What does it mean to be happy? The dictionary says it means to feel or show satisfaction or contentment. To me, that means to be at peace.
I think the modern world today defines happiness very different from what it actually is—thus confusing many and creating an environment of misery and entitlement, which can never produce happiness. It’s a vicious cycle of always wanting and never being satisfied, content, or at peace. I see happiness in the world today defined as a lack of suspense, lack of effort, lack of patience, and even ignorance. Indeed, our entitled world seems to feel that happiness is the absence of troubles rather than what happiness really is.
Happiness, in fact, has nothing to do with the absence of troubles, trials, sickness, pain, poverty, calamity, or even the state of society. We can be happy even when the world is falling down around us. We can be satisfied and at peace when our hearts are hurting and our bodies are incapable of moving the way we’d like. We can be happy if we focus on our lives and what we can control and accept and let go of the things we can’t control.
Living after the manner of happiness is truly about what we can individually control.
In 2 Nephi 5:27 Nephi says, “And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.”
So, what is that and how do we do it, right? Let’s take a look.
Keeping the Commandments
And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things (2 Nephi 5:10)
2 Nephi 2:13 clarifies why observing the judgments, statutes, and commandments of the Lord brings happiness when it talks about God’s law establishing what is sin and what is not, and ultimately declaring, “And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness.” Alma 41:10 is also often quoted, “Wickedness never was happiness.”
Consider the idea of accomplishment and achievement. A law establishes how to achieve and accomplish something. Godly rules: when we keep them or know we’re making a sincere effort to keep them, there is a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Such a feeling of spiritual peace is not possible without a law and set commandments. Thus, observing them helps us to feel happy with ourselves.
When there is uncertainty about what is good and what is evil, there cannot be the peace that comes from accomplishing good and avoiding evil. Let me explain.
The world today calls much that is sin, righteousness, and much that is righteousness sin (Isaiah 5:20). Thus, people engage in sin thinking that it’s okay. Yet, because God’s law stipulates that it’s sin, the consequences still follow. Gravity is gravity even if we are determined to jump off a cliff. Thus, happiness comes not from fighting against, or remaining ignorant of, the law but in learning to apply it (D. Todd Christofferson) to preserve our lives and to be happy. So also with the eternal and indisputable laws of God.
Whether we acknowledge it, believe it, or feel it, every one of us is alive and has the opportunity to partake of this mortal existence because of the light of Christ. It lights every person that comes into this world (John 1:9). We can’t go against that godly light, which is our fundamental and even subconscious conscience and essence, without experiencing its effects. Sin leads to guilt, uncertainty, un-identifiable internal suspense, heightened anxiety (above that which life already presents), unexplained loss of self-worth, defensiveness, pride, fear, despair, and misery.
Thus, to live “after the manner of happiness,” requires a submission to God’s judgments, statutes, and commandments. By embracing them and learning to apply them personally we find satisfaction, contentment, and peace. We experience faith, certainty, meekness/humility, identifiable internal composure and calm, decreased anxiety, an increase in self-worth, a decrease in defensiveness, trust, assurance, happiness, and self-confidence. We feel like we are right with the world, because we are. This is happiness.
For example: Most people know, or suspect (even un-religious folk), that forgiveness is healthy and holding grudges is not. God defines holding a grudge as a sin. God defines not forgiving as a sin—even a worse sin than the one committed against us (Doctrine & Covenants 64:9). And yet, people today thrive on the negative euphoria of focusing on the offenses they’ve received. They try to stay angry all the time. They don’t believe in God or they don’t trust God to enact justice in the time frame they want. They try to find ways to revenge themselves (another sin, since God says vengeance is His) or enact their version of justice. They devote time and energy to actively hate and exert force or manipulation on the lives of others—whom they can’t fundamentally control—instead of actively forgiving—which they can control. Thus, they suffer all the consequences that accompany it (as noted above). They think they have a right to hold on to that offense and yet all doing so does is make them unhappy—because it’s a sin. Their negative attitudes and hatred never make them happy. They do not find happiness until they leave the matter in God’s hands (hands much more capable of enacting both justice and mercy). Then, peace, satisfaction, and contentment can enter.
