Spiritual Foundations of Happiness
By Darla Isackson
In the early 70s my first two sons and I were living in a roomy 5th -floor apartment in Alcala de Henares, Spain, just 11 kilometers West of Madrid. (Our apartment seemed even roomier because we had only the most essential furnishings.) My husband at the time was flying mineral and oil survey in Algeria, where conditions were not favorable for families-especially in the Sahara , the world’s largest hot desert! We saw him only when he had time off.
When his company scheduled him to fly out of Oran, a city on the eastern coast of Algeria , we were excited to join him for a few weeks! However, we could take only the things we could pack into our tiny Fiat car: one trunk full of household items, plus personal clothing and essentials.
We drove to the coast and, boarded a ferry, crossed the Mediterranean Sea, and docked in Oran. Soon we were settled in a small apartment with concrete floors, walls, and ceilings. Our building was one of the few abodes that had electricity-and running water a couple of hours a day if we were lucky. Was I unhappy with this Spartan existence? Hardly. I had one of the happiest, most carefree times of my life! So few “things” to care for, so much more time to focus on family and meaningful activities.
While living overseas we traveled a lot, and I observed many people who had almost nothing in the way of worldly goods. I was deeply impressed that most of them seemed calmer, happier, more contented, than affluent Americans. My life overseas made me question the values of our materialistic society.Sorting Out Values
I’ve lived a long time, but with the turmoil all around us and the future so uncertain, have never observed a more vivid battle between fear and faith. Most of us have already been impacted by the world financial crash-and may be impacted in the future to a much more serious degree. Who wouldn’t feel some fear about that? And how can we help from having our level of happiness affected by it all? Add the warnings we’ve been receiving to prepare for the worst and it seems vital to clearly understand and deeply internalize the values the gospel has taught all along.
Do Our Lives Need to Crash Because the Economy Crashes?
Our current American society seems built on the myth “more money provides more happiness.” That idea can lead us to believe that our that personal happiness and well-being really are dependent on a “healthy” national economy. The book, The Pursuit of Happiness, helps put that idea to rest. Professor D.G. Myers observes that money only provides an improved sense of well-being if you are hungry; once you have enough food to eat, more money makes no difference at all in your level of happiness. He said, “Today’s younger adults have grown up with more affluence, [and yet suffer] more depression, and more marital and family misery.” 1
Research validates what we’ve really known all along: happiness does not depend on external conditions at all. Lykken, another credible scholar, records his findings that “happiness is largely unrelated to income level or educational attainment, to social status, or to whether one is married or single.” 2
The truth is that happiness has little to do with what we have and lots to do with our level of righteousness and the satisfaction we receive from contributing. Lykken says: “Productive activity is one of the most dependable sources of human happiness . . . the mainstay of any happiness diet is productive effort, developing and exercising skills, doing something that needs doing.” 3
Hard times can offer many opportunities for contributing. My friend Becky said, “My Mom told me that the depression drew her neighborhood together to meet everyone’s needs. One woman baked bread, another raised chickens, my Grandpa was good at fixing broken items and soleless shoes. My Grandma was good at sewing, and would make warm coats for neighborhood children from rummage sale coats cast off by the wealthy and would knit and crochet scarves and hats to go with them. Maybe we will learn to pull together, too!”
Wallace Goddard adds that “happiness is more likely to be found in the workshop than in the mall. It is not surprising that latter-day revelation portrays heaven as more of a bustling workshop than a retirement community. The recommendations of prophets provide an ideal formula for happiness: be busily loving, building, and serving.” 4
Scriptures and prophets constantly remind us that happiness is a matter of choices and character. Joseph Smith said that “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.” 5
1 Nephi 8:10-11 reminds us that the love of God, symbolized by the fruit of the tree, is the most sure source of happiness. Lehi said, “And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I behold that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy.”
Can We Apply What We Know?
Even though we know and accept these truths, we may find it hard to remember and apply them to our own lives as the financial ease we’ve been accustomed to crumbles from under us.
