What caring parent doesn’t want his or her children to be happy? (Speaking of which, I bristle every time I hear the question, “What parent doesn’t what his or her children to have more than they, the parents, had while growing up?”—accompanied by the implication that the answer is so obviously, “Duh… every parent.” Well. I’m a parent and I couldn’t care less if my children have more or less than I did. (Sorry, kids.) Having things isn’t at all what will make them decent, productive, worthwhile, or happy. In fact, the pursuit of “things” quickly becomes a distraction from real sources of happiness. Anyway!…) God is our father and that statement alone tells us most of what we need to know about how He feels about us and what He wants for us. He cares. And he wants us to be happy. Not someday happy. Right now happy.
If Mormons believe in anything—and we believe in a lot of things (our Articles of Faith even say that we “believe all things”!)—then we most definitely believe in happiness. And we don’t just believe in happiness in the sense that we believe it exists somewhere for someone. We believe in actually being happy. Ourselves. Right now. We believe that “happiness is the object and design of our existence” and that “men are that they might have joy.” We believe that Jesus came “that [we] might have [life] more abundantly.” We even go so far as to believe that God’s “work and [his] glory [is] to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life [and one might reasonably add: “happiness”] of man.” Our happiness is God’s very purpose!
Nephi’s reference to living “after the manner of happiness” suggests that happiness results from something intentional. There is a “manner,” a process, a set of behaviors, a way of thinking. Something! Something other than just waiting for it to land on us like a ray of sunshine or for it to be bestowed upon us like a diploma or for us to qualify for it like a driver’s license. Happiness is yet another application of that beautiful internal-locus-of-control-related Book of Mormon concept of acting and not merely being “acted upon.” Happiness is intended for everyone all the time and must surely be within the grasp of each of us. The real question is whether we will recognize what the manner of happiness is in a practical, applicable sense and, once recognized, do it / live it.
Tonight at our YSA Seminar, we talked about what it means to live “after the manner of happiness.” That is, we spent a relatively loud and animated hour trying to identify the ways of living that result in happiness. It was fun, actually. Problem is we ran out of time, so our list isn’t quite ready for prime time and will have to be shared with you another day. But we’ve got a pretty good start.
In the meantime, it seems to me that in identifying the manners of happy living, there are some tests to consider when deciding if something is really, truly a necessary ingredient for happiness. For example:
- It must not be a true element of happiness if it is beyond my reach and unavailable to me at any time. (Right?)
- True elements of happiness must be able to coexist with adversity. The presence of adversity doesn’t make happiness impossible. (Does it?)
- Permanence matters. If something can’t be present both now and in eternity, it must not be a legitimate ingredient for happiness. (Right?)
And there are other interesting things to consider:
- As Ms. Turner has asked, what’s love got to do with it? Must I be loved to be happy? Is it more of a matter of me being the one doing the loving? Is the knowledge that I’m loved by God essential?
- Must one be a member of the Church to be happy? Some people seem to think so. Really?
- What about the attributes of Christ? Must I possess them? And to what extent? Can I be happy even with personality, attitudinal, and behavioral shortcomings? (I sure hope so!)
- Oh, and what about family? What role does marriage (and other family relationships) play in happiness? Is marriage essential? Can an orphan be happy? Is happiness a solitary pursuit?
- Lastly, choice. Can I simply choose to be happy (or not)? What role does simple agency play in this?
Sorry, but I’m not presenting the answers to these questions today. My cohorts and I and about 15-20 young single adults will figure out all the answers and eagerly share them with you soon. (How long can it take? :-) In the meantime, if you have thoughts or suggestions to share, please post a comment and we’ll eagerly include it in our discussion. And, please, life (on earth) is short. Be as happy as you can—until we finish telling you how. ;-)