Hard Work, Being Actively Creative, Learning Trades
And the Lord was with us; and we did prosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance. And we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind. (2 Nephi 5:11)
And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. (2 Nephi 5:15)
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands. (2 Nephi 5:17)
Nephi is very clear here about what his people are doing that creates happiness, self-worth, satisfaction, contentment and peace. They are working hard, being actively creative, learning trades, and enjoying the fruits of their labors. They are up and doing.
There’s a reason why we feel good about ourselves after we’ve worked hard, offered service, attended educational courses, learned or discovered something, or created something. It’s because these are all godly endeavors. God has a work and glory—it’s us. He spends all of His eternity trying to help us become like Him. He doesn’t hold anything back as “His.” He shares it all. He creates everything. He gives all of Himself to us. He serves us non-stop. He tries to give us as much of Him, His power, and His resources, as we will worthily seek and accept.
Whenever we exert our moral agency to get up and do something that is similar to what God does, we will always get that beautiful, peaceful feeling of contentment and satisfaction. We feel right in a way that we can’t explain. We also can’t explain why something that seems like it should be unsatisfying is so satisfying. It simply is, because its godly.
There are some strong principles here. Happiness doesn’t come from outside ourselves. We create it.
[Note: Some people suffer with clinical depression and anxiety and I’m not suggesting that just performing an act of service will take these things away. I happen to live with and be related to several people who struggle with these very real psychological diseases. And yet, even for them, they have to choose to be up and doing despite their clinical struggle. The depression and anxiety rarely go away for them and if they waited to do anything until these diseases were cured they would be robbed of the little happiness that is available to them.]
When we put many godly things in the right order in our lives they gain the power to produce satisfaction and contentment. Such godly things include: taking care of our physical body, studying the scriptures, serving others, earning our living fairly and honestly, seeking education, reading from the best books, seeking our talents and using them to bless others and to serve God, etc. When we abandon godly things for unproductive endeavors, or sin, we begin to feel the effects. And while they may seem unexplainable, they are.
A Thought on Unproductive Endeavors
Psychological studies are beginning to suspect a strong correlation between social media/computer use and increased levels of anxiety, depression, and even suicide (see Endnotes for links to these study results). How can this be? Technology is such a blessing. Is it now only to be discovered as a curse?
I remember a few years back, after my divorce, I began to spend a lot more PASSIVE time on social media, email, and phone games. I went to those places looking for a pick me up. I wanted someone to send me an email and pick me up by saying something, or doing something that would change my life up a little bit. I wanted to pick up my phone and find a text from the perfect man who’d just happened to notice me. I wanted to play games that would make me feel happy and satisfied with my life.
Well, the result should not be unexpected. Those PASSIVE hours looking for external (outside of myself) pick me ups was fruitless. Those texts didn’t come. Or not as often as I wanted. Those emails didn’t come. Those games didn’t create any sense of satisfaction or contentment. They only made me feel like I needed to spend money to get more credits and buy more virtual stuff to keep the game exciting and to have it go somewhere. I was a bunny chasing a carrot. This viewpoint was leading me nowhere. It was unproductive, and over time debilitating.
Then, I remember the day I decided that whenever I felt down I would text someone else to pick them up, or even just to see how they were doing. Instead of waiting for a text I sent uplifting, genuine, messages to women I had a stewardship for that I cared about. I’d always think, “Sending this text isn’t going to help me feel better.” But, every time, EVERY TIME, I acted to create happiness for someone else it got me out of my funk. I’d find just that extra bit of energy to go for a walk, or cook a fun meal, or to sit down and write a book on my computer for a family member or to hash out a doctrine I had been pondering.
It was in these moments that I realized that happiness comes from doing, working, creating, giving, serving, etc. It seems so counterintuitive. We imagine hard work to be difficult and require so much effort and so we think: work=unhappiness. We’d much prefer to watch another episode of our favorite show on Netflix. We imagine our talents are too meager to create something that other people will appreciate. We’d much prefer to search Pinterest and copy what someone else has created. Laziness and depression feed on self-deprecation and the need to create mountains out of molehills. These downers protect themselves by creating false beliefs and ideals in our minds about getting up and doing.
