Perhaps no scripture is better known and more often quoted among Latter-day Saints than Lehi’s famous comment on happiness: “… men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.) However, some refuse to allow the scriptures to speak further on the subject, superimposing their own version of what they think Lehi meant. These mistaken interpretations can sometimes lead to discouragement on the part of those who erroneously think that adherence to the principles of the gospel assures them an ease-filled path through life free from hardship and suffering.
The Lord issued no such promise through his prophets, for he often pointed out that this earth was to be an experimental ground in that one would experience evil as well as good. The rain was to fall on the unjust as well as on the just. This fact was demonstrated to Lehi in vision years before he made his oft-quoted pronouncement on joy.
In his vision of the tree of life Lehi saw the plight of men as they groped through a life of temptations and trials that often blinded the eves and hardened the hearts of many. Others, mocked by their peers but guided by the words of prophets, ancient and modern, pressed forward through the darker moments of life, sustained primarily by faith, until they qualified themselves to partake of the fruit of the tree of life, which was representative of the love of God.
Nephi, Lehi’s son, who also saw the vision, remarked to the angel who served as his guide that this love of God was most desirable above all things he had ever experienced. To this the angel of the Lord responded, “Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Ne. 11:23.) Joy, in the sense that Lehi is using the word, comes as a result of understanding and experiencing the love of God, and that understanding comes only as a consequence of struggle, trial, and endurance.
One of the most complete comments on happiness in all of the scriptures is the one made by Jesus in the introductory portion of the Sermon on the Mount, in the section called the Beatitudes. The word blessed, as used in the Beatitudes, has the connotation of happiness, and some modern translations have even changed “blessed” to read “happy.” In this famous section of the sermon (Matt. 5:1–12; 3 Ne. 12:1–12), Jesus points out that happiness can come even to the poor in spirit if they will come to him and partake of his love and aid.
Joy can also come ultimately out of the experience of sorrow or mourning: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4.) Mourning and deep sorrow can have a consecrating effect on the soul, an experience that many have had at the time of losing a loved one.
Jesus states further that happiness comes from meekness, from humility, and from a passive spirit in bending one’s own will to the will of God in recognition of his greater wisdom. Obedience to the commandments of God is one of the foremost principles of the gospel, and no one finds joy without it.
However, joy also comes as a by-product of our being anxiously engaged in a good cause, doing many things of our own free will, and bringing to pass much righteousness. We enlarge our capacity through an active spirit, through magnifying our calling in life, rather than narrowly defining the dimensions of that calling and working within these constricted boundaries. Jesus said that fulfillment comes to those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” (Matt. 5:6.)
Happiness comes to the merciful, to those who follow the path of Christ in avoiding unrighteousness, in refusing to judge others, in overlooking others’ failings and shortcomings, and in attempting to reach out to give aid where aid is needed. It comes from recognition of the suffering of others and an honest effort to alleviate that suffering as Christ did so instinctively. Jesus reached out again and again to those in need—to the widow at Nain, to the woman taken in adultery, to the maimed and crippled in body and in spirit.
Happiness comes to those of complete integrity, to those whose hearts are pure, and to those who totally integrate charitable inward feelings with kind outward actions. “Hypocrite” was a familiar rebuke given often by the Master to those who used religion for their own ends. Men must not only do the right things in life, but they must do them for the right reasons.
Never will joy be a possession of those who go through the actions of religion without internalizing Christ-like ideals. Ultimately our judgment will be based more on what we have become than on what we have done. We can never become one with Christ and the Father until we first become one with ourselves.
Joy, according to Jesus, comes even from the satisfaction of knowing that one has stood fast against persecution and vilification. It comes from taking upon ourselves more of a Christ-like character, for only through this course of action can we truly understand the love of God. Only through living more like the Master can we understand the love of God. Only through living more like the Master can we understand God’s purposes. And only then will we appreciate, in the ultimate sense, Lehi’s comment that “men are, that they might have joy.”