Certain unchanging principles and truths bring happiness to our lives. This subject has been of interest to me for many years because although I am richly blessed and have every reason to be happy, I sometimes struggle and do not always have the natural inclination toward happiness and a cheerful disposition that some people seem to enjoy.
For that reason, several years ago a Book of Mormon passage caught my attention. It concerns the period of time just after Nephi had separated from Laman and Lemuel and departed into the wilderness. There Nephi established a society founded on gospel truths; and of that society he says, “And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness” (2 Ne. 5:27). The passage deeply impressed me. I pondered what it could mean to live “after the manner of happiness.” I knew it had to be related to the gospel and God’s plan for our lives. In fact, sometimes His prophets call that plan the “plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). I wondered, though, what the individual elements of a truly happy society and life might be, and I began to search Nephi’s writings for clues. I wish to share with you my tentative findings, primarily from 2 Nephi, chapter 5, and invite you to conduct your own personal search. It could be a lifelong and worthwhile pursuit.
I begin in 2 Nephi 5:6 with Nephi’s observation: “I … did take my family … and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters.” Here indeed is a significant key to happiness—one’s family.
There is no other organization that can so completely satisfy our need for belonging and happiness like the family. Why do we yearn for home and loved ones? I believe this yearning is a universal, God-given instinct that all people in all cultures are blessed with. I also believe that a loving Heavenly Father gives it to us because within the family we experience most of life’s greatest joys. The sights, sounds, and associations of family and home are among our most treasured memories and provide our fondest anticipations.
Sometimes after an enjoyable family home evening, during a fervent family prayer, or when our entire family is at the dinner table on Sunday evening eating waffles and engaging in a session of lively, good-natured conversation, I quietly say to myself, “If heaven is nothing more than this, it will be good enough for me!”
For the next ingredient of a happy life, I go to verse 10: “And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things.”
Here is a simple but powerful truth: living righteously and keeping God’s commandments make us happy. Alma gave a concise sermon on this topic when he said, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Based on my own experience and my observations of others, Alma’s declaration is as categorical a statement as can be made on the subject, and our chances of proving Alma wrong are about zero.
In May 1957, Cecil B. DeMille, renowned producer of motion pictures, gave the commencement address at Brigham Young University at the invitation of President David O. McKay (1873–1970). His latest production, The Ten Commandments, had been filmed with some technical advice from President McKay. In the course of its production, a close friendship had formed. Following a tender introduction by President McKay in which he praised the nobility and character of his friend, Cecil B. DeMille stunned the BYU graduates with a masterful address on the purpose of God’s laws.
Drawing on the lesson of the idolatrous worship of the golden calf from the 32nd chapter of Exodus, Mr. DeMille noted that the children of Israel had been freed from the bitter bondage of Egypt and had seen the wonders of God in the desert and in the divided sea. They were free, they thought. Then Moses left them to go up the mountain to receive the law. Mr. DeMille observed:
“No sooner was he gone the short space of forty days and nights when, in spite of all his teaching, in spite of all the marvels they had seen God work, the children of Israel became slaves again—not this time of a tyrant like Pharaoh, but slaves of their own passions and their own fears. …
“If a man will not be ruled by God, he will certainly be ruled by tyrants—and there is no tyranny more imperious or more devastating than man’s own selfishness, without the law.
“We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them” (BYU Speeches of the Year, 31 May 1957, 6).
From the depths of my soul I testify that we cannot break God’s laws, we can only break ourselves against them. Satan wants us to believe we are an exception to God’s rules, that somehow our transgressions are more noble, or more justifiable, than anyone’s have ever been, but that is a lie. And not only do we offend God by breaking His laws, we also offend ourselves and others and thereby experience heartache, suffering, and misery—the exact opposites of happiness.
There is no more poignant description of the contrast between the pain of rebellion and the joy of obedience to divine law than the one given by Alma to his son Helaman:
“Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (Alma 36:21).
One of the keys to a truly happy life is to learn, as early as possible, that wickedness is never happiness and to never forget this truth, preferably learning from others’ mistakes rather than making our own.
In 2 Nephi 5:11, Nephi observes that “we did prosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance.” In a 1978 general conference address, President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) said: “With the arrival of spring we hope all of you will put in your gardens and prepare to enjoy their produce this summer. We hope you are making this a family affair, with everyone, even the little ones, assigned to something. There is so much to learn and harvest from your garden, far more than just a crop itself” (“Becoming the Pure in Heart,” Ensign, May 1978, 79).
I cannot tell you logically why something as simple as planting a garden, however modest, and harvesting and enjoying the fruits of one’s labors is a source of great happiness, but I know it is. There is “far more than just a crop itself” to be gained, and it can come from a flowerpot, a window box, or a single tomato plant, as well as from an entire garden or field.
