As a 17-year-old high school senior, I had more than my fair share of inexplicable mood swings. Anything from family troubles and friendships gone awry to bad grades and nominal insecurity would push me into the depths of depression. Once in the pit of despair, it was very difficult for me to get back out again.
After a few months of being in a terminal bad mood, I began to wonder why I was so unhappy all the time—why it was so easy for me to be miserable yet so hard for me to feel good about life. Eventually I resigned myself to the idea that happiness required a certain talent that I just did not have.
One evening I was hiding out in my bedroom, nursing my regular depression when, on a whim, I started thumbing through the references for happiness in the index of the Book of Mormon. I halfheartedly hoped to find some instant guide to perfect bliss. What I found in Alma 27:17–18, however, has been of more worth to me than any formula. In these verses, Ammon and Alma, after long proselyting missions into neighboring lands, meet up again to the delight of Ammon.
“Now the joy of Ammon was so great even that he was full; yea, he was swallowed up in the joy of his God, even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth. Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.”
It was amazing to me that Ammon—or anyone else, for that matter—could feel so wonderfully joyful. But even more amazing to me was the idea that he was a “penitent and humble seeker of happiness.”
Could one actually seek happiness? And seek it contritely and humbly? For some reason I had always thought that happiness was some sort of innate gift—you either had it or you didn’t. I had never really considered that in order to be happy, I might have to really put forth an effort. Suddenly I realized that, like any other principle of the gospel, including faith, hope, charity, and mercy, happiness is something that requires work and a measure of self-discipline, as well as divine help, to achieve and maintain.
In the months since that discovery I’ve remembered Ammon’s secret to success, and I’ve sought happiness. Of course, misery often seemed like the easier option: it would take much less effort to sit in my room, listen to sad songs, and think about the ways my life is less than perfect. But I realized that, not only was my unhappiness damaging to me and to those who love me, but it was also a rejection of God’s gifts, a rejection of the great plan of happiness.
Now when I pray I ask for the Lord’s help in achieving an inner happiness that exists regardless of the trials that friendships, family, and school inevitably bring. Not only that, but I actually try to be cheerful, to appreciate the many wonderful things about my life and the world in which we live. It’s not always easy, and sometimes I am required to simply grin and bear it. But in learning to be happy despite external circumstances, I’ve been able to experience some of the joy reserved for the true seeker of happiness.