Church News and Events

Viewpoint: Choosing and Achieving Happiness

Contributed By From the Church News

  • 19 April 2013

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught, “We must heed the voice that tells us that Heavenly Father loves us and that, as His children, we are of infinite worth and He wants us to be happy.”  Photo by Jerry Garns © 2008.

“Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).  

“Happiness is the purpose and design of our existence. … Virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping the commandments of God lead to a happy life; those who follow that path are not longfaced and sanctimonious, depriving themselves of the joys of existence” (David O. McKay, Pathways to Happiness [1957], xi).

Notice that neither Lehi, as recorded by Nephi, nor President McKay mentioned material possessions, public acclaim, professional achievements, or recognition in social circles. None of these, in itself, brings joy or true happiness.

For some, happiness is thwarted for a time by tragedy or a type of depression that might require professional treatment. That is not the topic here; this article is about what brings us happiness or helps adjust our thoughts if we slip into feeling sad, blue, dejected, low, or “down in the dumps.”

More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle suggested that everyone who lives has the same basic objective: to be happy.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be” (in John Cook, comp., The Book of Positive Quotations [1997], 7). If we accept the premise that we can choose to be happy, we may surmise that much unhappiness is self-inflicted.

President Thomas S. Monson noted: “William James, a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher, wrote, ‘The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.’

“So much in life depends on our attitude. The way we choose to see things and respond to others makes all the difference. To do the best we can and then to choose to be happy about our circumstances, whatever they may be, can bring peace and contentment.

“Charles Swindoll—author, educator, and Christian pastor—said: ‘Attitude, to me, is more important than … the past, … than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.’

“We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. For maximum happiness, peace, and contentment, may we choose a positive attitude” (“Living the Abundant Life,” Ensign, Jan. 2012, 4).

A sure formula for achieving happiness is to live in conformity to the teachings of Jesus Christ, whom Heavenly Father sent to earth to put into effect His great plan of happiness. Doing anything contrary to His teachings brings misery, not happiness. As Alma told Corianton, his son who had strayed from the path of righteousness, “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).

We cannot buy or borrow happiness, and no one can give it to us. It is a reward we must earn through our own thoughts and actions.

Some people are unhappy because they compare themselves to others, thereby opening the door to envy, a state of mind that quickly robs them of happiness.

During the April 2002 general conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve addressed this topic: “It has been said that envy is the one sin to which no one readily confesses, but just how widespread that tendency can be is suggested in the old Danish proverb, ‘If envy were a fever, all the world would be ill.’ The parson in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales laments it is because it is so far-reaching—it can resent anything, including any virtue and talent, and it can be offended by everything, including every goodness and joy. As others seem to grow larger in our sight, we think we must therefore be smaller. ...

“… Someone or something is forever telling us we need to be more handsome or more wealthy, more applauded or more admired than we see ourselves as being. We are told we haven’t collected enough possessions or gone to enough fun places. We are bombarded with the message that on the world’s scale of things we have been weighed in the balance and found wanting” (“The Other Prodigal”).

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, speaking to young adults in a November 1999 Church Educational System devotional, said, “The people of God are a joyful people. We understand there are times for sobriety, reverence, and devotion; we also understand that we possess the joyful principles of eternal life.

“We have so much to smile about, to be happy about, yes, even to laugh about.

“So many of us are always waiting to be happy. ‘If only I could graduate, if only I could afford a car, if only I could get married …’ For too many, happiness is just over the horizon, never reachable. …

“Don’t wait for tomorrow. Don’t wait for the right job, the right house, the right salary, the right dress size. Be happy today. Be happy now. …

“… Some of the happiest people I know have none of [the] things the world insists are necessary for satisfaction and joy. Why are they happy? I suppose it is because … they listen … to the things their hearts tell them. They glory in the beauty of the earth, … in the love of their families, the stumbling steps of a toddler, the wise and tender smile of the elderly.

“They glory in honest labor. They glory in the scriptures. They glory in the presence of the Holy Ghost.”

Further, Elder Wirthlin said, “As you pursue righteous desires, the Lord will be with you and will direct your paths. He wants you to be happy and successful” (“Lessons Learned in the Journey of Life,” Ensign, Dec. 2000, 12, 13).

Listening to voices—from others or our imaginations—that say we don’t have enough will lead us to unhappiness. We must heed the voice that tells us that Heavenly Father loves us and that, as His children, we are of infinite worth and He wants us to be happy.