happiness road sign

Happiness: The universal quest

A talk by Pete Codella for high council speaking Sunday in December 2015 (learn more here). Much of this talk comes from the resources on lds.org noted below.

We’re taught by Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, very succinctly about the purpose of living here on earth: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).

My assignment this month is to address joy and happiness, and our personal and collective quest for such.

Elder Costa, in October 2002, shared an observation and lesson he learned one Sunday while attempting to find the chapel for worship services in Bogota, Colombia — a new area where he had been assigned to serve.

He stopped at a neighborhood park to ask directions and noticed the children, their faces flushed from running, playing and warm sunlight. They were friendly and truly having fun.

Elder Costa thought back to the time when he was baptized and truly happy, and a conversation he had with a friend:

An old friend of mine came to me and asked what I had found so different there. I answered, “I have found true happiness.” To which he replied, “There is no such thing as true happiness — only happy moments.”

I understand that my good friend did not know the difference between fun and happiness. What he called “happy moments” were in fact the moments when he had fun. What he did not know then was that happiness is much more than just fun. Fun is just a fleeting moment, but happiness is a lasting thing.

Many people in this world do not understand the difference between fun and happiness. Many try to find happiness having fun, but the two words have different meanings.

Fun is play, pleasure, gaiety, merriment, source of enjoyment, amusement, to behave playfully, playful, often a noisy activity, and teasing. Happiness is contentedness, joy, delight, and satisfaction” (Fun and Happiness, Claudio Costa, October 2002 General Conference).

This story reminds me of another scripture: “…wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).

The world tries to find happiness in fun activities. While they can bring fleeting joy, those activities don’t compare to the happiness of living a gospel-centered life.

We know that true happiness is obtained by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, and not through any other counterfeit or forced way.

Do we consider, as we live each day and make the many choices contained therein, that our agency is the currency to happiness, and that choosing obedience binds the Lord and brings true happiness?

In our quest for happiness and joy, here are few recommendations and things to remember:

1. Learn to love your church calling

That may seem a strange suggestion. Here’s why it’s not…

Service is balm for the soul. And there’s no better, no more worthy or worthwhile cause than serving in the Lord’s church. Professional, philanthropic and personal pursuits, although a potentially good use of our time, aren’t the same as being yoked with the Savior in bringing about the immortality and eternal life of men and women (Moses 1:39).

Loving your calling is a choice. Remember President Hinckley’s father’s advice to lose himself as a missionary and go to work? Our callings may not be easy, they may require plenty of hard work. They should stretch us. As we dedicate our time and energy, our callings can become invigorating.

Learn to accept adversity. Develop a habit of saying pleasant rather than negative things. Learn to always rely on the Savior and the enabling power of His atonement.

Embracing and loving your church calling is a model for life, for accepting the Lord’s hand in your present situation and in every role you play.

If, by chance, you find it difficult to love your calling, perhaps if you focus on loving the people you are called to labor with, or serve, that will help you, in turn, love your calling.

I’m convinced we’re given opportunities to serve in the church at the right time in our progression and just as much for our own welfare as for the welfare of those we are called to serve.

If we love our brothers and sisters, and think of them when we’re performing our service, we will, in turn, grow to love the opportunity to serve.

2. Live in the present

Don’t live in the past, or the future. Live and honor the covenants you’ve made, at the time of your baptism and/or in the temple.

In 2003, President Monson taught:

Learn from the past, prepare for the future, live in the present.

Sometimes we let our thoughts of tomorrow take up too much of today. Daydreaming of the past and longing for the future may provide comfort but will not take the place of living in the present. This is the day of our opportunity, and we must grasp it.

Professor Harold Hill, in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, cautioned: “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays.”

There is no tomorrow to remember if we don’t do something today, and to live most fully today, we must do that which is of greatest importance. Let us not procrastinate those things which matter most….

The old adage “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” is doubly important when it comes to expressing our love and affection — in word and in deed — to family members and friends. Said author Harriet Beecher Stowe, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone” (In Search of Treasure, President Monson, April 2003 General Conference).

3. There is no rest stop along the strait and narrow path

The trek is constant. We’re either going forward or losing ground. No loitering is allowed.

The road of life isn’t laid out in an unobstructed view before each of us on our journey. We should anticipate forks and turns in the road. And we should pursue our path in persistence, purposefully, with an eye on our ultimate destination — living eternally with our Father in Heaven.

Remember this interaction from Alice in Wonderland?

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

We know where we want to go. Do we have the resolution, even the faithfulness, to get there? President Tanner answered this question in his own mind when he declared: “I would rather walk barefoot from here to the celestial kingdom … than to let the things of this world keep me out.”

A favorite poem of President Monson’s gives us this challenge:

Stick to your task ’til it sticks to you;
Beginners are many, but enders are few.
Honor, power, place and praise
Will come, in time, to the one who stays.
Stick to your task ’til it sticks to you;
Bend at it, sweat at it, smile at it too;
For out of the bend and the sweat and the smile
Will come life’s victories, after awhile.

