During Ensign College’s first live, in-person devotional since the early 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught students of a “key ingredient” to their happiness — meaningful work.
“I pray that you will be blessed with work — meaningful work — physical, mental, and spiritual, throughout your life and on into eternity …,” Elder Christofferson said. “I pray for your happiness, now and forever.”
Speaking from the auditorium of the Church Office Building on Tuesday, June 15, Elder Christofferson began his remarks by sharing his experience hearing a presentation by Arthur Brooks, who teaches a course on happiness at Harvard University.
Among other things, Brooks spoke about the influence of a “portfolio of habits” — faith, family, friends and meaningful work — on an individual’s happiness.
Brooks explained that there are two elements that make work meaningful: earned success and service to others. Earned success is success based on diligent effort, where an individual uses skills that match their interests and passions that leads to upward mobility in life. Service to others means that one’s work makes life better for others.
This concept of meaningful work as an essential element of happiness is consistent with gospel doctrine, Elder Christofferson noted. Heavenly Father Himself declared, “This is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
“Talk about meaningful work! Talk about upward mobility and making life better for others!” the Apostle said. “God’s success in His work is clearly earned, and in the category of earned success, we would most definitely include the Atonement and Resurrection of His Only Begotten Son, our Redeemer Jesus Christ. It is not coincidental that God’s work goes under the title of the Plan of Happiness.”
Elder Christofferson then quoted several paragraphs from “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism,” which cites several General Authority statements explaining the Church’s doctrine on the subject of work.
The encyclopedia explains that the role of work involves four principles: “Work is a universal obligation; work enhances the quality of life on earth; daily work has eternal consequences; and work will continue in the eternities.”
It also describes how work is necessary for personal development and represents a major source of happiness and fulfillment. It quotes President Howard W. Hunter, who said, “[Heavenly Father] knows that we will learn more, grow more, achieve more, serve more, and benefit more from a life of industry than from a life of ease.”
Finally, the encyclopedia explains the origin of the commandment to work. “The obligation to work was stated when the Lord commanded Adam and Eve to dress [or cultivate and tend] the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15) and was reemphasized later, when they were driven out. The ground was cursed for their ultimate benefit (Genesis 3:17-19), and work is viewed as a blessing and opportunity.”
Elder Christofferson then shared how the late Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles related how he was taught the doctrine of work by his father. When Elder Perry was 7 years old, the family remodeled their house. It was Elder Perry’s job to gather up the two-by-six boards, remove the nails with a crowbar and then straighten the nails with a hammer.
Elder Perry said he often wondered why his father asked him to straighten all those nails even though they weren’t going to be used again. Eventually, when he had his own son he began to understand. “Work is something more than the final end result. It is a discipline. We must learn to do, and to do well, before we can expect to receive tangible rewards for our labors. … [My father] was using the straightened nails not to rebuild our home but to build my character” (“The Joy of Honest Labor,” October 1986 general conference).
A caution for ‘workism’
Even in praising the rewards of labor and the blessing of work, Elder Christofferson issued a warning. “Virtue carried to an extreme ceases to be a virtue. As President Dallin H. Oaks has observed, our strengths can become our downfall if they are unbalanced by other strengths or carried to the extreme.”
In the same way, Elder Christofferson continued, a commitment to work, which is a vital gospel principle, can turn negative if not balanced with rest and renewal. If carried to an extreme it can become a kind of religion, a phenomenon described by commentator Derek Thompson as “workism.”
Elder Christofferson quoted Thompson who explained that “workism” is the “belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose.”
Thompson also notes that “to make work and success in work the centerpiece of one’s life is also to risk submitting one’s worth to the vagaries of the market” and “workism is a religion that will make most of its adherents miserable.”
Adherents of “workism” fail to appreciate that leisure and rest also have great value, Elder Christofferson said. “It is self-evident that we need rest for physical renewal, but enough leisure for rest and meditation is also essential for spiritual renewal. Indeed, without spiritual renewal, the spirit can become slave to the body. The combination of work and rest builds a sense of accomplishment and self-worth while maintaining the dominance of the spirit. This is the idea behind a Sabbath day.”
Renewal is also the idea behind Church members’ recourse to the temple, Elder Christofferson said. “We sometimes speak of temple work, but we could also speak of temple rest.”
When the scriptures speak of rest, they could be referring to a different kind of work: ministering in the Lord’s cause or “teaching, lifting, comforting, fellowshipping, proclaiming the gospel, and uniting families eternally. The rest of the Lord is also deliverance from sin, trials, troubles, cares and sorrow.”
In conclusion, Elder Christofferson noted that work will not cease with death and quoted the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Detailed information about the nature of work in the hereafter has not been revealed. However, what little information we have of a tactical nature suggests that we will be intelligently involved doing specific things which are tied to the eternal purposes of our Father in Heaven.”