LDS Business College
January 18, 2011
I’m delighted to be with you this
morning, brothers and sisters. I’ve been looking forward to this assignment for
some time, and it’s wonderful to be here with you. I’ve been looking forward to
it because I know some of you, and it’s good to see your faces again.
I appreciate that opening prayer;
that is my prayer, that the Holy Ghost will be here. I prayed that the Holy
Ghost would be here with me today, and with you, because, as was spoken, the
Holy Ghost is really the teacher. And if the Holy Ghost is here, and if your
minds and hearts are open to it, you will get what you need no matter what I
I appreciated President Richards’
introduction. It reminded me on one occasion, at a gathering of the Seventy and
their wives, we had stood to introduce ourselves and tell a little bit about
ourselves as we were new general authorities. And we introduced the fact that I
had gone to the University of Utah and that my wife had gone to the BYU, and we
were married. Upon which, one brother, who has an extraordinary sense of humor,
exclaimed out loud, “Oh, you’ve got a mixed marriage.” Well, I don’t know if
we’ve got a mixed marriage, but it’s been a mixture of a lot of great things,
and much of what good has happened to me in my life has been a result of two
things: First, having served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, and Second, to have been fortunate enough to marry June
Langeland. I don’t know what I would have become or where I would be had it not
been for those two decisions. They are the single most important decisions I’ve
ever made in my life. And I’m grateful, most grateful, for her companionship.
As different experiences come to me and come to us in our life, and challenges
and experiences, I am so grateful that she is by my side and that she is my
I’ve come to wish you happy New Year and to
help you realize this wish now and throughout your life. How many times did you
hear “Happy New Year” over the course of the last month? Most of you didn’t
stop to think much about what that means or what it implies, but I have over
the last few weeks. I assume that you will find the topic of personal happiness
relevant. I hope you do. After all, people who claim to be happy tend to live
longer. They also get hired and promoted more frequently by their employers.
They tend to have good friends, lasting marriages, and happier children, studies
Since happiness is ultimately what
people want the most, I thought it might be relevant for our consideration this
morning. Personal happiness is relevant to every season of your life, but for
many of you, this is a season of your life when the decisions you make will
cast a long shadow on the rest of your life and the prospects for lifelong
happiness. What you decide and how you make those decisions is critically
Our topic is also relevant because
the very doctrinal foundation for happiness is under siege in our modern
society. The values, principles, and doctrines upon which personal happiness is
based, are increasingly characterized as socially and politically incorrect. In
your time, the debate will shift from tolerating differing values and beliefs
than those taught in the scriptures by the prophets to an aggressive, full
onslaught on the very existence of God in the first place. His divine plan of
happiness and the principles it contains will be twisted almost beyond
recognition, making happiness ever more elusive for many of us to find.
So, happiness. The pursuit of
happiness has been the subject of philosophical debate and objective research
for years. It’s been the topic of music and art for ages. Man’s pursuit of
happiness is both universal and timeless. But I want you to understand and know
that personal happiness is decisively a spiritual principle and not merely a
philosophical abstract. Since everything begins with a question, my question to
you is simply this: Do you understand what happiness is and how to obtain it?
I know that many of you are
focused on your education. You’re focused on getting a job. You’re wondering if
you’ll ever be competitive, if you’ll ever be adequate. You’re wondering if
you’ll ever succeed in life. Let me assure you that you can and you will. But
if you want to be happy, then you must understand the doctrine and principles
that underpin happiness.
President Packer is famous for
saying that true doctrine, understood, changes behavior more than the study of
behavior will change behavior. (See “Do Not Fear,” Ensign, May 2004, 77) That
is particularly true as it relates to personal happiness. So what is the true
doctrine as it relates to personal happiness?
As you begin thinking about that,
one thing always comes to my mind when I am thinking about you and the
decisions that you will make. I have no doubt that many of you will find a way
to be successful in life. What I worry about is not whether or not you will but
whether or not, at the end of the day, you will have climbed the right ladder.
It is devastating to think of someone who climbs a ladder, and by the age of 50
or so, my age, realizes the ladder they have climbed is leaning against the
wrong wall. If you understand the doctrine of true happiness, you are much more
likely to define and pursue success in your life in such a way that it will
bring you true happiness.
