A Sacrament Meeting Talk

30 July 2006

 

Be Happy

 

            The prophet Nephi taught, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”[1] Nephi also taught that Satan “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”[2] I’d like to share some thoughts today about just how we go about surrendering ourselves to happiness or to misery. I’ll be borrowing somewhat from Elder Wirthlin’s talk from the April, 2006 General Conference titled, “The Abundant Life”.

            When we first came to this earth as little babies, we were perfect and without sin. The glory of heaven trailed after us as we began our new life without any cares or concerns. And even if the circumstances of our first few hours or days would have been a cause for concern to a grown person, we remained blissfully unaware. Babies desire only warmth, a little food and some of our time. And that was all we needed to be happy back then. So, what happened?

            The short answer is, the world happened. As we grew up we saw that others had more than we did, and we wanted what they had. So envy became our first source of self-imposed misery. As life went on our desires began to include wanting more and more, as in greed and gluttony, along with the doubt and worry that we might not get it, or that what we had acquired might be taken away. We learned anger toward anyone who threatened what we had or what we wanted, and we developed a sense of entitlement – the feeling that we deserved whatever it was that we wanted, regardless of whether or not it came at the expense of others. We rejected people, things or ideas that stood contrary to our greed or envy, and tried to exercise dominion over others in order to better secure our desires unto ourselves. And even after spending our whole working lives in acquiring things, we found ourselves dissatisfied, unfulfilled and unhappy.

            Marvin J. Ashton explained this phenomenon well when he said, “You can never get enough of the things you don’t need, because the things you don’t need can never satisfy.” Each one of these principles of misery (envy, greed, gluttony, doubt, worry, anger, entitlement, rejection, dominion) is invited into our lives by ourselves. When I say that we surrender ourselves to misery, I don’t mean that we want to be miserable, but that we practice one or more of these principles that naturally lead to misery. These principles go by many cleverly disguised names, but if you are willing to strip away the attractive veneer, you can always see them for what they are — an invitation to misery.

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            So, as the first principle of misery is envy, so the first principle of happiness is gratitude. On that, all the other principles of happiness stand, and without it, they crumble and fall. All the devil’s instruments of misery fail against the grateful heart.

 

A story is told from the life of two women named Betsy and Corrie ten Boom who lived in Holland during World War 2. To paraphrase the story related in the book “The Hiding Place”, they were arrested for helping to hide Jews from the Nazis. Eventually, they ended up in a concentration camp in Germany named Ravensbruck. Somehow they had been able to smuggle a small bible in with them, but to be caught with it would mean that they would be punished and lose their little bible and the small comforts it brought them. Ravensbruck was a large camp with several oversized barracks where hundreds of prisoners were housed in each one. During the day, they doubled as work houses. When Betsy and Corrie were first brought to their barracks and shown to their sleeping platform, they climbed onto it with its moldy, foul-smelling straw, and awaited further instructions. Suddenly, Corrie felt something pinch her leg. “Fleas!” she cried, and she and Betsy scrambled from the platform to a narrow shaft of light where they might see better. Corrie cried, “Here! And here another one! Betsy, how can we live in such a place.” Betsy replied, “Show us. Show us how.” She spoke so matter of factly it took Corrie a few seconds to realize that she was praying.

            She then excitedly spoke to Corrie saying, “Corrie, He’s given us the answer. Before we asked, as He always does! In the bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again.” Corrie opened their little bible to 1st Thessalonians and read, “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone, see that none of you repays evil with evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” Betsy then told Corrie that that was how they could stand to live in such a place; by giving thanks for every single thing about their new barracks. Betsy began listing things they were thankful for.

            “We have been assigned here together. We have our bible that we can share with the others here. The women are crowded close together, so many more will be able to hear.” Then Betsy thanked God for the fleas.

            Corrie decided that was too much. “Betsy, there’s no way even God can make me thankful for a flea.” Betsy reminded her, “give thanks in all circumstances. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” Corrie went along, but was sure that this time, Betsy was wrong.

            Some weeks went by with Betsy working in the workhouse knitting socks for the army and Corrie assigned to outside work detail. They received some measure of peace in the evenings when they could share the scriptures with the other women, though they lived in constant fear of being found out.