In verse 11, Nephi also records, “We began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind.” This is an element of a happy life to which many will readily relate. Animals—be they horses, cats, dogs, hamsters, or turtles—touch us deeply and promote our emotional well-being. Given affection and care, they return affection and care generously and consistently. People whose lives include relationships with animals are usually happier. For me at least, heaven will not be heaven unless the animal kingdom is part of God’s kingdom.
In verse 12, Nephi mentions he “had also brought the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass.” Why would having access to the scriptures be a consideration in a happy lifestyle? Anyone who reads scripture regularly develops a clearer perspective and purer thoughts and has more sincere and thoughtful prayers. Our lives are bound to be happier when we use the scriptures to answer our very personal questions and needs.
There are other uplifting influences the scriptures can have in our lives. They can cleanse us from evil thoughts and fortify our resolve to resist temptation. They can give comfort in times of need such as the death of a loved one or other personal tragedy. Reading them can put us in tune with the Spirit of the Lord so that our depression and self-doubts will flee and our “confidence [will] wax strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:45).
A powerful expression of the happiness that can come from immersing ourselves in the scriptures comes from Elder Parley P. Pratt’s (1807–57) autobiography, in which he describes his first encounter with the Book of Mormon, which he called “that book of books”:
“I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.
“As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. , 37).
I understand that in some Jewish families when a son starts Torah studies, a drop of honey is placed on the page to indicate this duty is also a great joy. I find that symbolism very appealing, and I testify that there is great constancy and happiness to be had from a daily study of the Bible and the scriptures of the Restoration.
The next element of a happy life is in verse 14—preparedness. Nephi “did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the … Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us.” Nephi was preparing for possible skirmishes with the Lamanites and we must likewise prepare for our battles of life if we hope to lead happy lives. If we are prepared we not only do not fear (see D&C 38:30), but we actually enjoy and derive considerable happiness from the events of our daily lives.
My children and I have been blessed and made very happy by my wife’s preparations for marriage and motherhood. She came with the fundamentals of spiritual preparation, education, cooking, sewing, gardening, reading, music, and game playing all in place. I would probably have loved her just as much without all these credentials, but I doubt that our children and I would have been as happy!
Those who have had some savings and a little food storage during a period of unemployment or who have been consistently treasuring up the “words of life” (see D&C 84:85) and have been called on to speak extemporaneously in stake conference will know the happiness (and relief) that comes from being prepared. The Boy Scouts and their motto, “Be prepared,” have it right. Someone once asked Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, “Be prepared for what?” “Why,” said Baden-Powell, “for any old thing.” That’s just the idea, and Nephi knew it too.
Nephi’s next comment on his happy society has to do with the principle of work: “And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance” (2 Ne. 5:15).
In verse 17, he adds, “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands.”
Six thousand years ago Father Adam received the commandment, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Gen. 3:19). Today it is more socially acceptable to “perspire” than to “sweat,” and we have lost more than just moisture in that transition.
I realize that work can be mental, spiritual, or physical effort, but Nephi’s emphasis is on “laboring with our hands,” or manual labor. No matter what our life’s work turns out to be, I know we’ll be happier if we regularly labor with our hands. Labor can take many forms: yard work, sewing, quilting, cooking, baking, auto repair, home repair—the list is endless, and so is the happiness and sense of accomplishment such activities produce.
I think it is a regrettable sign of our times that most family activities today take place in a recreational rather than a work setting. I’m grateful I was able to work alongside my grandparents and parents, and in turn am able to work with our sons and daughters. There is something inspiring to me about the declaration of Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on this vital element of a happy life: “We are here on earth to work—to work long, hard, arduous hours, to work until our backs ache and our tired muscles knot, to work all our days” (“Stand Independent above All Other Creatures,” Ensign, May 1979, 93).
Nephi writes, “And I, Nephi, did build a temple” (2 Ne. 5:16). Nephi’s temple may have differed in some ways from our latter-day temples, but its central purpose was likely the same: to teach and orient God’s children concerning His plan for their happiness and to provide the ordinances and covenants essential to the attainment of that happiness.
After living on this good earth for over five decades, I can honestly say that the most spiritually mature and happy people I know are ardent temple goers. There is good reason for that. It is in the temple that the full sweep of God’s program for us is told and retold, each telling bringing greater understanding and commitment to living life His way.
What images does the word temple call to our minds? Listen to Elder Boyd K. Packer’s expression of feelings about this: “When we say temple I would list what in essence are Latter-day Saint synonyms for the word: marriage, family, children, happiness, joy, eternal life, resurrection, redemption, exaltation, inspiration, revelation” (The Holy Temple , 260).
