In pursuit of happiness

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. - Luke 2:10

Happiness - or at least the pursuit of it - is one of our "unalienable rights," so expressed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Yet, how happy are we? And how do we find happiness?

Surprisingly, psychologists who researched this question report that many of the things that we assume would make us happy aren't really that important.

For example, a recent study by psychologists David Myers of Hope College, Holland, Mich., and Ed Denier of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at more than 10 years of scientific research into the subject of happiness. The two reviewed hundreds of studies on hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Later, Dr. Myers told a reporter for the Kansas City Star that many of the myths people hold about what makes us happy just don't hold up.

The idea that being rich, famous and beautiful will make you happy, for example, turns out to be wrong. When people are asked how happy they are, their answers don't correspond with money, fame or fashion. Once people reach a certain level of income, money isn't a major factor in how happy they are. In fact, people in some of the richest countries rate themselves lower on a happiness scale than people in some of the poorer countries. Moreover, despite concerns over a "mid-life crisis" and the overwhelming attention that advertisers and the media place upon youth, researchers found that no time of life is notably happier or unhappier than others.

So what does make people happy? The answers from these researchers will be no surprise to faithful members of the Church.

Dr. Myers and Dr. Denier (in the journal Psychological Science) said happiness boils down to faith, hope, attitude, friends and family. They also found that religion and spirituality play a big role in overall happiness. Studies around the world show that very spiritual people report being very happy. Finally, people who have a higher self esteem, who feel in control of their lives, report being happier.

A study in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said researchers agree the real ingredients for a happy life are the ability to develop a personal philosophy of life, inner resources to cope with problems, and personal relationships to lend support.

All of this fits into the message of the Church. The whole gospel message is one of joy, proclaimed by angels at the birth of Jesus Christ. The prophet Joseph Smith taught, "Happiness is the object and design of our existence: and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 255.)

Other latter-day prophets have given similar advice. President Ezra Taft Benson urged members to, "Be cheerful in all that you do. Live joyfully. Live happily. Live enthusiastically, knowing that God does not dwell in gloom and melancholy, but in light and love." (New Era, September, 1979.) President Brigham Young said, "There is no happiness in gold, not in the least. It is very convenient as an article of exchange, in purchasing what we need; and instead of finding comfort and happiness in gold , you exchange it to obtain happiness, or that which may conduce to it." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 308). And President Spencer W. Kimball wrote, "Value friends. Friendships are not on the bargain counter; love is not on the market. Peace of mind, joy and happiness cannot be purchased with money or worldly goods." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 261.)

Latter-day scriptures add powerful insights to the world's understanding of happiness. "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25), are the memorable words from Lehi who also cautioned that ". . . and if there be no righteousness, there be no happiness." (2 Ne. 2:13.). Alma cautioned us not to expect to be restored from sin to happiness: "Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness." (Alma 41:10.)

A crowning statement in modern scripture shows the integral relationship of the gospel and happiness: "Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth: glad tidings for the dead: a voice of gladness for the living and the dead: glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: behold, thy God reigneth!" (D&C 128:19.)

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