” Take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
I don’t want to let the truths I know slip away into forgetfulness. I’ve personally experienced the firm connection between happiness, righteousness, and opportunities to serve and contribute. I also know from experience that level of income has little to do with level of happiness. Still, it’s easy to be pulled back into myths.
Is There a Connection Between Godliness and Gain?
Satan tempts us to believe that God rewards righteousness with gain. Many of us think, for example, that when we pay our tithing the windows of heaven should pour out material blessings. In my experience, spiritual blessings are more likely. We’ve seen some of the finest people experience mighty challenges financially, while other who are blatant in breaking God’s laws live in great material prosperity.
In 1 Timothy: 5-8 Paul says, “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”The Temptations that Come with Riches
Paul continues his profound discourse with these words:
“But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 5: 9-12). Paul concludes by counseling us not to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy, to do good, to be rich in good works. (verses 17-18)
It makes no spiritual sense to put our trust in the elusive goals of “financial security” or “financial independence.” The only thing worthy of our trust is the living God. The only true source of happiness is knowing we are right with God.
Turning to the scriptures, we can readily see that it is not poverty, but unrighteousness, that is most likely to rob us of happiness. “Wickedness never was happiness” ( Alma 41:10). 2 Nephi 2:13 tells us “if there be no righteousness, there be no happiness.”
Ironically, it is material abundance that most often leads to unrighteous. Consider Helaman 12:2-3: “Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One-yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.”
Americans are famous for their exceedingly great prosperity. Yet if ever a people have “forgotten the Lord their God” it is this society. We have pushed Him out of our schools, our government, our public meetings. Apostles and prophets have told us that no more wicked society has existed-even in Sodom and Gomorrah . I suspect we are ripe for the consequences listed in Helaman 12: 3: “And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.”
So, how can we be happy knowing we are on the verge of such catastrophes?
Why the Worst of Times Can Be the Best of Times
As hard times come we may actually be in for high adventure and spiritual experiences unprecedented.
As we think of scriptural precedents and church history precedents, of “bad times” we can clearly see that challenging times bring forth great opportunities for spiritual growth and amazing spiritual experiences. The hand of the Lord is most readily seen when the children of the Lord are in great jeopardy. God wouldn’t have parted the Red Sea had not the Egyptians been in hot pursuit. He wouldn’t have provided manna from heaven and water from a rock had the children of Israel not been in dire need. God wouldn’t have sent heavenly chariots if there hadn’t been a battle going on where His children were greatly outnumbered. We might even go so far as to say that the worse things get, the more the righteous have to look forward to.
Some of the Saints on the Los Angeles Temple grounds during the most frightening hours of threats and persecution in the aftermath of the passing of Proposition 8 have reported unprecedented spiritual experiences. They bear personal witness of the ministry of angels, of the Lord’s protecting hand, and of peace in the midst of chaos. The “peace that passeth all understanding” comes from the Lord in times when it is most needed. (“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:7.)
Brigham Young said:
You that have not passed through the trials and persecutions and drivings, with this people, from the beginning, but have only read of them, or heard some of them related, may think how awful they were to endure, and wonder that the Saints survived them at all. The thought of it makes your heart sink within you, your brains reel, and your bodies tremble, and you are ready to exclaim, “I could not have endured it.” I have been in the heat of it, and I never felt better in my life; I never felt the peace and power of the Almighty more copiously poured upon me than in the keenest part of our trials. They appeared nothing to me. 6
In regard to the whole world scene, let’s remember this phrase from the hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints”: “Gird up your loins, fresh courage take. Our God will never us forsake.” In the keenest part of our trials, we too can know that as long as we trust the Lord and turn to Him the Almighty will copiously pour out the peace and power we need.
1Myers, D. G. The Pursuit of Happiness, 1992, New York : William Morrow & Co., 43).
2Lykken, D. Happiness, 1999, New York : Golden Books, p. 1.
33 Happiness, 24, 83
4 H. Wallace Goddard, “Happiness-Just over the Next Hill?” Meridian Magazine, 2006
5Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 255).
6Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses , v 1, p. 313.