On more than one occasion as I was growing up, my father said something like this: “Pain has a purpose. Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Often, the best fix is an adjustment to one or more of four basic health-related habits: what and how much we eat, how much we sleep (not too much; not too little), how often and how long we exercise, and how we manage stress in our lives. Frequently, the best remedy is a rather uncomplicated correction to one or more of these aspects of our lifestyle.”
I have thought about that idea a lot over the past couple of weeks as we have discussed the elements of happy living in our seminar series. If veggies, fruits, whole grains, 7.5 hours of sleep, 30 minutes a day of rigorous exercise, and functional stress relief valves in our lives make for physically healthy living—at least as a general rule—could it be that there is a similar “formula” for spiritually- and emotionally-healthy living that would help us live in a state of happiness?
We finished (for now, at least) putting our heads together this week in our Thursday evening seminar and came up with a list of nine elements or ingredients for happy living. I like to call them “The Manners of Happiness” since we are trying to explain what it means to live “after the manner of happiness.” (Recognizing that happiness is, in reality, a matter of degree and not either strictly present or absent, we nevertheless identified these things as being required to get us to a way of living that would generally be described as “happy.” For achieving the greatest amount of happiness ultimately possible, more is needed—and we’ve identified those things, too, in a second list.) For being happy right here and now, here are the nine things we came up with—in no particular order.
- Pursuit of personal improvement. We need to be striving for personal growth—not just striving to be better at something or to acquire more knowledge (though those are good), but striving to be better human beings—better contributors to the common good.
- Love. Here we refer to love as a verb and with ourselves on the giving, serving end. We cannot be very happy when we are not striving to help others feel loved, valued, supported—and happy—themselves. We tend to make ourselves happier when we are making efforts to help other people feel happier.
- Choosing well. Alma said, “Wickedness never was happiness.” Conversely, it seems a valid axiom that righteousness—or choosing well—not to be confused with piety or self-righteousness—is a necessary condition for happiness. Not that we must be perfect or we can’t be happy, but we must strive to keep the commandments and to live life as God encourages us to live it.
- Handling adversity. “Into each life some rain must fall,” said the poet. God sends “rain on the just and the unjust,” said the Son of God. We will all gain experience with life’s difficulties: disappointments, tragedies, heartaches, doubts, discouragement, mean people, etc. How we handle those things is up to us. If we do not handle them well, we will severely limit our ability to experience happiness while we struggle with them, which can be most of the time.
- Forgiving. Like adversity, we can hardly avoid being wronged or offended. The better the perspective we maintain and the more generous we are at giving people the benefit of the doubt, the less we’ll need to forgive. But if it’s true that “the greater sin” lies with the person who fails to forgive than in the person who commits the original wrong and if it’s true that happiness is not found in sin, then it stands to reason that failing to forgive is a great formula for living unhappily.
- Having hope, faith, and optimism. It may be true that a pessimist is never disappointed and it is surely true that we should anticipate and prepare for negative events in our lives, but surely happiness is associated with a bright outlook and a sense of confidence that we will become better than we are today, that fairness will ultimately prevail, that people can change, and that a better future lies ahead. Faith centered in the Atonement and teachings of Jesus Christ is the ultimate form of optimism and confidence.
- Diligence. Of “a virtuous woman,” it is written that “she looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” The commandment Adam received, when leaving the Garden of Eden, to eat his bread by “the sweat of thy face,” was, according to Elder Bruce D. Porter, a gift, not a curse. Working means contributing and is surely an essential ingredient in a happy life.
- Feeling loved. Nothing in our list is dependent upon the choices or actions of others. Feeling loved is, perhaps arguably but nevertheless defensibly, not an exception to that. It is not enough to be loved; we must recognize and accept that we are loved—hopefully by family and friends and all the people whom we love, but if by no one else—and hopefully in addition to those others—then by our Father in Heaven and by a Savior who has given all for each of us.
- Recreation. This item came down to a close vote, but with an appeal to “The Proclamation” and its reference to “wholesome recreational activities,” the pro-fun faction among our young single adults won. And why not? The Lord doesn’t just make the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. He makes the sun shine on us, too (well, unless you live in the Northwest). It’s hard to imagine feeling happy in a life devoid of moments of wholesome fun and laughter and enjoying the good things of the earth.
As previously alluded to, it is important to note that there were five other items on our list, which we say are essential for the fullness of happiness which awaits us if we choose to live after the ultimate manners of happiness. These include: not only gaining a testimony, but being fully converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ; forming meaningful relationships with each member of the Godhead; making and keeping temple covenants; being humble and acquiring to their fullest extent all the attributes of Christ; and being in and contributing to a happy, successful family. Including those in our immediate list would have meant excluding large portions of our world population from being happy, which we agreed was unjustifiable and contradicted our experiences and observations. Yet we note again that there are degrees of happiness—with much available to us now and yet more later if we so live. (Of course, most of these things are available to most of right now and need not be waited for.)
