Brethren and sisters, are you happy? If you want to be happy, I think you’re in the right place.
I remember the words of the first counselor of the struggling little Iba branch in the Philippines. In his halting english, he declared from the pulpit, “It’s not hard to find happiness, if we’re here in the church.”
That moment stuck with me, because up until he said it, I wasn’t feeling very happy. It was the middle of summer, and the heat index in that tiny chapel was 120 degrees. The work didn’t seem to be progressing. We had just been disappointed again by investigators who had committed to attend church. But as I thought about his words, I knew that they were true. Although I was uncomfortable and disappointed, underlying those transient feelings, I felt good. I was striving to live by all that I believed to be right—even those pesky white-handbook rules that I might have otherwise taken issue with. For two years it was my privilege to live the law of consecration, where every minute of my life was laid out for me and dedicated to the work of the Lord, and I had been blessed with the attendant joy of the Lord’s work, rapid development of character, and the peace of God’s approval.
Following my mission, I was back to the everyday struggle of allocating my time. Like everyone, I still desire happiness as the return on my investment. Unfortunately, like most, I’ve found plenty of ways to waste time in various pursuits in spite of my hard-earned knowledge that abiding happiness is obtained by submitting my time to the Lord.
It is all too easy to become distracted by promises of happiness and excitement, even when they are obviously transient. Too often, we effectively spread our bets among various pursuits, hoping that one or a combination thereof will return us happiness.
To make this concept a little more concrete, imagine that you’re at a roulette table, with a stack of chips. Those chips represent your time, a limited resource. In this roulette game, you aren’t paid back in kind. A winning bet, instead of returning you additional time, increases your happiness. A losing bet decreases it. When you leave the table, you’re allowed to take with you what measure of happiness you attained.
How will you place your bets? Would you scatter around your chips and hope for the best? Perhaps you’d look to other players who seemed to be doing well and emulate their playing style? Maybe you think yourself smarter than most and you’d calculate the probabilities to maximize your expected return. That certainly seems like a rational approach when the outcomes of the bets are uncertain.
But what if there was an oracle that offered a bet guaranteed to return maximum happiness? Would that change your play? When there is a certain return of exactly what we seek, our behavior ought to change. Rather than scatter bets around on uncertain outcomes, the only rational thing to do is to go all-in on the sure thing.
Joseph Smith asserted 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” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 255), and the path is “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” (Articles of Faith 3).
Our forefather Abraham walked that path. He wrote, “finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same” (Abraham 1:2).
Abraham, in pursuit of happiness, sought the Lord, covenant blessings, and the opportunity to extend them to others. He pursued them for a typical lifetime, and at age 62, the Lord condescended to speak with him face-to-face, extending the covenant of the priesthood ministry. About this magnificent culmination of a decades of devotion, Abraham “said in [his] heart: Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee” (Abraham 2:12). What would you give for such an experience? Would you follow the path of Abraham?
Abraham and his wife, Sarai, having forsaken their homeland of Ur, spent much of their lives as nomads. They did not have the worldly securities that so many of us rely on for happiness and peace of mind. “Therefore,” said Abraham, “[as we journeyed], eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation” (Abraham 2:16).
Touching on their nomadic lifestyle, the Apostle Paul would later comment on their faith: “not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, [they] were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth...And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now, they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Hailing from our eternal home, are we not all strangers and pilgrims on the earth? Do you feel it? There have been a few moments in my life, where I have distinctly felt that, where, under a starlit night, the world seemed as if it were a soundstage, and I a stranger here—that eternity was close at hand. In those moments the cares of this world seem to melt away, and my only desire is for that heavenly country.
Within the walls of the temple, those feelings come more naturally. I remember the first time I felt them. Just prior to serving a mission, I took out my own endowments. My parents and my paternal grandparents were there on that occasion. After leaving the celestial room, the men and women parted ways to head back to the locker rooms to change back to our street clothes. On our way back, at my father’s suggestion, my father, grandfather, and I detoured into a sealing room. It was my first time stepping into one. We walked up to the altar to have a look between the facing mirrors. Without saying much, we just looked, seeing our three generations reflected back at us, and peering into past and future innumerable.
