Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi tells his family about a spiritual dream he has experienced. The central symbol in this dream was “a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:10). Lehi’s focus for the rest of the dream was on inviting his family to eat the fruit and on learning why so many people were failing to appreciate and enjoy the fruit.
Nephi, one of Lehi’s sons, subsequently sees an explanatory vision in which he learns that the tree represents the love of God, which is “the most desirable above all other things” and “the most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:22-23).
This turns out to be a fundamental theme of the Book of Mormon: God wants us to be happy. He loves us and knows how to help us achieve happiness. But we spend significant time and energy seeking happiness through activities which will only bring us misery.
Lehi taught his sons that the Fall of Adam and Eve was intended to place us in a state where we could achieve true happiness: “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).
King Benjamin taught his people that those who keep the commandments of God are in a “blessed and happy state.” He promised that they would be “blessed in all things” if they would obey God, and if they continued faithful to the end, they would one day dwell with God “in a state of never-ending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41).
Alma explained to his son Corianton, who had committed serious sins, that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Samuel the Lamanite later elaborated on this principle when he lamented the future state of the Nephites based on their current actions:
For ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head (Helaman 13:38).
Moroni taught a sobering principle about the Final Judgment. When we are judged by God, He will not transform us into happy people. Rather, He will acknowledge what we have become. “he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still” (Mormon 9:14). (See also 2 Nephi 9:16.)
No wonder Laman and Lemuel acknowledged their own unhappiness (although they blamed it on their circumstances), while Nephi testified that he and his people lived “after the manner of happiness” (1 Nephi 17:21, 2 Nephi 5:27).
God’s ways are higher than our ways, and the situations and activities which lead to our happiness may be unintuitive. Maybe that’s why the Savior listed a number of circumstances which might appear to produce unhappiness in the Beatitudes. Each of these circumstances, including mourning, hungering in spirit, and being persecuted might not appear to be conducive to our happiness. Yet He labeled people under each of these circumstances as “blessed,” or in other words, “fortunate” or “happy.” (See Matthew 5:3, footnote a.)
Perhaps that’s also why the Savior considered it so important to share Malachi 3 with the people during His visit to the American continent. In that chapter, people complain that sinners are happy while righteous people are miserable. God explains that, when all is said and done, the truth will become clear. Our current perception is clouded and provincial, but God understands what is really happening and where our decisions are really leading. (See Malachi 3:13-18, 3 Nephi 24:13-18.)
Elder Robert C. Gay was once asked the following question by a young woman: “My boyfriend and I recently broke up, and he chose to leave the Church. He tells me he has never been happier. How can this be?” Elder Gay responded:
The Savior answered this question when He said to the Nephites, “But if [your life is] not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you [you will] have joy in [your] works for a season, and by and by the end cometh.” There simply is no enduring joy outside the gospel of Jesus Christ (“Taking Upon Ourselves the Name of Jesus Christ,” General Conference, October 2018).
Sister Becky Craven recently pointed out how easy it can be to “look for happiness in items that are cheap or temporary.” In contrast, she testified: “Deep and lasting happiness comes by intentionally and carefully living the gospel of Jesus Christ” (“Careful vs. Casual,” General Conference, April 2019).
Today, I will remember that God wants me to be happy, that He has provided guidance to help me achieve true and lasting happiness both in this life and in the world to come. I will also remember that things are not always what they seem, and that many of the ways people seek for happiness are deceptive and ephemeral. I will strive to anchor myself to true principles, so that I can live “after the manner of happiness.”