It was mid-August, and the warm summer months had prepared the rivers and streams of Utah’s Uinta Mountains to teach me a lesson I would never forget. At the time, I worked for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. My job was to help gather field information for the anticipated construction of a new reservoir. As a wildlife science major, I thought it the ideal summer job.
One day, typical of most, our supervisor took us to one of the tributaries to the potential reservoir. Once at the site, we stretched a net across the surface of the river and secured it tightly. Then we anchored the underside of the net to the river bottom with weights. We repeated the procedure a quarter-mile downstream. Our goal was to systematically retrieve as much of the aquatic life as possible between the two nets in the river.
We used electricity to temporarily stun the fish or other aquatic life long enough for us to net them and place them into a tank of water where we identified, weighed, and measured the specimens before releasing them back into the river. We used a portable battery-powered backpack that had the capability to deliver a 500-volt shock. One person carried the 40-pound backpack, and two others carried long electrodes with insulated handles that were moved systematically through the water. Two more people with handheld nets followed closely behind each electrode to quickly scoop up anything that was shocked.
On that particular day, we were gathering data on a small stream, and it was my turn to carry the backpack. The rubber soles on my chest waders were worn from using them all summer, and the rocks on the bottom of the stream were mossy. We had not been working long when I slipped and fell. As I reached behind me to break my fall, I felt a jolt as my backpack hit the water, and I soon felt what the fish had been experiencing all summer. I learned two valuable lessons that day: first, without proper insulation, 500 volts of electricity hurts; and second, electricity has the capacity to hold you to the water. I could not stand up. Fortunately, within seconds someone from the crew splashed over and turned off the power pack.
That day I learned that electricity is a force that demands respect. If one knows the laws governing this powerful force, it can be a useful tool. On the other hand, when one disregards the laws of electricity, there is a price to pay. The same is true for the laws of God.
Consider the eternal laws that the Lord has set forth regarding the purpose of our mortal existence. After speaking with the Lord face to face and learning of God’s infinite creations, Moses learned that the Lord’s work and glory is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). The Book of Mormon is a valuable resource to teach us the laws by which God makes this possible. Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1872–1952) stated that “the Book [of Mormon] is another witness of Jesus Christ. This is made evident throughout the Book, from the title page to the last page. Indeed, its message concerns itself with the plan for human happiness in which Jesus Christ is the central figure.”1 And so it is. The purpose of Adam and Eve’s fall was that they and their children “might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25).
After the Fall, mortality became both a preparatory and probationary state (see Alma 12:24–26; Alma 42:10–15). Joseph Smith taught that “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.”2
In order to receive a fulness of this joy, it was necessary to provide an Atonement that overcame the effects of the Fall and opened the means whereby we could repent of wrongdoing (see 2 Ne. 2:10; Hel. 14:12–18). So our purpose in mortality is to live in such a way that after the reuniting of our spirit and body we will be “raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God” (Alma 41:4; see also D&C 93:33–34).
This happiness we speak of was not meant just for the afterlife. A portion of it is attainable now. How do we accomplish such a task? Again, the Book of Mormon provides the answer. A profound and forceful statement by Alma says that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Alma goes on to say that all who are in a “carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness” (Alma 41:11). It is impossible to be truly happy unless we are seeking and doing the will of God. Samuel, the Lamanite prophet, reminded the wicked Nephites that their “destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity” (Hel. 13:38).
Samuel’s statement, then, becomes a reminder to us all that if we keep the commandments we can know happiness. Consider that the people in Captain Moroni’s time were happy even while their enemies were plotting war: “But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni” (Alma 50:23). This comment refers specifically to “those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord” (Alma 50:22). President Spencer W. Kimball emphasized this key point when he said, “Peace, joy, satisfaction, happiness, growth, [and] contentment, all come with the righteous living of the commandments of God.”3 Indeed, we can see that much of personal happiness depends on agency.
Even for those who face trying circumstances beyond their control, such as health problems, difficult family situations, or criminal acts by strangers, the Lord has promised that “whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day” (Mosiah 23:22). While future happiness is promised, there is also hope for a measure of cheer even in the midst of current trials. While Alma and his people, who were kept captive by the wicked priests of Noah, poured out their hearts to the Lord, they were told, “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort. … I will … ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs” (Mosiah 24:13–14).
Those of us who choose to live so that we may be comforted and directed by the Holy Ghost in times of trial may lay our burdens at the feet of the Savior, where we “find rest unto [our] souls” (see Matt. 11:28–30). Knowing there is help from a source wiser than ourselves allows us to keep perspective and lift our heads as did Alma’s people: “Yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15). While we are in trying circumstances, hope, peace, and the comfort of the Spirit become our sources of cheer until a brighter day dawns. “This will I do … that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:14; emphasis added).
The law of agency provides each of us with the opportunity to choose happiness or misery, demonstrating to our Heavenly Father the innermost desires of our heart. Alma taught his son Corianton that it was necessary “with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be … raised to endless happiness” (Alma 41:3–4; emphasis added). King Benjamin taught this same principle: “And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41).
Of course, the opposite is true for those who choose works contrary to the commandments. The choice is ours! We can choose to keep the commandments of God and be happy or we can choose to ignore his commandments and be filled with “fear,” “guilt,” and “awful misery” (see 2 Ne. 9:46; Hel. 14:29–30). King Benjamin warned that “after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s path that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—
“… Therefore he listeth [desires] to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness” (Mosiah 2:36–37). Agency allows all God’s children to be judged for the desires of their hearts and attendant works. Mortality truly is a probationary state. Yet for those who make choices contrary to gospel principles, the Lord provides a way should they want to come back.