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained
that “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.”
(History of the Church, 5:134-35) In the pre-existence, we shouted for joy when
presented with the Father’s plan of happiness, which is the doctrine of Christ,
or the gospel of Jesus Christ. The plan provided that all God’s children—all God’s children—could receive a
fullness of joy and exist in a never-ending state of happiness in the presence
of the Father and of His Beloved Son.
Because of God’s love for us, He
prepared a plan that included our coming to Earth, where we would receive
bodies and be tested so that we could progress and become like Him. This plan
is called the plan of salvation, the great plan of happiness, or the plan of
redemption. The purpose of God’s plan is to lead us to eternal life. God
declared, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and
eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) Eternal life is the greatest gift God has
for His children. It is exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial
kingdom. Through the plan of happiness, we can receive this blessing of
returning to God’s kingdom and receiving a fullness of joy.
As part of our Father’s plan, we
were born into families. He established families to bring us happiness, to help
us learn correct principles in a loving atmosphere and to prepare us for
eternal life. A fullness of joy is necessarily, then, tied to families and
children. A fullness of happiness is not possible without the family and
children in God’s plan. The family is ordained of God. It is the most important
unit in time and in eternity. Even before we were born on the earth we were
part of a family, each and every one of us. Each of us is a beloved spirit son
or daughter of loving heavenly parents, with a divine nature and destiny. (See
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World”) God is our living Heavenly Father,
and we lived in his presence as part of His family in the premortal life. There
we learned our first lessons and were prepared for mortality.
There’s a reason why I am laying
this foundation for you. If you’re going to be happy, you must have an
understanding of what happiness consists of and where it comes from. The very
purpose for creating the earth and receiving a physical body in mortality is to
make possible immortality and eternal life, or a fullness of joy. The prophet
Alma taught, “It has been made known unto me …that the spirits of all men, as
soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men,
whether they b e good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
“And then it shall come to pass,
that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of
happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where
they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” (Alma
It seems quite natural that a
state of happiness would precede a state characterized by a fullness of joy or
exaltation. But when Lehi taught that “Men are, that they might have joy,” (2
Nephi 2:25) he was referring to the journey of mortality and not just the
destination following mortality. The people of Nephi lived “after the manner of
happiness,” (2 Nephi 5:27) suggesting there is a pattern to personal happiness.
Alma would later record, “There never was a happier time among the people of
Nephi…than in the days of Moroni.” (Alma 50:23)
And in 4th Nephi,
following Christ’s ministry among the Nephites, it is recorded: “And it came to
pass there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did
dwell in the hearts of the people.
“And there were no envyings, nor
strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of
lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the
people who had been created by the hand of God….
“And how blessed were they! For
the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and
prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first
generation from Christ had passed away, and there were no contentions in all
the land.” (4 Nephi 1:15-16, 18)
Now, since our personal happiness
is the very purpose of God, doesn’t it seem natural that His plan of happiness
would be the surest way to achieve it? Why would it ever make sense, then, to
live contrary to God’s plan of happiness? Obviously, it wouldn’t. Yet
tragically, what we know is not always reflected in what we do. Is it? A voice
of warning here is necessary. Each of you are more than old enough and
spiritually mature enough to have a deep and spiritual understanding of God’s
plan of happiness for you, deeply rooted in your minds and in your hearts. You
must have it if you are going to achieve happiness. A simple cursory
understanding of this will never do. You’ve long since passed the time in your
life when simple overview, Sunday-school-ready answers to deep, compelling
questions will suffice. You can know by the power of the Holy Ghost that these
things are true, not just in general, but specifically for each and every one
of you. I’ll come back to that.
As a former mission president, I
am constantly amazed at young men and women who tirelessly and selflessly
sacrifice and serve as full-time missionaries and invite others to come unto
Christ by helping them to receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus
Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the
Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. You remember that? The missionary purpose,
right? It sounds familiar? Then, after realizing greater personal happiness and
joy than they have ever experienced before, that same missionary will return
home and almost immediately and purposefully reverse course and do a swan dive
back into Babylon—and wonder why they are not happy. Does that make any sense
How can someone bear daily witness
to the plan of happiness and then come home and almost immediately pursue a
pattern of living in opposition to it? That just doesn’t make sense to me. Day
in and day out, they find people in every station and stage of life, and teach
them powerfully and simply that daily reading from the scriptures, meaningful
personal prayer, personal righteousness, attending church, actively
participating as a member of the church, will lead to happiness and will help
them overcome any problem or concern—and then immediately upon returning home,
they stop doing the very things that brought them happiness.