It was a powerful moment for me. To this day, after completing a session in the temple, I look for an empty sealing room on my way back to the changing room. Only recently did Elisabeth discover why it always took me so much longer to change than her. In that sacred room, I stand still with a grateful heart in awe and appreciation for the good that has come into my life. I reflect upon the sealing ordinance—how one simple moment at that altar confers the greatest attainment of any earthly existence, and in God’s mercy it is available to all. Any earthly pursuits that I might be undertaking start to pale in comparison to the pursuit of eternity, and I leave with stronger resolve to live up to the law of consecration.
Over the years, through ordinances, Abraham and Sarai entered into all the covenants available in the gospel, culminating in the sealing ordinance, where “the Lord spake these words unto [Abraham]: I will multiply thee, and thy seed after thee, like unto these; and if thou canst count the number of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds” (Abraham 3:14). In their old age, Abraham and Sarai were sealed for eternity and had the promise of eternal family and increase. But oh, how they yet longed for a child during their mortal sojourn.
Miraculously, in their old age, they were blessed with the child, Isaac, the long-promised heir to the priesthood ministry, and fulfilment of their temporal desires.
But then came the edict, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2). In one command Abraham and Sarah’s world was sent reeling. Not only would they lose their only son, but in the same diabolical way that Abraham himself had been terrorized in his youth.
“And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (Genesis 22:9-10). There Abraham was. He had covenants that he had spent a lifetime to obtain, and all his earthly hopes and dreams were wrapped up on that altar as he raised his dagger above it. Abraham was all-in, “accounting that God was able to raise [Isaac] up, even from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19).
What sacrifice might the Lord require at your hand that would put you all-in? Might it be wealth, career, peer esteem, relationships, hobbies, private or public vice? It seems that, one way or another, each of our hands will be forced. Joseph Smith observed that, “the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things” (Lectures on Faith 6:7). If we wish to have the greatest happiness now and in eternity, we must be willing to part with all.
Joseph Smith taught, “God has designed our happiness...He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 256). Why should we not be all-in in such a program? Even in the face of God’s outrageous commandment, Abraham and Sarah stayed faithful, “judg[ing] him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11).
As we all know, Abraham and Sarah passed their test. For the second time in his life, Abraham was delivered by divine intervention at an altar, and Isaac was spared. The drama that unfolded increased their understanding of and abiding joy in the Savior, and their tremendous show of faith sealed their covenants to exaltation. “Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16), referring to himself as the God of Abraham, and commending his life as one to be emulated, saying “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved” (D&C 132:32).
Abraham and Sarah are just one example. The scriptures and the lives of those around us are filled with those that have gone all-in on the gospel plan and obtained happiness. King Benjamin instructed us to “consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of neverending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41).
Should we not go all-in on happiness? What else is of greater worth unto us? That happiness is found in bringing ourselves and others to the ordinances and covenants of the gospel.
In our dispensation, the Lord has spoken unto us, “For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you...I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to...bring souls unto me” (D&C 15:4-6).
“If it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy...in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15). If nothing else, that one soul ought to be our own, and how great our joy is in the kingdom, even in our little corner of it in University Park. The kingdom is here and now. We need not long for eternity to start being happy.
“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:16). Once you’ve brought yourself, see to your family. Put your house in order. Spend your time on that which is guaranteed to yield happiness. Do not be swayed by others who seem to have obtained it with different bets. Above all avoid bets that would indebt your time without any guarantee of happiness. Every day I ride my bike into work through a garage of Teslas, but rather than worrying about making a monthly payment, I can be present to enjoy family home evening.
As your own house finds a measure of order, do what you can to find more souls. Be a friend. Be a home or visiting teacher. Magnify your calling. Reach outwards rather than inwards. Increase your joy.
I can testify that reaching out is not easy. I am a textbook introvert. It is real work to go outside myself. The aspects of Christ’s life that most appeal to me are those moments where he sought solitude to be alone with his thoughts and commune with his Father. Forty days without food and water doesn’t seem so bad if it means you get to be alone. I have to stretch much harder for the more prominent service components of his life.
One of the ways we’ve tried to reach out as a family is simply to invite people over for dinner. In our previous ward, Elisabeth and I made a goal to have a different family over for dinner each week. You can imagine the scheduling nightmares. It was real work, but we bet our time for expected happiness. It was a resounding success, and we made many dear friends. I cannot say what impact we may have had on them, but we are certainly happier for it.
Whatever measure of happiness you currently enjoy, seek to increase it. Go all-in. If there are things that you would hold back from the altar because you fear offering them would destroy your life and whatever happiness you claim at present, recall the words of our Savior, “the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56).
I know that he lives. Bet on him. Be happy.
I offer these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.