Here’s counsel from President Uchtdorf shared in general priesthood meeting six years ago:

…retirement is not part of the Lord’s plan of happiness. There is no sabbatical or retirement program from priesthood responsibilities—regardless of age or physical capacity. While the phrase “been there, done that” may work as an excuse to avoid skateboarding, decline the invitation for a motorbike ride, or bypass the spicy curry at the buffet, it is not an acceptable excuse for avoiding covenant responsibilities to consecrate our time, talents, and resources in the work of the kingdom of God.

There may be those who, after many years of Church service, believe they are entitled to a period of rest while others pull the weight. To put it bluntly, brethren, this sort of thinking is unworthy of a disciple of Christ. A great part of our work on this earth is to endure joyfully to the end — every day of our life” (Two Principles for Any Economy, President Uchtdorf, October 2009 General Conference).

4. Each of us is a runner in the race of life

Let us remember the advice from Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,” but to they who “endure to the end.” The Apostle Paul further counseled: “They which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize. … So run, that ye may obtain.”

In the private sanctuary of one’s own conscience lies that spirit, that determination, to cast off the old person and to measure up to the stature of true potential. But the way is rugged and the course is strenuous. So discovered John Helander from Göteborg, Sweden. John is twenty-six years of age and is handicapped, in that it is difficult for him to coordinate his motions.

At a youth conference in Kungsbacka, Sweden, John took part in an 800-meter running race. He had no chance to win. Rather, his was the opportunity to be humiliated, mocked, derided, scorned. Perhaps John remembered another who lived long ago and far away. Wasn’t He mocked? Wasn’t He derided? Wasn’t He scorned? But He prevailed. He won His race. Maybe John could win his.

What a race it was! Struggling, surging, pressing, the runners bolted far beyond John. There was wonderment among the spectators. Who is this runner who lags so far behind? The participants on their second lap of this two-lap race passed John while he was but halfway through the first lap. Tension mounted as the runners pressed toward the tape. Who would win? Who would place second? Then came the final burst of speed; the tape was broken. The crowd cheered; the winner was proclaimed.

The race was over—or was it? Who is this contestant who continues to run when the race is ended? He crosses the finish line on but his first lap. Doesn’t the foolish lad know he has lost? Ever onward he struggles, the only participant now on the track. This is his race. This must be his victory. No one among the vast throng of spectators leaves. Every eye is on this valiant runner. He makes the final turn and moves toward the finish line. There is awe; there is admiration. Every spectator sees himself running his own race of life. As John approaches the finish line, the audience, as one, rises to its feet. There is a loud applause of acclaim.

Stumbling, falling, exhausted but victorious, John Helander breaks the newly tightened tape. Officials are human beings, too. The cheering echoes for miles. And just maybe, if the ear is carefully attuned, that Great Scorekeeper—even the Lord—can be heard to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Each of us is a runner in the race of life. Comforting is the fact that there are many runners. Reassuring is the knowledge that our Eternal Scorekeeper is understanding. Challenging is the truth that each must run. But you and I do not run alone. That vast audience of family, friends, and leaders will cheer our courage, will applaud our determination as we rise from our stumblings and pursue our goal. The race of life is not for sprinters running on a level track. The course is marked by pitfalls and checkered with obstacles.

We take confidence from the hymn:

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, …
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand. …
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, …
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

Let us shed any thought of failure. Let us discard any habit that may hinder. Let us seek; let us obtain the prize prepared for all, even exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God (Happiness—The Universal Quest, President Monson, October 1993 Ensign).

5. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years

Elder Haight shared some thoughts from an author about growing old:

Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only by deserting their ideals, their faith. There is always the love of wonder, a childlike appetite for what is next, and the joy of your life. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear or despair.

In the center of our heart is a recording chamber, and so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage, and faith, so long are we young” (Ensign, Nov. 1983, p. 25).

How blessed are we to be part of a rapidly expanding church that teaches beauty, hope, cheer, courage, faith, and happiness that enable us to stay young at heart through faithful service in whatever calling we may have.

To recap, Elder de Jager says:

I have maintained a cheerful disposition through these positive ideas:

  • Learn to love the calling that you have in the Church. You can learn to love it so much it becomes invigorating.
  • Learn to be satisfied. It is just as easy as being dissatisfied—and much more pleasant.
  • Learn to accept adversity. No matter who you are or where you serve, you are going to have some.
  • But do not fear the winds of adversity. Remember, a kite rises against the wind, rather than with it!
  • Get in the habit of saying pleasant things rather than making negative remarks.
  • Live the present moment to the hilt, and do not live in the past or in the future. Success is a journey, not a destination.
  • Live and honor the covenants that you made at the time of your baptism and in the temple.

And when you have reached the age of seventy, you must resist the urge to straighten out everybody’s affairs and admit occasionally that you might be mistaken (Service and Happiness, Elder de Jager, October 1993 General Conference).

As someone probably most of us have read about or watched portrayed in the movies has said:

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light” (Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter).

Jesus Christ is the light of the world. We can always turn to him for light, for answers to prayer and for an example of how to live.

The Prophet Joseph Smith captured our true feelings when he declared:

“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.”

So let us all walk in these clearly defined paths to increase our happiness.


In Search of Treasure, President Monson, October 2003 General Conference
Fun and Happiness
Elder Costa, October 2002 General Conference
Happiness—The Universal Quest, President Monson, October 1993 Ensign
Service and Happiness, Elder de Jager, October 1993 General Conference

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