Those of you who served missions,
why were you so happy then? What did you do to receive such happiness in your
life? What did you do? You’re more obedient than you have ever been before in
your life. You had a schedule—you got up early, you worked hard, and you went
to bed in the same day. You studied the scriptures daily. You searched the
scriptures. You didn’t just have a copy somewhere that you used to read. Five
minutes didn’t get it done then, and it doesn’t get it done now. You had
meaningful personal prayer. You focused on the Savior and His teachings. You gave
on a daily basis selfless service to God and His children. And because of that,
you experienced almost constant direction from the Holy Ghost, and you knew
that personal revelation was a reality.
Well, is that happening now? And
would you need to go on a mission in order to have those things happen to you
now? No. Remember this imperative: You get what you focus on consistently. So
what are you focused on? What are you doing now that might prevent you from
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it
well: “Only by aligning our wills with God’s is full happiness to be found. Anything
less results in a lesser portion.” (“Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,”
Ensign, Nov. 1995) So what do you want? Are you happy? What are you willing to
do or to change in order to be happier than you are right now? What are you
waiting for? Maybe you think that happiness is a function of your
circumstances. “When this happens, then I will be happy. When the semester
ends…when I get rid of this professor…when finals are over…when I’m out of
school…when I get a job, then I’ll be launched. When I get a new car… or a
car….when I finally find the love of my life, then I will be happy.” This
pattern of thinking is delusional and will lead you away from happiness, not
May I suggest three things that
will help you be happier? First, decide to be happy. Happiness is a choice.
Choices require the correct and proper use of agency. “And now, my sons [and
daughters], I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for
there is a God, and he has created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are,
both things to act and things to be acted upon.
“And to bring about his eternal
purposes in the end of man, after he… created our first parents, and the beasts
of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are
created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden
fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other
“Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto
man that he should act for him [or her] self. Wherefore, man could not act for
himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” (2
You have agency—the ability to act
and not be acted upon. There is no lack of things to be unhappy about. We live
in uncertain times. It’s a difficult economy. You wonder if there will be jobs.
You wonder what will happen to you, if you’ll ever be successful. There is so
much to be worried about, and everywhere you look there are things that could
cause one to be unhappy. It’s enticing, sometimes, to yield your happiness to
the actions of others or to the unfortunate but inevitable disappointments of
life. Happiness, however, is a choice, and not an ideal set of circumstances.
You can and must decide to be happy, and to choose happiness in spite of your
circumstances. If you are not happy, it’s because you are choosing to be so. No
one can force you to be unhappy. Blaming your unhappiness on others or on circumstances
is not being accountable. It is not part of the plan. You are, in the final
analysis, the master of your own fate and soul. The final result of your life
will be exactly what you choose. There are necessarily influences that would
distract you from keeping God’s commandments and being happy, but none of these
can force you to do that which is not right or to be unhappy. You have agency,
and happiness is a choice.
Because we all have the ability to
change, we are all accountable for the choices we make. If you are not happy,
change your attitude. If you consistently focus on being happy, you will become
happy indeed. And by the way, no one is looking for unhappy persons to employ
and promote or, for that matter, to date and marry. Who wants to marry into
misery? Something to think about. And by the way, if you are happy, then notify
your face. That’s what my mother-in-law used to always say. Decide to be happy.
It will change your life, and it will change your circumstances, ultimately. It
will lead to much greater happiness.
Now, you think about that one
thing. It’s not trivial. But you begin to change your reality by changing your
attitude about it.
Second: happiness is also a
consequence of the choices we make. Wickedness never was happiness. The foundational
basis of our Father’s plan of happiness is obedience. Obedience is the first
law of heaven. All blessings from God are predicated on obedience to the laws
on which those blessings are predicated. You know that. Personal happiness is
predicated on personal righteousness, by keeping God’s commandments. It doesn’t
get any more simple and profound than that. There is no other way.