Is it possible that doing things like loving better, being more diligent, and facing adversity with more faith and optimism will result in us feeling happier—just as straightforwardly as eating better and exercising more consistently will result in us being healthier? I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t one more item to add to our list, which departs a little from the physical health analogy—and that is making the choice to be happy. I doubt that a person can be happy solely by choosing to be while ignoring things like those we’ve listed; but it does seem possible for a person to do a lot of things right yet lack the willingness to let themselves experience being happy.
Joseph Smith said, “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.” Clearly happiness is within the ability of each of us to experience in the short-term. Perhaps if we are not, we just need to adjust one or more of a few basic happiness-related habits in our lives.
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. ;-)
The question of whether I believe in the devil has long seemed interesting to me. I remember walking down a street in Hamburg, Germany, knocking on doors with Elder Barton one day and asking him if he had a testimony of Satan. He looked at me as if wondering what he would ever do with his greenie (we actually called new missionaries “goldens” in my mission) and I said, “Well, if we have a testimony of God and of the doctrine of the Church, we must have a testimony that Satan is actually a real, live, specific person.” He agreed.
While I do, indeed, believe in the doctrine of the Church and that Satan is real, I’m honestly not all that certain what to think about his influence in my life or in the lives of others. I think there’s a lot of it, to be sure, but I don’t understand how direct it is. That is, I don’t understand how directly he or his Screwtape-like minions (and I do think he is not alone) influence events or circumstances or my thoughts and feelings. How directly do they create temptation? How directly do they mess with my thinking, understanding, and vision? At any rate, I am sure he exists. I am sure there is evil in this world and other places and that he is the author of much of it. And I am sure that “he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”
A few days ago I was asked to consider methods Satan uses to deceive us. I misunderstood my assignment a little and, instead, started creating a list of lies he gets us to buy into. Here is the list I’ve come up with. If I think of more, I’ll probably come back and add them. If you think of other important ones before I do, please shoot me your thoughts. (By the way, with a nod to “full disclosure,” I’ll tell you I keep hearing the Thompson Twins singing “lies, lies, lies, yeah” in my head when I think about this. Perhaps that is one way Satan gets into my head. ;-)
- I’m unworthy to receive God’s help. I am so bad or I’ve done so many bad things that God either can’t or won’t help me. The saving grace of the Atonement is beyond my reach and hope. That is never true for any of us, but if Satan loves to do anything, it is to extinguish hope. For that reason alone, we ought to embrace optimism and shun pessimism. (Not to make light of an important subject, but Mariners fans know this intuitively, even though the aspiration of our hopes remains unrealized.)
- The fact that I can repent later makes it more acceptable for me to sin now. Well. It is true that our sins, though scarlet and crimson, shall be as white as snow. (And it is true that Ute fans are Ute fans in spite of the clear association—and biblical warning, even—between crimson and sin.) But that “shall” is conditioned upon the state of our heart, and hearts that choose to make a mockery of the Savior’s suffering will find the road to a legitimately broken heart and contrite spirit difficult to find. “White as snow” can always happen (see #1 above) but not without sincerity from us—which sincerity, once brushed aside, will be all the harder to achieve later.
- Tolerance is a virtue, so the more of it, the better. If I do not show tolerance for things other people say I should show tolerance for, I am wrong and un-Christ-like. Tolerance is a virtue. So are patience and acceptance and compassion and understanding. We ought to have all of those things, at least to some degree (perhaps there’s a limit with acceptance) with regards to people. But not with people’s actions or words. In fact, nobody in their right mind thinks that literally all behaviors should be tolerated. The lie is that if I don’t accept the same behaviors that others accept, then I’m bad. But Christianity in its best forms has always rejected popular behaviors that depart from God’s plan and His commandments. Good is good and evil is evil. Ours is to understand how God sees them and to be as generous with people as appropriate.
- This problem will never be fixed. My spouse or child will never change. I’ll never change. This circumstance will never improve. Satan loves to mess with our perspective. One of his best tools is to extinguish hope through short-term thinking and a distraction from what should be a long-term, even eternal, perspective. People do change. Usually slowly, but they can and do change. (Surely I change—at least for the better—mostly slowly of all!) Circumstances do change. Some problems go away on their own; some we can fix; most can be endured. My wise pharmacologist father used to tell us that 90-something percent of all physical ailments will fix themselves no matter what you take, so think twice before introducing medicines with inevitable side-effects into your body. Patience, hope, and endurance are virtues for us to embrace. And they are well justified. Just wait and see.
- Men and women are the same—or, at least, they should be. Manly men should be less manly. Women should be more manly. There are no true gender roles. There isn’t even gender—or, at least, it’s whatever I want it to be. Yikes. Vive la difference, I say. And so does God. At least, He does if you believe in living prophets, the plan of salvation, and the Proclamation to the World. Check, check, and check for me (even if the six-hour version of Pride and Prejudice is in my list of top movies). Man up, men. Woman up, women.
