How to Be Happy


Marlin K. Jensen
Adapted from a talk delivered at a BYU devotional on Sept. 19, 1995.
I don’t believe in “check-list happiness,” but I think you will find these principles at work in the lives of people who are truly happy.

How to Be Happy

Several years ago a Book of Mormon passage caught my attention. It’s in the first part of the Book of Mormon—the part our family specializes in—and concerns the period of time just after Nephi has separated from Laman and Lemuel and departed into the wilderness. There Nephi established a society founded on gospel truths. Of that society in 2 Nephi 5:27 [2 Ne. 5:27], he says, “And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.”

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. I wondered what the individual elements of a truly happy society and life might be, and I began to search Nephi’s writings for clues.

Family

I begin in 2 Nephi 5:6 [2 Ne. 5:6] with Nephi’s observation that as he journeyed into the wilderness, “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 is a significant key to happiness—one’s family.

There was good reason that Nephi took his more righteous siblings with him into the wilderness. He belonged to them and they belonged to him. There is no other organization that can so completely satisfy our need for belonging and provide the resulting happiness that a family can.

Sometimes after an enjoyable family home evening, or 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.”

Keeping the Commandments

In 2 Nephi 5:10 [2 Ne. 5:10] Nephi says, “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 makes us happy. The very quotable Alma gave us the all-time best one-liner on this topic when he said, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). That’s a sound bite worthy of the six o’clock news. Alma’s is as categorical a statement as can be made on the subject, and our chances of proving Alma wrong are about zero.

From the depths of my soul I testify that Satan wants us to believe we are an exception to God’s rules, that somehow our transgressions are more noble and 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.

Scriptures

In 2 Nephi 5:12 [2 Ne. 5:12], Nephi mentions that 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, 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.

The scriptures 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, and I testify that there is great constancy and happiness to be had from a daily study of the Bible and the restoration scriptures.

Work

Verse 17 of the fifth chapter of 2 Nephi says, “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands.”

No matter what our life’s work turns out to be, I know we’ll be happier if we regularly labor with our hands. This 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.

The Temple

Nephi made another observation about his society that is most interesting. In 2 Nephi 5:16 [2 Ne. 5:16] it says, “And I, Nephi, did build a temple.” Nephi’s temple may have differed in some ways from our latter-day temples, but its central purpose was likely the same—to continually 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.

I can honestly say that the most spiritually mature and happy people I know are ardent temple attenders. There is good reason for that. It is in the temple that God’s program for us is told and retold, each telling bringing greater understanding and commitment to living life His way.

Church Service

The final element of Nephi’s society recorded in 2 Nephi 5 [2 Ne. 5] concerns the role our 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 God, 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 himself epitomizes this ethic of caring and service. 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.

Other Elements

If we go beyond the fifth chapter of 2 Nephi, we discover even more about the patterns of life that allowed Nephi and his people to live so happily. We know he looked forward “with steadfastness unto Christ” (2 Ne. 25:24). The Savior and His teachings were the focus of Nephi’s energies. He knew and taught, as have all the prophets, that true peace and happiness can ultimately come only through a remission of our sins. The Savior’s teachings—in large doses—are the only sure antidote for unhappiness.

It is interesting to discover that the principles of happiness Nephi shares are found in all of the scriptures, old and modern. I often wonder why we 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 in very plain terms.

Now I doubt that Nephi intended his list of ingredients in a happy society to be exhaustive. In fact, he probably didn’t intend to give us a list at all. I want to make it clear that I’m not a believer in “check-list happiness” either. There is no fool-proof formula for guaranteeing a consistently happy life, and there is evidence that God did not intend for every day to be entirely happy. There is eternal design and purpose to be seen in some suffering, sadness, and adversity.

But I invite you to look around and observe people you feel are genuinely happy. I think you will invariably see the principles discussed here at work in their lives. It is my prayer that we may all find this same happiness.

[photos] Photography by Welden Andersen