I was planning to move our garage refrigerator to the basement. It looked like an easy task if I could secure some help. Eyeballing the clearance of the doorway, it appeared to be sufficient. At the last minute I decided to actually measure the width to assure clearance. Wouldn’t you know, the doorway was too narrow! How embarrassing it would have been to get help from my neighbor and wrestle the fridge down the stairs only to find that it wouldn’t fit. Hefting it back up the stairs would even be more difficult. Taking a measurement of things can be most helpful in a variety of settings. For example, it’s a good idea to regularly assess how we measure up in keeping the commandments, thus allowing us to draw closer to Heavenly Father. Here is an excellent metric to assess personal measurement: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:45). When I complete my mortal mission, I want to stand with confidence before God and hear the words, “Well done thou good and faithful servant… Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
When people say, “I want to give my children a better life,” they infer that they experienced some form of deprivation growing up, and want to provide better. This is a great goal if it is more than providing material comforts and conveniences, which in excess can deprive children of lessons learned from sacrifice, patience, and hard work. What can we give our children and grandchildren that will be of the most value, both in this life and the next? The Lord has given parents responsibility to teach children principles of virtue, light, and truth. These values are not usually learned in school classrooms or from friends. “Ye will not suffer your children…that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil…but ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:14-15). We can make our homes houses of learning where we talk openly, listen, encourage questioning, testify, exemplify, and seek learning ourselves, for we cannot teach what we do not know. “Reverently speak of the Savior—in the car, on the bus, at the dinner table, as you kneel in prayer, during scriptures study, or late-night conversations—and the Spirit of the Lord will accompany your words…Your testimony will never leave your children…and will prepare them for the challenges they will most surely face” (Neil A. Anderson).
What is a virtuous woman? The scriptures give a description and say her price is far above rubies. (Proverbs 21:10-31) In addition, a virtuous woman radiates an aura of light—expressed in faithfulness, purity, humility, and strength. Those around her can see and feel this light, and are uplifted, not intimidated. She does not flaunt her goodness; rather it is a quiet thing. George Eliot’s tribute to a virtuous woman adds a clear dimension of what I’m trying to become. “Her finely touched spirit…spent itself in channels which had no great name on earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculable…For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts…half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited graves.” A virtuous woman is the unsung, feminine hero in every nation of the world. She does not crave or receive applause, but her brilliant legacy makes the world a better place.
Is happiness getting what we want? Is happiness the absence of adversity? Is it a trouble-free pattern of days? Is happiness power? Is happiness health? Is happiness beauty? Is happiness prosperity? I’d answer a resounding NO to each of these. Counterfeits of happiness are being trumpeted before our eyes continually. They have a similar appearance to real joy, but lack depth and enduring power. Happiness is not found in things. It is not found in circumstance. “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 the commandments of God” (Joseph Smith). It’s simple, really. Happiness is following the commandments of God. This authentic happiness isn’t flashed with flare and fireworks. Real joy is quiet and sustaining. “You may pour wealth, honor, influence, and all the luxuries of this world into the lap of man; and—destitute of the Spirit of God—he will not be happy, for that is the only source from which true happiness and comfort can come” (John Taylor).
- Some people say that it’s impossible to control bad thoughts because they fly into the mind without invitation. But here is an analogy: I can’t help that a bird (or thought) lands on my head, but I don’t have to allow it to build a nest there. If an unworthy thought darts into my mind, instead of feeding it, I will promptly shoo it away.
- Some birds (like disagreeable thoughts) persist, like swallows that return again and again to build nests against the brick of our front porch. Our solution is to duct-tape large sheets of clear cellophane against the brick so their mud won’t stick. Eventually the swallows give up and go elsewhere. I can likewise study out a solution to thwart and replace distasteful thoughts. God will help.
- Birds build nests to nurture their young so they can grow up to fly on their own. Similarly, the mind is the incubating nest turning thoughts into actions. What we think, we become. That is why our Savior commanded, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45).
Recently the Brookings Institute released the above chart showing the relationship between age and happiness around the world, as measured via the Gallup World Poll (conducted from 2011 to 2013). It shows a U-shaped curve (in orange), with the low point in happiness being at roughly age 40 around the world. Though the poll did not state how happiness was defined, it is a sad commentary on how the world experiences and measures happiness. The scriptures state: “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Heavenly Father wants us to be joyful and happy at all stages of our lives. As we grow in the knowledge of God’s plan for us, we also grow in happiness. “Happiness is the object and desire 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” (Joseph Smith). Following the Lord’s plan will produce a steady upward increase of happiness during our entire mortal journey. This curve is shown in black on the above figure.
“What do you want most for your child?”—was the question an interviewer posed to a mother cradling her newborn baby. The mother hesitated, probably because this question had not been premeditated and it caught her off guard. “Well, I guess I just want him to be happy—believe in himself—and follow his dream whatever it might be.” She wanted to give him all things leading to happiness. But maybe she didn’t know exactly how to reach this goal. I understood the heart of this loving mother gazing down at her precious bundle. How would I answer this question? I think the greatest myth about happiness is thinking it comes from getting what one wants. I believe it is a byproduct of virtue and morality. It comes from loving—from doing things that draw us out of ourselves. I’ve learned that joy can glow even through adversity and pain. Joy is not on the surface to bake or wilt according to external conditions; rather, it is nourished deep down in the roots, protected and anchored in God. What do I want most for my child? I want him to develop faith in a loving Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, his Savior. I want him to be a covenant keeper, to love and serve his fellowmen, and see divine potential within himself. I can’t give him happiness, but if he learns to be true to his covenants and have faith in God, JOY will surely come!