Topic Study: Happiness

(May 2005 TG Entry: Happiness  Given as a talk at Sacrament Meeting at the Watseka Branch, Joliet Stake, on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2005.)

Overview

Happiness is not some far distant goal.  It can be had, in abundance, right now in our lives.  It is most-likely to be achieved in the church, and in the family.

I             Nakatsu Branch

During my missing I served in a tiny branch in Kita Kushu Prefecture called Nakatsu.  It was very small.  We had perhaps 15 to 20 active and semi-active members.  We had one young man that was there for a few months that had returned from a mission, and one older gentleman that was baptized while I was there, but no other priesthood bearers.

We met in the living room of the missionary home.  The missionaries slept upstairs, but the living room was large for a Japanese house.  It could be divided using the sliding Japanese doors into three different rooms I believe.  We rarely needed the space of the third room as I remember.  Our Sunday services were simple, but filled with the Spirit.

One of the Japanese Elders served as the branch president.  The list of branch presidents was like a role call of the most diligent missionaries in the mission:  Ikegawa, Iwahashi, Aiura, and even one American, Forsberg.  There are others that I am afraid I don’t remember.

I visited one Sunday a year after serving there.  I had served with the Branch President in another area.  Before the meeting, he asked me what he should talk about.  I suggested the first scripture that came to my mind, perhaps a little bit as a test of his speaking ability because of its brevity.  It was 2 Ne. 5:27

27 And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.

I remember him beginning his talk with the scripture and saying something like, “What sort of suggestion was that for a talk?  But as I pondered it a bit more, I realized perhaps there was more there than meets the eye: To simply live after the manner of happiness.”

In May of 2005, which may have been 20 years perhaps to the day of the Sunday, my companion on that visit sent me an e-mail.  He had just visited Nakatsu.  The branch was a full-fledged ward.

I was surprised the next day as my family visited a small branch in Watseka, Illinois, and I remembered those days in Nakatsu, to open the program and read the following from the program:

Branch Mission Statement
TODAY
Be happy
Be Christ-like
Be Charitable
Be unburdening
TODAY:  If YOU want to be happier and to be more successful,
focus on what is right NOW.  Respond to what is important NOW.

I thought of that branch, and those days.  Sure we struggled, and wanted it to grow, and had problems.  But I am not sure there was a great deal more happiness among the members of the ward, in their individuals lives than there was then, when things were just starting out.

Consider what the Book of Mormon teaches about this.  Note that this verse about living after the manner of happiness occurs very early in the book, as Nephi and the people have built the first temple, which, Nephi says was simpler than Solomon’s Temple.  Perhaps they felt about it similar to many of the first buildings branches are established in.

Note that it was a long time, perhaps about 500 years, before Mormon noted a time of greater happiness among the people, during the period of peace under Capitan Moroni:

23  But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni, yea, even at this time, in the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges.

Alma 50:23

Certainly they had grown in many, many ways.  But they had not necessarily become happier.  And later, when Nephi the son of Helaman prayed upon his tower, he looked back fondly at those days of Nephi.

7 Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; then were his people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord—

Hel. 7:7

This later Nephi, who certainly lived in a more “advanced” time, wished for the simplicity of those earlier days.

Perhaps we should be happier today, in the simple things of life today, and not look to some far-off time, when things will finally become happy.

II            Young Families

I remember when my mother would visit my wife and me as we had a young family.  Almost always during her visit she would say, “This is the best time in your lives.  You will look back on these days with fondness.”

That was easy for her to say.  Or perhaps so I thought sometimes.  I would try to be happy with the struggles of caring for small children.  But at times it seemed it kept me from doing all those good things that would make a big difference; even perhaps the service I thought the Savior wanted me to perform.

One day, as I read the Savior’s teachings about when he will come again, and divide the sheep from the goats I had a new insight.  Matthew records that he will turn to the sheep and say:

34  Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36  Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee?  or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?  or naked, and clothed thee?

39  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Matt. 25:34 – 40

At first, I thought that his injunction seems to exclude parents, who have to spend so much time caring for small children.  I can imagine it in my minds eye:  A couple stands before the Savior.  They are tired from caring for their children day and night, trying to make ends meet, and spend what little extra time they have outside of their family doing their best in their callings.  The Savior says to them, “Come…inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”  Just as the Savior said, they look at him incredulously; “When did we have a significant amount of time to do all those things?  We have barely kept up on teaching our primary lessons, let alone taking in the homeless.  We tried to do our home and visiting teaching, but that was really a very small amount of our time each month.  Such a minuscule amount of time serving our fellow man can qualify one for the celestial kingdom?”

Then perhaps the Savior will remind them of the importance of children in his eyes, and the way in which they fulfilled their parental obligations.  Perhaps speaking as one of their children, he might say, “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat.”  Their eyes would be open to those times when they wondered if they would be able to fill up a teenage boy.  “I was thirsty, and ye game me drink.”  They envision providing a drink to toddler, perhaps about one thousand sips a day sometimes.  “I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”  That time when they helped a child make a friend when shy at the birthday party, or wrapped one in a blanket when scared of the dark.

“Naked, and ye clothed me.”  No one is as naked as a newborn baby.  And then there were the grass stains that ruined the new jeans, and the spot on that pretty dress.  The unending sorting of clothes that no longer fit, and the need to help teenage girls find something they look nice in.  “I was sick, and ye visited me.”  In the middle of the night, and you stayed with me for hours and hours.  “I was in [trouble at school], and ye came unto me.”

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

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