Children love stories. As a child, I was immediately drawn into stories that started with the words “Once upon a time.” These stories often ended with “They lived happily ever after.” I have a feeling that children are not the only ones who are intrigued by those phrases. We each long to have the “once upon a time” of our lives filled with so much happiness that it becomes the “happily ever after” of our hopes and dreams.
We are living in our “once upon a time.” We are experiencing a mortal probation now during our turn on earth. In our premortal existence, “all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7) as we accepted the great eternal plan of happiness. We happily anticipated coming to earth to experience opportunities to grow spiritually. “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). The opportunity is here and now to obtain happiness that extends beyond our earth life; however, we need to know what it is and where to find it.
In the Book of Mormon, Lehi explained to his son Jacob that happiness is a result of obedience. He told Jacob that eternal laws have both punishments and opportunities for happiness attached to them. When we disobey God’s laws, we suffer the punishments, but when we obey, we reap the happiness (see 2 Ne. 2:10). Part of what creates happiness is the absence of regret, guilt, and sin.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 255–56).
A young friend named Emily discovered this for herself. Emily did not yet have a testimony of the gospel and was contemplating whether to remain active in the Church or try to find happiness elsewhere. As she searched for answers, she began to notice that the people and families around her who were the happiest were the ones who were active in the Church. After that discovery, she determined that even if she didn’t yet have a complete testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, she wanted to be part of something that helped people to be so happy. The word gospel means “good news,” and, as Emily discovered, the good news is that the gospel can make us very happy.
But, you may be thinking, even within the Church there are people who aren’t happy or people who are usually happy but who experience intermittent times of stress, worry, challenge, and discouragement. That, too, is part of the great plan of happiness. Mortality is a time of testing and trial, which means that there must be times when we feel pain and emotional discomfort. However, by patiently trusting in the eternal plan, we can experience daily happiness and have hope for “ever-after happiness.”
Elder Boyd K. Packer explained: “It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal. Teach our members that if they have a good, miserable day once in a while, or several in a row, to stand steady and face them. Things will straighten out. There is great purpose in our struggle in life” (“That All May Be Edified” , 94).
The story of our search for happiness is written in such a way that if we continue to trust in God and follow His commandments through the challenging times, even those times will bring us closer to the happiness we are seeking. The Savior said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The Savior, Jesus Christ, showed us the way to happiness and told us everything we need to do to be happy. As we study the teachings of the Savior and thereby understand the purpose of our existence, we feel and express our happiness.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord said that we should worship Him “with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance” (D&C 59:15). We can experience a speedier and more sure course to our “ever-after happiness” by developing certain habits and attitudes that encourage happiness.
Our prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, is the very essence of a glad heart. He has written: “I am an optimist! … My plea is that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life, we ‘accentuate the positive’” (Standing for Something , 101).
Children are usually good examples of attitudes of “a glad heart and a cheerful countenance.” They have a sense of happiness and optimism that invites others to rejoice with them.
My husband and I took our grandson to lunch for his fourth birthday. After lunch, we buckled him in the backseat for the drive home. In the front seat, we began to discuss the schedule of the day, but I heard this four-year-old talking to himself. He was saying over and over, “I am such a lucky boy. I am such a lucky boy.” He was expressing his joy to anyone who would listen.
We can learn how simple joy can be from these little ones. I would like to share some comments from Primary children that teach us what happiness is and where we can find it.
One child observed, “Happiness looks like a smile that you can see in people’s eyes so that you know they really are happy.” This child knows happiness is as simple as a smile.
Recently I stopped at a grocery store to quickly pick up a few things for dinner. As I turned the corner, I came face to face with an older gentleman. I smiled, as I was relieved that we hadn’t collided. He smiled and said, “Thank you for your smile. I needed it.” I also needed his smile. Smile—it will make a difference for you and for others. What would life be like if we couldn’t give and receive smiles?
Happiness is not only simple, but it is here for us to experience each day. Happiness is all around us. It can be as immediate as now. Some children said, “Happiness is a big word with flowers all around it.” Another said it looks like “a rainbow.” “It looks like the sun.” We need to remember that despite all of life’s challenges, our time to be happy is now.
A few months ago I had an opportunity to take a morning walk on a mountain trail with four of my grandchildren. We each brought a bag so we could collect treasures from nature. As we looked for pieces to put in our collection, we found many different colors, designs, and textures in the leaves and rocks. It was hard to choose. I soon noticed that the children’s bags were filling up. Each leaf the children selected was unique, but because it was late fall, most of the leaves had dark weathered spots, irregular shapes, or faded and discolored parts. Because of this, I was reluctant to add things to my bag. I was looking for a leaf that showed the brightest colors and had no flaws. If it wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t going to treasure it. But this meant that my bag had very little in it.
Later, as I thought about this experience, I realized that I had cheated myself of much delight and happiness that could have been mine. I didn’t appreciate the uniqueness of the objects because I was looking for what I had deemed perfection. My grandchildren had been wiser than I had been. They had savored the odd shapes and spots on the leaves. They giggled at and enjoyed the brittle crispness of the dying leaves, and they delighted in the soft, faded colors. They filled their bags with happy treasures to take home. We can fail to see and enjoy the unique happiness and beauty in each day if we are so focused on our desire for what we want instead of what the Lord has designed for us.
Happiness is knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One child said, “Happiness looks peaceful like Jesus and Heavenly Father.”
Recently I attended a Primary and was holding a 14-month-old child on my lap when she looked up and saw a picture of the Savior on the wall. Her little face beamed as she said with her newly acquired language skills, “Jesus.” Perhaps this little one understands the joy of knowing the Savior.
It is knowing and feeling the pure love of Christ that brings exquisite joy to our souls. It is knowing that forgiveness for our mistakes is possible. It is through the Atonement of the Savior, who satisfied the demands of justice and offers us mercy, that hope and joy are possible. As we draw near to the Savior, we are free from doubt and confusion.
Elder Richard G. Scott said: “Your joy in life depends upon your trust in Heavenly Father and His holy Son, your conviction that their plan of happiness truly can bring you joy” (“Finding Joy in Life,” Ensign, May 1996, 24).
Through the Savior we can find our way back to God. We can find peace and happiness in this life and eternal joy in the world to come. That thought, in and of itself, warms my heart and makes me smile.
As we come to understand the great plan of happiness, we will radiate, for all the world to see, a glad heart and a cheerful countenance. We will show that we know the gospel of Jesus Christ is a simple, ever-present source of true happiness today and ever after in eternity. It is living the gospel of Jesus Christ that is our guarantee of living “happily ever after.” Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.