And then, despite what we are certain is true, when we finally get the impetus to get up and work hard, to create, to give, to serve, we end up with this feeling of satisfaction and contentment that can only be recreated by the same godly endeavors. When we stop waiting for someone else to pick us up and we act, we find satisfaction and contentment. This is absolutely true and it never changes.
Thus, if we are to be active on social media and our electronic devices, then we should use them to create and share uplifting material. We should use them to serve others. We should go to these devices looking not for pick me ups but for ways to pick others up. It’s amazing how it changes the end results. We may get tired. Our brain may get over-stimulated. But, the anxiety, the depression, the lack of satisfaction of our lives in comparison with others, the misery of not getting any likes, dies. We have used social media “after the manner of happiness.” And, we can apply this to nearly everything in our life we use passively. We simply have to become active to increase its capability to provide satisfaction and contentment.
Have you ever noticed that when you lay in bed all day (unless you’re really sick, and sometimes even then) that going to bed at night is difficult, and uncomfortable. Mentally and physically you just feel rotten. Sitting around all day doing nothing is not restful. Sitting around all day and playing video games or scrolling through social media timelines is not rest. Laziness is not rest. And yet, rest is not always sleeping.
For me, a good book helps my mind to rest during, and after, a long, stressful, busy day. Sometimes, after being active from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. with errands, a good TV show is restful. Digging into my scriptures at night before I go to bed always re-energizes my spirit and allows me to feel at peace so I can turn my mind off and get sleep. Prayer also lets me mentally work through my day and settle down so I can have a greater chance to get rest.
A vacation is a rest from work. Wholesome recreation is rest from our labors. But too much vacation and too much recreation and we are back to feeling unsatisfied and discontent.
Even if we are anxiously engaged in doing good (Doctrine & Covenants 58:27), we should still not run faster than we have strength (Mosiah 4:27). God rested after creating the earth. We should also work hard and then rest well. The Sabbath is a day of rest, hallowed and sanctified by God. What does that teach us about rest? We need it. If we don’t take it (like even God, Himself, did) we cannot be happy. We cannot feel satisfied and content and at peace. We’ll be a basket case.
And I Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us… (2 Nephi 5:14)
What Nephi is talking about here is preparation. How much suspense would the Nephites have been in if they hadn’t been prepared to defend themselves against the Lamanites, who were always coming upon them unawares and trying to bring them into slavery and bondage? Perhaps not all fear of the Lamanites could be eliminated, but preparation to defend themselves certainly increased their confidence in their ability to preserve their way of life.
Each of us has areas of our lives that increase suspense and fear. Preparation can decrease and often eliminate that fear. Doctrine & Covenants 38:30 teaches us that, “if [we] are prepared [we] shall not fear.” We can’t always do everything we want to do. We don’t always have the money or resources to prepare for every possible calamity that could come our way. We don’t always know when a job will be lost. We don’t always know when a loved one will be unkind or even attempt to hurt or abuse us. We don’t always know when a tornado is going to rip off our chimney. But, if we have prepared to the best of our ability based on the resources we have, our fear will be greatly decreased and our peace of mind, contentment, and self-confidence will skyrocket.
Nephi and his people were prepared against their greatest fear. As we do what we reasonably can to prepare against our fears and worries, we are living “after the manner of happiness.” We can relax and know that we’ve exerted ourselves in our defense and can leave the rest in God’s hands.
Living after the manner of happiness is not about the absence of struggles and troubles. It’s about actively being who we want to be, actively living in godly ways, resting sufficiently, recreating wholesomely, and being prepared against our greatest concerns and worries. Then, we can let go and give the rest to God.
This doesn’t mean we walk around with a smile pasted on our faces. But it does mean we move forward in faith with peace, power, and contentment.
End Notes – sites with stats about social media/computer time leading to increased anxiety, depression, and suicide