- He (or she) did that on purpose! Some years ago, I sat through two days of corporate training on “Crucial Conversations.” (Interestingly, it was conducted by a woman who just knows I’m going to hell because of my false (her word) form of Christianity. Bless her heart, her prayers, love, and caring for me are so sincere! My sincere assurances to her that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and that I believe I can only be saved by and through his grace bring her no relief.) Anyway, all I remember from those two days is that we hear people say things and/or see them do things and then we tell ourselves stories—often negative stories that fuel our anger—about what that person meant or what their bad intentions were or about how they wanted to hurt us. Truth is, people are generally good, they’re generally trying, they usually don’t want to hurt us, and we’re just plain wrong about ascribing negativity to them. Too often, unfortunately, that doesn’t stop us from sharing our (mis)interpretations about other people’s badness with anyone who will provide a sympathetic ear, so we get a second dose of positive reinforcement for our self-deception to go along with our sense of victimized indignation.
- The Church has in it sinners, posers, and self-righteous hypocrites, so it must be a bad place. Further, Church leaders have said erroneous and, occasionally, stupid things, so the Church’s authority must be hollow. In my mind, this is akin to saying that since hospitals are full of sick people and doctors frequently mistaken, then hospitals and are bad and doctors have nothing to offer. (By the way, teenagers often do something similar with their parents: my parents are flawed parents so I’ll do well to distance myself from them.) Truth is, “they that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.” We’re all sick and the more of us sick people who get together in search of real healing, the better. That men are fallible ought not be a shock to our naiveté. Moroni, himself, acknowledged this as he closed the Book of Mormon: “If there be faults, they be the faults of a man…” but he warned, “he that condemneth, let him be aware.” Let us reject neither the hospital nor, too broadly, those practicing medicine within it. (And, regarding those practitioners, see #6.)
- Women are sexual creatures. I’m half shaking with fear and half chuckling at my foolishness for broaching a topic here I don’t know how to wisely articulate, but here goes. Of course, all human beings are sexual creatures to some extent or Adam and Eve would have been the end of it. And sexuality varies in healthy ways between genders and individuals. But. Satan is the master of the half-truth. Young women, often ill-equipped to even perceive Satan’s marketing tactics, are taught to sexualize their look and behavior and to view modesty (in appearance and behavior) as passé. Some mature women have gotten so much positive reinforcement (from men and women) from immodesty that they still don’t see the problem with it. And boys and men are living in a virtual swamp of fantasy about how women want sex all the time just like they do. Everybody loses. I suspect we need mothers to explain the female view of sexuality more clearly and effectively to their children (and perhaps to their husbands—who ought to try hard to understand).
- This will make me feel better. Addiction. He’s really good at this one! And, as is so often the case, he’s half right. Nephi described Satan’s method: “He leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.” Indeed. As I have come to understand addiction (and, as on every other topic, including that last one, I’m no expert, I know), most addictions, chemical or sexual, are inspired by a desire to avoid, cover, or replace pain. Unfortunately, as the man in black, lying limp and helpless, said, nay, shouted to Prince Humperdinck too correctly, “Life is pain!” So our desires for relief can be strong and frequent. The real lie is in believing that there isn’t a better way to handle life’s pain or that life, itself, can’t be made better through other means. The real solution is in finding the real source of pain and addressing it emotionally and spiritually. Easier to say than to do, to be sure. Addicts (a term which may describe you and me more than we care to acknowledge) should be granted patience and very consistent support.
- A little breeze is good; I really don’t need to lean into it. (This one was inspired—post original publication—by alert reader, Jim Golden. Thanks, Jim!) Most of us are probably ready and willing to stand up to substantial, obvious adversity when it comes our way, but Satan can sometimes get us to drop our guard by convincing us that things are going well enough and a little relaxation won’t hurt. “I’ve said my prayers 12 days in a row; it won’t hurt any if I skip them now when I’m so tired.” Or, “My family knows I have a testimony; I don’t really need to bear it again publicly this year.” While it is true that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up to excess over our shortcomings, it is essential that we maintain a constant striving for progress and not let our guard down—and keep leaning into the wind, so to speak. Cliché, maybe, but it seems true: if we’re not progressing we’re regressing. Getting us to relax out of comfort can win the same effect for Satan as getting us to give up from discouragement.
I am convinced that truth isn’t just nice and doesn’t just help provide fairness and justice. It is essential to happiness. Living “after the manner of happiness” includes seeing and dealing with things the way they really are. The Savior spoke, when he spoke of motes and beams, of the necessity to “see clearly.” Life gets really unhappy when we lose our vision or it becomes blurred by lies and half-truths.
Some of the ways that I can tell that I am seeing clearly include seeing myself as being acceptable and OK while needing significant improvement; seeing others as good people trying hard and dealing with their own pain; seeing God as willing—and He is much more than that—to embrace not only me but those I’ve taken offense from; seeing his commandments (such a tough word for us sometimes!) as guard rails along the proverbial road of (not to) happiness; and being optimistic. Almost always, when I am unhappy, it is, at least in part, because I am not seeing something clearly.