There’s a perspective in the world that I feel like I come across more and more. A perspective that I’m not sure I understand, but that I do play into sometimes.
It’s a perspective that we all want happiness but live in sadness, misery, depression, etc. And that’s how life is, so there’s nothing we can do about it but dream about distant happiness that will come when we have more money, more friends, more whatever.
Time passes and eventually, we realize – nothing has changed. We may have more whatever, but we aren’t any happier than we were. And we still want more.
It’s interesting to compare this perspective to the lifestyle Nephi described:
27 And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.2 Nephi 5:27
I love this phrase. It’s such a simple, straightforward perspective on life. Nephi doesn’t say they lived life feeling happy, he says that they lived life with the “manner of happiness.” Manner, to me, suggests a consistent behavior and attitude applied to one’s life.
So, if that’s what manner means in this context, then “the manner of happiness” means choosing to be happy and looking at life with optimism.
Cue sarcastic response: Sure, Christina. I just need to be happy and optimistic and my life will be so much better. Thanks for stating the impossible obvious.
Yeah, that might be what you’re thinking. To be honest, that was my first thought too. If all I had to do was choose to be happy and optimistic, then wouldn’t I already be happy? Wouldn’t I always choose that? After all, I’m not going to choose to feel depressed, confused, or angry.
There has to be more to happiness than that.
Well, as I’ve looked over various scriptures and talks about happiness, my response to that is: Yes, there is sort of more to happiness than that.
Most of the scriptures I looked over before writing this didn’t just say “happiness.” They said things like “everlasting happiness” and “endless happiness.”
Considering how often phrases like that show up in the scriptures, I think what Nephi is really saying here is that living after the manner of happiness means living in a way to receive eternal happiness with God someday in spite of any difficulty we face on earth today. And Nephi also means that we adjust our behavior so that we are following God toward happiness and not walking away from God toward misery.
The Happiness Lie
I think a big reason we don’t look to happiness as a behavior is that we associate it with moments of high emotion, excitement, and adrenaline. And yes, those feelings can go along with happiness at times, but to live with “the manner of happiness” we can’t expect that those emotional high moments will last 24/7.
W. Eugene Hansen once said,
Satan and his forces have become extremely effective in their effort to convince people that pleasure should be the most sought-after objective. He slyly promises that wherever found, pleasure will bring happiness.W. Eugene Hansen, “The Search for Happiness,” 1993
No matter where you look in the world, you will see this idea. Pleasure = Happiness. The more we feel high and enjoyable emotion, we are happy.
But this idea comes from Satan. And anything that comes from Satan should be considered deception.
Does pleasure feel good? Yes. Does it last forever? No.
Does it bring us closer to God? Probably not.
Pleasure is The Happiness Lie – the belief that all we need is more stuff and more visceral feelings to be happy. When in reality, seeking after pleasure just makes us empty inside.
Happiness, true happiness, isn’t fleeting or visceral or adrenaline-filled. It’s faith-filled knowledge and action that brings us closer to God.
No Opposition, No Happiness
Choosing to follow Christ and not pursue pleasure can help us have real, lasting happiness. But what happens when hard times hit? After all, this is still mortality. We still can experience loss, pain, and fear.
How do we live with “the manner of happiness” when we face those rough times?
Let’s look back at Adam and Eve.
When they were in the Garden of Eden, they were completely innocent. As in, had no idea that evil was possible, let alone that it existed. But not knowing about evil also meant that they didn’t know about good. They didn’t know the difference.
Adam and Eve couldn’t experience emotion like we do because in the Garden of Eden there was no pain and sorrow. They couldn’t die. And they essentially lived in a state of limbo, somewhere between heaven and mortality. Their one power was to choose to obey God or not.
But after the fall, Adam and Eve felt everything that we do.
What changed? By choosing to break the commandment of God, they exposed themselves to the reality of evil. They found that opposition exists and because they knew that evil existed, they also learned that good existed.
Happiness in mortality is similar. We can’t know what happiness is without experiencing pain, loss, sorrow, etc. All of these things work in opposition to happiness.
None of us like feeling pain and sorrow, but with Christ, with His gospel, we know that we can be free from these things – someday. And we follow Him and obey Him so we can receive His salvation and happiness.
Possibly the greatest misconception we have about happiness is that it doesn’t last. And if we are pursuing pleasure, money, etc. like those things are happiness, then that is probably true.
But true happiness, happiness that comes from living the way God has commanded so we can return to Him, doesn’t have to leave. It’s our choice if we believe in Him or not. And if we choose to believe in Christ, believe that what He has promised us will actually happen – then our happiness can last eternally.
I like what Alma says:
12 While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness.Alma 28:12
True happiness is believing God when He makes promises. It’s being sure that, if we do as He asks, we will be with Him someday and be eternally happy regardless of any circumstance that comes our way.
What can we change to pursue happiness instead of pleasure this week? Share your ideas in the comments below!