Monday, July 20, 2015

The Haunting Quest for Happiness

A few days ago, I received a note from a good friend, who said, “This happiness thing is haunting me, tracking me and beating me upside the head.” I was reminded of my own quest for happiness. About six months after we moved to Illinois, I fell into a funk, and for the past 5 years or so I have embarked on an on again, off again quest to learn how to be consistently happy. We are all but commanded to be happy, and I felt I was failing at that. I have not, as yet, succeeded in becoming consistently happy, but I have learned a great deal in the process of reaching toward my goal.

I grew up hearing about what members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints call the Plan of Salvation. I can draw the missionary diagram of the pre-earth life, the veil of forgetfulness, mortal life, death and the kingdoms of glory. This is, after all, God’s grand plan for us, the one that answers the universal questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going after this life? It has only been in recent years that I hear the plan referred to more frequently as the “Plan of Happiness.” For me, that brings a rather different perspective.

The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi condensed the plan beautifully into a simple sentence. In 2 Nephi 2:25, we read his words. “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.” There it is, the purpose of life! God prepared his glorious plan and put everything in motion–continues to guide the details–so that we might have joy. That is awesome!

And yet, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? God allows wars and debilitating physical and mental illness, addictions, abuse, job loss, money worries, family strife and a host of other ills. Not all of these come as the result of our bad choices. Is the plan flawed? Was Lehi misinformed? Are we failing, or have we somehow disappointed God so that He turns His back in disgust?

The God I know does not make promises or pronouncements lightly, and He does not ever give up on His children. So…no, the plan is perfect and real. God does intend for us to have joy. Maybe, then, I need to better understand the plan and what God means by the phrase “men are that they might have joy.”

I was reminded of a key part of the plan when I went to the movies with my daughter this week. It is remarkable what nuggets of truth one can find in a Disney movie! We watched Inside Out and gained a rather charming lesson that joy and sadness work hand in hand and actually complement each other. Lehi describes it this way in earlier in 2 Nephi chapter 2:

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.”

Yes, God allows death and destruction and other terrible things. Even Satan, with all of his opposition, is part of the plan of happiness. In day to day terms, depression is NOT failure, and I do not need to be happy every day in order to live a joyful life. In fact, the sad days deepen my understanding and appreciation of the joy.

An Ensign article from a few years ago reminds me of a second key element of the plan. Marcus Nash tells us that:

“In order to have joy, you need to understand that, as a child of your Heavenly Father, you inherited divine traits and spiritual needs—and just like a fish needs water, you need the gospel and the companionship of the Holy Ghost to be truly, deeply happy.”

I have realized, these last few years, that the two things that affect my happiness more than anything else are my relationship with God and my relationship with my family. Feeling the Spirit and focusing on my family give me an anchor and a peace that lifts my soul. Conversely, when I neglect my prayers and spiritual study, when I make choices that inhibit my ability to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, or when we have conflict in the family, my happiness ebbs.

I have learned other lessons during my time here in Illinois that contribute in one way or another to my understanding of the plan of happiness. Here are a few of those:

  • I have learned the vital importance of basic pleasantries. I am amazed at what effect a simple smile can have or how uplifting it can be to ask someone how they are and actually listen to the answer. 
  • I have learned how important it is not to define ourselves or others by a single characteristic. No one needs to be known primarily as the person with anxiety, the addict, the person with a weight problem or the person who doesn’t go to church much. Each of us has so much more to offer than a body type or a condition or something we struggle with. Most often it is we who limit ourselves by these labels.
  • In relation to the above: everyone has something to offer, some way they shine. Our annoying qualities or habits do not cancel out our ability to do good. Look for the gems that those around you have to offer. Look for the things they can teach you.
  • When I make an effort to express genuine gratitude to God and to those around me, it brings joy.
  • Forgiveness is essential and opens the doors to relationships that enrich our lives. This is true in marriage, true in friendships and true in our service. My husband, my children, and many of you in the ward have taught me this principle by forgiving me, even when that has been difficult for you to do. Thank you.
  • The faith gained is worth the trials that built it. We cannot be afraid of adversity. When we are doing our best to follow the truths and commandments we’ve been given—even if we are far from perfect—we can trust that the Lord’s blessings will be there when we need them.
  • Be bold when inspired to be bold, and be silent when inspired to be silent.
  • Valuable friendships come in many flavors. Some last a lifetime, and some last only a few hours or a few days. The duration of the friendship or the time you spend together does not necessarily indicate the importance of that friendship in your life.

And finally, happiness is a spiritual gift worth seeking. I was struck, while reading the Book of Mormon, by the experiences of Ammon, one of the sons of Mosiah. You will remember Ammon as the missionary who gained favor with King Lamoni by cutting off the arms of those who came to steal the king’s sheep. On more than one occasion, Ammon was so overcome by joy that he fainted. I sensed that his joy was a spiritual gift and a significant factor in Ammon’s success as a missionary. The things he said and did uplifted those around him. He loved the people he served, and he loved to serve God. This joy was evident to the people, and they responded to it. We learn in Alma 27:18 that Ammon’s joy is “a joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.” That would suggest that Ammon worked hard to be joyful, even in difficult circumstances. That would also suggest that I, too, should continue to seek to live a joyful life, and that I need to remember that happiness, like faith and like marriage, needs continual nurturing.

5 comments:

  1. I always love your thoughts. Thank you for sharing them here today. I hope that the final push in this time of transition before you are reunited as a family out west is filled with the bittersweet joy of goodbyes and the happyjoy of hellos. Thank you so much for your note. You are the greatest! xo

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  2. I needed that today, thank you!

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  3. I needed that today, thank you!

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