The laws of God are as relentless as the electric current that held me to the water. When we break any law of God, justice demands payment (see Jacob 6:9–10; Alma 42:13). Fortunately, our Heavenly Father provided a means whereby we can return to His presence and still meet the full payment of justice (see Alma 42:22–25). From the beginning of humankind, “the great and eternal plan of deliverance” (2 Ne. 11:5) proclaimed the good news that a Savior would come into the world to redeem the Father’s children from the grasp of “death and hell” (2 Ne. 9:10; see also 2 Ne. 2:26; Mosiah 3:5; Alma 7:10).
Fortunately for each of us, the consequences can be alleviated. When our need for change burns strong enough and when we have the faith necessary to turn to Jesus Christ, then and only then can we receive the great joy that comes through repentance (see Mosiah 4:2–3).
Consider the experience of Alma (see Alma 36:12–16). After contemplating his many sins, he remembered the words his father had spoken “concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17). Once he turned wholeheartedly to Christ, he found there was “nothing so exquisite and sweet as was [his] joy” (Alma 36:21). We may or may not sin to the extent Alma did, but this same joy awaits each of us as we yield ourselves to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit, and [put] off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19).
Even if we are uneasy about our standing before the Lord, it is still possible to find the serenity, peace, and happiness we desire. Mormon spoke of this process when he said, “Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness” (Alma 27:18). In order for us to maximize the blessings of God, we must turn our hearts to the Lord with a willingness to give our all to Him—including our sins—as did King Lamoni’s father, who stated, “I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy” (Alma 22:15). His desire to know God and the joy that only He can provide culminated in the king’s plea, “I will give away all my sins to know thee” (Alma 22:18; emphasis added).
What a marvelous plan our Heavenly Father instituted for His children. It truly is “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8; emphasis added). However, to receive such happiness, we must understand that the joy and happiness God provides differ drastically from that defined by the world. Speaking of joy versus pleasure, Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy (1857–1933) said, “‘Joy’ may arise from quite other sources than ‘pleasure,’ from pain, even, when the endurance of pain is to eventuate in the achievement of some good: such as the travail of a mother in bringing forth her offspring [or] the weariness and pain and danger of toil by a father, to secure comforts for loved ones.”4 So we see that joy is not synonymous with pleasure and often exists concurrently with hardships and trials. It is during these moments when our “afflictions” are “swallowed up in the joy of Christ” (Alma 31:38; see also Alma 33:11).
Worldly joy is seasonal, not enduring. “If it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return” (3 Ne. 27:11; emphasis added). Elder Roberts eloquently stated that lasting joy arises out of man’s “seeing good and evil locked in awful conflict; through a consciousness of having chosen in that conflict the better part, the good; and not only in having chosen it, but having wedded it by eternal compact; made it his by right of conquest over evil.”5
If happiness is the purpose of our existence—in this life and the next—then it is worth looking at other ideas from the Book of Mormon as to what brings us happiness.
Knowledge of the events associated with the birth, redemption, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Contemplating the birth, life, and mission of our Savior reaffirms the heralded message of “glad tidings of great joy” brought by angels and prophets alike (Mosiah 3:3; see also Alma 13:22; Hel. 16:14; Alma 16:20; Alma 33:22–23; Alma 39:15–16). Time taken to ponder our Lord’s birth and willingness to submit to the will of the Father in all things brings with it a realization of “the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel”(2 Ne. 9:19).
Personal growth in the gospel. The more we learn about the gospel and live its principles, the more joy and happiness we will attain. Helaman teaches the process by which this may be accomplished: “Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Hel. 3:35; emphasis added). The process of sanctification begins with yielding our heart to God. Again, we are taught that happiness comes as a matter of making good choices.
Joy in recognizing what God has done for us. The Book of Mormon states from the outset that “the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1:20). Moroni repeats a similar message near the end of the Book of Mormon, asking those who read this book to take time to ponder and to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things” (Moro. 10:3; emphasis added). Surely humility involves retaining “in remembrance, the greatness of God, and [our] own nothingness” (Mosiah 4:11; emphasis added). As we do so, joy will follow. The word remember, used more than 100 times throughout the Book of Mormon, reminds us of the importance the Lord places on counting the many blessings He bestows upon His children (see Mosiah 4:11; Alma 29:10).
Sharing the gospel. Joy comes from sharing the gospel with others (see Jacob 5:71; Alma 26:30; Alma 28:8; Alma 29:9; Alma 36:24–25). Even the anticipation of bringing souls to Christ can make one happy. Alma demonstrated this while teaching the words of Christ to a group of apostate Nephites. When the poverty-stricken Zoramites began asking him gospel-related questions, “he turned him about … and he beheld with great joy … that they were in a preparation to hear the word” (Alma 32:6; emphasis added). The same can be said for the thousands of young men, women, and missionary couples each year as they anticipate, then perform their missionary labors throughout the world.
Seeing others live the principles of the gospel. After Lehi partook of the fruit in his tree-of-life vision, he immediately sought to share with his family the great joy he had experienced (see 1 Ne. 8:12). The same principle holds true for other faithful followers of Christ (see 1 Ne. 16:5; Alma 7:4; Alma 17:2; Alma 26:37; Alma 30:34; Alma 38:2–3; 3 Ne. 17:20). To witness family and friends making righteous choices can be as rewarding as our own personal efforts in righteousness, maybe even more so at times (see Alma 29:14).
What is the purpose of mortality? It is to learn how to achieve happiness! However, to achieve this happiness we must understand and keep the laws established by God—laws that are as irrefutable as those that pertain to electricity. May we take time to consider the eternal laws set forth in the “great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). Let us use our agency in the manner the Lord intended and remember that “they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever” (2 Ne. 9:18).