            One day when Corrie came back from work detail, Betsy was waiting for her. She said, “You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in our barracks when other barracks were subject to constant supervision and inspections. I found out why! This afternoon, we had some confusion about sock sizes and we asked the supervisor to come in and settle it. But neither she nor the guards would step through the door. The supervisor said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’” The fleas proved to be the blessing that protected them.

           

            Gratitude is a strange thing. It refuses to follow the wisdom or rules of the world. Gratitude opens our eyes. Miracles happen through gratitude. It is a gift that costs so little to give, and yet enriches lives beyond measure.

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            When our hearts are filled with gratitude it becomes far easier to say, “What I have is enough for me to be happy.” This temperance is another principle of happiness. Alma the younger once wished that he could be an angel and cry repentance with the voice of thunder. But he immediately realized that his wish was a sin. Not because it was a wicked desire, but because “I aught to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.”[3] Our Heavenly Father provides a great variety and abundance to us. There is no need to glut ourselves on any one thing.

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            Acceptance is another principle of happiness, both being accepted as well as accepting others, or any good thing for that matter. God certainly had the power to create a separate world for each one of us to come to, but He put us all on the same world for a purpose.

           

            If nobody smiled and nobody cheered and nobody helped us along;

            If every man looked after himself and good things all went to the strong;

            If nobody cared just a little for you, and nobody thought about me

            And we all stood alone in the battle of life, what a dreary old world this would be!

 

            Life is sweet because of the friends we’ve made. All things in common we share.

            We want to live on, not because of ourselves, but because of the people who care.

            It’s giving and doing for somebody else – on that all life’s splendor depends;

            And the joy of the world when you sum it all up, is formed in the making of friends.

           

            Reach out and give the gift of acceptance; and accept the good gifts from others in return.

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            Have hope, brothers and sisters, for that is another principle of happiness. Believe that things will work out for your good, no matter how unpleasant they might be at the moment. The scriptures abound with hope, and I urge you to always look to them to learn more of the great hope we have in Jesus Christ and the life God has given to us.

            One of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s darkest hours is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 121. There, Joseph cried to the Lord about his and his people’s afflictions at the hands of wicked men. The Lord replied there and in a few other places not far removed, “...peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; (D&C 121:7) And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, ... if thou be cast into the deep; ... if fierce winds become thine enemy ... and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; ... know thou, ... that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:7) And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high... (D&C 121:8) Therefore, hold on thy way... (D&C 122:9) for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God. (D&C 101:16) Let us have hope that in our own adversities we will gain knowledge and experience that will help us in our own futures or allow us to help others.

            But beware the enemy of hope – which is worry. Back in the ‘80s a songwriter named Bobby McFarin wrote a song in the Jamaican style titled “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. In it, he sang the words, “In every life we have some trouble, But when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy.” There’s some wisdom in those words. Worrying never solved any problem; it just adds another problem on top of the first. We have to either work to solve the problem, or leave it in God’s hands when there isn’t anything we can do. There is a poem that reads,

 

            As children bring their broken toys with tears for us to mend,

            I brought my broken dreams to God because He was my friend.

            But then instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone,

            I hung around and tried to help with ways that were my own.

            At last I snatched them back and cried, “How could you be so slow!”

            “My child,” He said, “what could I do? You never did let go.”

 

            Let go of your worries. Let go of your broken dreams. Let go, and let God. Christ wasn’t just waxing poetic when He said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yolk is easy and my burden is light.”[4]

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            The Lord’s yolk is obedience, which is another principle of happiness. “Aha!” you’re probably thinking. “Brother Clyde, I’ve caught you in a fib. I’ve never been happy when someone was bossing me around, making me do things I didn’t want to do.” Well, that very statement holds the reason for your unhappiness with obedience: “I don’t want to.”

            Brother Paul H. Dunn related a story about and old fox hunter. The fox hunter had been extremely successful, but he finally decided to retire and go south for the winters.

            Before he left for his first winter in a warmer climate, an energetic young man came to him and asked how to become as successful as the old hunter. He offered to buy the old man’s shop, his hunting rights, and even his secrets for successfully hunting foxes. The old hunter agreed; he sold the young man all his goods and carefully told him all the secrets to his great hunting success.

