looks like. Then comes the dilemma. Do we admit to our families and our friends or keep trying to live the life that they want us to live? More importantly, do we admit who we really are to ourselves? Do we let ourselves change, develop, let our definitions of our own happiness change and grow? That is an important question to answer.

For me, it was not a sudden revelation that I was different from the rest of the boys and girls. I had known that all my life. What happened was that I got older, my understanding of what that meant started to evolve, and I started to gain a better understanding of who I really was. I was unhappy. The reason I was unhappy is that I was trying to make my family and my friends happy and not trying to make myself happy. In other words, I was living someone else’s definition of happiness and not my own. Then I had to decide if I wanted to be happy or if I wanted to keep living someone else’s version of happiness. That is a decision I think everyone will have to make at some point in their life. I suspect many of you here today have either faced that decision already or you will face it in the future. What makes it particularly difficult is if the happiness that you are searching for is not the same as the happiness people around you are searching for. It makes it particularly difficult to pursue your own happiness when you are afraid that the people around you will be hurt if you pursue your own happiness.

I have some suggestions. First, you have to learn to love yourself, to realize your own value, and to see yourself for who you really are. You need to realize and tell yourself often that your happiness is as important as the happiness of your family or anyone else. Then you need to decide how to go about finding your own happiness and not necessarily someone else’s happiness. You have to give yourself time. You need to know that it will take time. Life is a journey, not a destination. You need to realize that your life will change, the people around you will change, your happiness will change. It takes time. Finally, you need to realize that you may not know right now where your happiness lies. You may need to realize that you might need to let go of some things and search for new things.

If you are ever really unhappy, you can start over. I have. You can let things go, search for new things, new people, new experiences. Don’t give up. I know how hard that is to do. It may not seem like it right now, but you can find happiness. Let yourself be you, let yourself be happy, and don’t worry so much about what other people think. I hope this will help you on your journey to happiness.

Thank you.

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