A good test of how well we are doing in our quest to come unto Christ may be how we feel about the temple and our experiences there. Temple can be synonymous with happiness and joy. It was for Nephi and his people.
The final element I wish to highlight concerns the roles Church callings and service play in a happy life. Nephi notes in verse 26 that he “did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people.” Of course, true Christian service can’t be provided exclusively through institutional means. Random acts of personal service motivated by our feelings of charity are necessary for our salvation. But the organized Church as established by the Lord Jesus Christ, in which we look after and serve others and are looked after and served by others, provides a wonderful source of happiness for all of us. Nephi epitomizes this ethic of caring and service. He wrote, “For I pray continually for [my people] by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them” (2 Ne. 33:3).
I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for the countless opportunities for growth, service, and happiness that activity in the Church has provided. It is not by accident that in God’s plan for us we have been given a Church that “hath need of every member” (D&C 84:110). Because we are needed and encouraged and enabled to serve, we are much happier.
If we go beyond 2 Nephi 5 in Nephi’s writings we discover even more about the patterns of life that enabled Nephi and his people to live happily. For instance, we learn he faithfully kept a journal. We learn that he was an avid student and teacher of the doctrines of the gospel, and a sensitive follower of the Spirit of the Lord.
We also learn that he and his people did “look forward with steadfastness unto Christ” (2 Ne. 25:24). The Savior and His teachings were the focus of Nephi’s energies: “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne. 25:26).
Nephi knew and taught, as have all the prophets, that true peace and happiness can only come through a remission of our sins. Taking full advantage of the Savior’s infinite Atonement is the only sure antidote for unhappiness!
Since first making my personal discovery about living after the “manner of happiness,” I have thought deeply about the principles involved and about how timeless and universal they are. The same patterns and elements of daily life that enabled Nephi and his people to be happy 560 years before Christ work equally well today. They fit comfortably at every stage during our lives and in every culture. In a time when “diversity” is so frequently touted as something desirable, it is interesting to note the uniformity and unchanging nature of these principles. Perhaps every purveyor of “new lamps for old” ought not to be heeded.
These principles of happiness can be lived virtually without cost. It’s almost as if Nephi’s brother Jacob were speaking to this issue as he extended the invitation, “Come, my brethren, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (2 Ne. 9:50). This should tell us something about the very minimal role material things play in a happy life.
It has been interesting, too, to discover that the principles of happiness Nephi shares are found in all the scriptures. I often wonder why we sometimes wrestle over the meaning of obscure passages of scripture when what is really important for our happiness and salvation is stated by the Lord over and over again in very plain terms.
It is noteworthy, too, that the prophets of the past 50 years or so have had as the hallmarks of their teachings and service some of these same principles. President David O. McKay and President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) made powerful statements about the sanctity and importance of the family. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) and President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) pleaded with us to make the scriptures a more significant part of our lives. President Kimball spoke movingly on the importance and value of physical work, journals, and gardens. President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) lovingly invited us to make the temple the symbol of our Church membership. And like the prophets before him, President Gordon B. Hinckley continually reminds us of the blessings of obedience to God’s laws and of the need to give ever greater attention to Christ and His teachings. These chosen men understand better than all the world the sources of true happiness.
I doubt that Nephi intended his list of ingredients in a happy society to be exhaustive. There is no formula for guaranteeing happiness every day of our lives; in fact, scripture suggests that God did not intend for every day to be entirely happy (see 2 Ne. 2:15–16). There is eternal design and purpose to be seen in suffering, sadness, and adversity.
There will be a tendency, in the complexity of these times, to forget that Nephi did “glory in plainness” (2 Ne. 33:6) and that the principles of happiness he modeled are both plain and simple. If we overlook that fact, we may be like the children of Israel at the time of Moses, who, when bitten by poisonous serpents, failed to look at the brass serpent Moses held up and live. Of these, Nephi says, “And the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Ne. 17:41). The way to happiness can be just as simple and just as easily missed.
If we aren’t happy, of what use is the gospel, the Church and its organizations, programs, and the way of life it espouses? Moroni stresses the importance of being happy during this phase of our eternal existence by describing the judgment: “And then cometh the judgment of the Holy One upon them; and then cometh the time that he that is filthy shall be filthy still; and he that is righteous shall be righteous still; he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still” (Morm. 9:14).
Nephi’s society wasn’t the only happy one of which the Book of Mormon speaks. There was another time and another people of whom it was written:
“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
“And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God” (4 Ne. 1:15–16).
May we strive for this same happiness as we obey the commandments, study the scriptures, attend the temple, work, serve, prepare, and plant—that our harvest may be great and our joy eternal.
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
What can we change or improve in our lives to increase our happiness?
Why does keeping the commandments help make us happy?
Why is the Lord concerned with our happiness and well-being?