Happiness Is a Quest, Elder Holland Tells Students

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 25 September 2014

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles waves good-bye to students following a campus devotional at Brigham Young University–Idaho on September 23.  Photo by Michael Lewis, Brigham Young University–Idaho.

Article Highlights

  • Happiness is a worthy quest and a right of all individuals.
  • Live after the manner of happiness by living the gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing happiness is a choice, and working.

“Ultimate happiness, true peace, and anything even remotely close to scriptural joy are found first, foremost, and forever in living the gospel of Jesus Christ.” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve


“Above all else, ultimate happiness, true peace, and anything even remotely close to scriptural joy are found first, foremost, and forever in living the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught during a campus devotional held in the BYU–Idaho Center at Brigham Young University–Idaho on September 23.

Drawing from the words attributed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder Holland said: “‘Happiness is the object and design of our existence: and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it.’

“It is that worthy quest, universal for us all, that quest for happiness, that I wish to speak today,” he said. “Note that I said the ‘quest for happiness,’ not necessarily happiness itself. Remember the Prophet Joseph’s choice of language: he spoke of the path that leads to happiness as the key to realizing that wonderfully worthy goal.”

Elder Holland speaks in the BYU–Idaho Center about living after the manner of happiness during a devotional on September 23.
Photo by Tyler Rickenbach.

The choir sings a beautiful rendition of “O My Father” before Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gives his devotional address at BYU–Idaho on September 23. Photo by Michael Lewis, BYU–Idaho.

Students fill the BYU–Idaho Center to hear Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak during a campus devotional held on September 23. Photo by Lana Strathearn, Brigham Young University–Idaho.

Just as founders of the United States of America—as well as philosophical leaders—have declared “the pursuit of happiness” a “right” of any individual, Elder Holland spoke of ways an individual can “live after the manner of happiness.”

“We know one thing for sure,” he said. “Happiness is not easy to find running straight for it. It is usually too elusive, too ephemeral, too subtle. If you haven’t learned it already, you will learn in the years ahead that most times happiness comes to us when we least expect it, when we are busy doing something else. Happiness is almost always a by-product of some other endeavor.”

The best chance for being happy is to do the things that happy people do, Elder Holland taught. “Live the way happy people live. Walk the path that happy people walk. And your chances to find joy in unexpected moments, to find peace in unexpected places, to find the help of angels when you didn’t even know they knew you existed improves exponentially.”

Elder Holland shared a few ways individuals might live “after the manner of happiness.”

First, individuals must live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Lots of other philosophies and systems of belief have been tried,” he said. “Indeed, it seems safe to say virtually every other philosophy and system has been tried down through the centuries of history.”

Just as recorded in the scriptures when the Apostle Thomas asked the Lord the question many young people still ask today—“How can we know the way?”—Elder Holland spoke of the eternally applicable answer Jesus gave when He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. … And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do. … If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.”

“What an absolutely breathtaking promise from Almighty God!” Elder Holland said. “He is saying, live my way, live my truth, live my life—live in this manner that I am showing you and teaching you—and whatsoever you ask will be given, whatsoever you seek you will find, including happiness. Parts of the blessing may come soon, parts may come later, and parts may not come until heaven, but they will come—all of them.“

Second, Elder Holland taught that individuals must learn as quickly as they can that so much of their happiness is in their hands, not in events or circumstances or fortune or misfortune.

“We have choice, we have volition, we have agency, and we can choose if not happiness per se, then we can choose to live after the manner of it,” he said.

Using the example of Joseph Smith when he was in Liberty Jail—a very unhappy situation for him as he was a victim of great injustice and persecution—Elder Holland spoke of the Prophet’s ability to live “after the manner of happiness” as he focused on virtuous thoughts.

“Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly,” Elder Holland said. “There was so little around him to prompt that response. That is not only good counsel against the modern plague of pornography, but it is counsel for all kinds of gospel thoughts, good thoughts, constructive thoughts, hopeful thoughts. Those faithful thoughts will alter how you see life’s problems and how you find resolution to them.”

Too often people think it is all up to the heart; it is not, Elder Holland taught. “God expects a willing mind in the quest for happiness and peace as well. Put your head into this. All of this takes effort. It’s a battle, but a battle for happiness is worth waging.”

Elder Holland said those people who are living after the manner of happiness are not passive. They think and speak and act positively and are kind and pleasant to be with.

“You can never build your happiness on someone else’s unhappiness,” he said. “Sometimes, maybe especially when we are young and insecure and trying to make our way up in the world, we think if we can tear someone else down a little, it will somehow miraculously lift us up.”

Happy people aren’t negative or cynical or mean, Elder Holland explained. “If my life has taught me anything, it is that kindness and pleasantness and faith-based optimism are characteristics of happy people.”

Related to being kind, Elder Holland said that a step along the path toward happiness is to avoid animosity, contention, and anger.

“Anger damages or destroys almost everything it touches,” he said. “As someone has said, to harbor anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It is a vicious acid that will destroy the container long before it does damage to the intended object.”

Anger and other vices such as violence, rage, bitterness, and hate have nothing to do with living the gospel or the pursuit of happiness, he said.

The third suggestion Elder Holland shared was to be industrious—to work.

“If you want to be happy this year in school or on a mission or in a marriage, work at it,” he said. “Learn to work. Serve diligently. Don’t be idle and mischievous. A homespun definition of Christlike character might be the integrity to do the right thing at the right time in the right way.”

Any state that is “a state contrary to the nature of happiness” is the worst state for anyone to live in, he declared.

“I ask you to reject transgression in order to live consistently with the nature of God, which is the nature of true happiness,” he said. “I encourage you and I applaud you in pursuing the path that leads to it. You can’t find it any other way.”