            When the old man returned in the spring, he sought out the young man and asked how his first season as a fox hunter had been. Discouraged, the young man admitted that he had not caught a single fox. The old man pressed further: had he followed the instructions given him? “Well, no,” answered the young man. “I found a better way.”[5]

 

            Failure to follow the instructions of those who know leads to failure, small or great. What we sometimes think of as success can be just another form of failure if we forget what we should be doing. Your parents, church leaders and God are trying to tell you how to avoid misery and find happiness. When you choose to be obedient, you will find yourself making far fewer mistakes and you’ll be happier. And then you will come to want to be obedient.

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            One of Satan’s great lies to each of us is, “You don’t have time for that!” He doesn’t try to get us to reject good outright, because he has seen too often that it merely strengthens the resolve of his victims. So instead, he simply fills our lives with meaningless things to crowd out the good we might otherwise do. We have become afraid to do even a small kindness out of fear that it might obligate us to do more. Yet, kindness is another principle of happiness. The Dali Lama once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Saying you’re too busy to show kindness is the same as saying you’re too busy to be happy. Don’t listen to the voice that says, “You don’t have time for that!”

            So, who is deserving of your kindness? Your family? Sadly, this one is the most obvious and the most often neglected. Your friends? Strangers who are good people? Should we be kind to strangers we might look down on for whatever reason? In discussing the commandment to love thy neighbor, Christ was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” whereupon He related the parable of the Good Samaritan. The question was not a new one, and was often discussed among the lawyers and rabbis of the day. And the answer was all too obvious to them; their neighbor was, of course, another jew. The lawyer had asked his question in order to define a specific limitation on who his neighbor was, when in fact, no limitation existed. So, in the Lord’s parable, a Samaritan, a people who were despised by the jews, showed kindness to a jew who was ignored and avoided by his own people. Who is your neighbor and what should you do for them?

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            With kindness comes mercy, another principle of happiness. It is said that the man who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he, himself must pass. A grudge is a heavy burden to carry. How often do we justify ourselves in taking offense one with another? We harbor a grudge over an action or a word or a slight, intentional or otherwise, and thereby rob ourselves; for you cannot hold a man down without staying down there with him. Could those who engineered Christ's death have treated him any worse? Could they have caused him greater physical suffering than by whipping and beating him and tearing his flesh with thorny branches? Could they have caused him greater humiliation, even the Son of God, than to mock him and spit upon him and force him to carry his own instrument of execution through the streets? Could it have hurt him more than to have even his friends sleep through his greatest hour of need, and then abandon him completely, leaving him to stand alone among his enemies? Yet even in the midst of this, Jesus prayed "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." All disciples of Christ are likewise required to forgive, and even to beg the Lord to forgive those who have wronged us.

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            Brothers and sisters, if Gratitude is the foundation of happiness, and Temperance, Acceptance, Hope, Obedience, Kindness and Mercy are its pillars, then Truth is the roof that covers our happiness and protects it from the elements the world would hurl at it. The roof helps hold the pillars together, just as Truth binds the principles of happiness together to form a whole that is stronger than the sum of its parts.

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            I testify to you that our Heavenly Father wants us to be happy, and that the Great Deceiver wants us to be miserable. Satan accomplishes his aims by presenting us with the tools to make ourselves miserable, thereby winning a double victory. Once again, the tools that help us to build our own personal road to misery are: envy, greed, gluttony, doubt, worry, anger, entitlement, rejection and dominion. Filling your life with the good things of God will crowd out not only wickedness, but also the meaningless little things that waste so much of our time. We need to be about the business of happiness so we can press forward the great plan of our Heavenly Father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Additional Notes:

 

            There will be times that we will have sorrow. And that sorrow will displace our happiness for a time, but it won’t destroy it unless we allow it to do so. Even in our times of overwhelming sorrow we can hold on to the seeds of our happiness until we find fertile ground in which to plant them again.

 

 

Principles of Happiness

            Gratitude

            Acceptance

            Hope

            Obedience

            Kindness

            Mercy

            Truth

 

 

 

Principles of Misery

            Entitlement

            Rejection

            Despair

            Doubt & Worry

            Anger

            Jealousy

            Gluttony & Greed

            Envy

Dominion

           

 



[1] 2 Nephi 2:25

[2] 2 Nephi 2:27

[3] Alma 29:1-4

[4] Matthew 11:28-30

[5] Seek the Happy Life, Paul H. Dunn, Bookcraft, 1985, p. 131