President Gordon B. Hinckley
taught it this way: “If we will live the gospel, if we will put our trust in
God, our Eternal Father, if we will do what we are asked to do as members of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we will be the happiest and
most blessed people on the face of the earth.” (from remarks at a Pocatello,
Idaho, bioregional conference, 4 June 1995, Ensign, April 1996) Do you believe
that, or are you still looking for some other shortcut way to make you happy?
Studies suggest that people with
more money are not necessarily happier. Money does not bring happiness, and you
can’t buy it. I have seen so many people in my life and career who climbed the
ladder of success financially and were utterly miserable, because that ladder
of success violated every single principle of happiness laid out by our
Heavenly Father. And no amount of success can compensate for failure in the
home. It simply is not possible.
Service is synonymous with keeping
the commandments, but service is not convenient. It’s supposed to be
inconvenient. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that yet. But service in the Church
will always be inconvenient to other plans you might have for yourself. Is it
counterintuitive to you that personal happiness would come from obeying God’s
commandments and serving others? One of the great lessons of life and keys to
personal success is forgetting ourselves in the service of others. Happiness
does not come from getting what we want; it comes from aligning what we want
with what God wants us to do and to become.
Since God is our loving Heavenly
Father, He knows who we really are and what we really need to realize our
divine identity—our highest and greatest potential. Obedience to God reveals
our true divine identity. With this divine clarity, we can more consistently
make choices that lead to happiness.
Let me just make a punctuation
here. Each of you has a divine identity. Each of you does. Each of you is
important to God the Eternal Father, and I bear witness that He knows you. And
He knows what you can become, and it is significant. Eternal life is the
greatest of all the gifts of God. It’s the cumulative result of the
consequences that inevitably derive from the choices we make. Choosing
obedience, therefore, to God and to His servants, is the pattern of happiness.
If you want to be happier, be more
obedient. Being more diligent in keeping the commandments will lead to greater
happiness. Now let me be specific here. What is the Holy Ghost prompting or
urging you to do? Are there things that you know in your heart you ought to be
doing that you are not doing? Are there also things that you are doing in your
life that you ought not to be doing? The Holy Ghost will always prompt you to
do things that will lead to greater happiness in your life, because he knows
you and knows all things.
That leads me to number three:
seek to always have the influence and companionship of the Holy Ghost. The
gifts of the Spirit are peace, joy, and love. Joy is a gift of the Spirit. It
comes from God through the Holy Ghost. It is granted to those who receive a
remission of their sins. Each of us has been given the incomparable gift of the
Holy Ghost. Its influence and companionship is an essential ingredient or
element in the Father’s plan of happiness. We could not be happy were it not
for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Short of exaltation itself, the
Holy Ghost is the greatest gift God can give to you and me in mortality. “It
will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5) Now, are you
interested in knowing all things what you should do? You oftentimes will go to
professors or mentors or someone else and you ask, “What should I do?” I bear
witness to you that a member of the Godhead has been given to you by the Father
to show you all things what you should do, in all things that you are doing.
Your personal happiness will be a direct function of your worthiness to have
the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and your daily personal efforts to seek
and ask for it. By the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all
things, including your own divine identity, and what your Heavenly Father would
have you do in your life in order to pursue happiness.
Ask yourself this question: What
percentage of the day do I spend seeking the companionship of the Holy Ghost?
If you could convert that into minutes, how many minutes would it be? If you
are awake for 16 hours, and I realize some of you sleep for less than 8 hours—I
also realize some of you sleep a lot more than 8 hours. But if you base it on
16 hours of waking time, what percentage of that time would you have actively
prepared for or would be in the process of seeking the companionship of the
Holy Ghost? Can you measure it on a daily basis? Is it big enough?
Each time we worthily partake of
the sacrament, we are promised that we might always have the Spirit to be with
us. And as you study the scriptures every day, every day, every day—there’s a
pattern there—and as you consistently choose to let virtue—let me say that
again—as you choose to consistently let virtue garnish your thoughts and your actions, and as you humbly
and diligently pray for it and then constantly throughout the day seek for it,
I bear witness that the influence of the Holy Ghost can be always with you,
especially in this season of your life when some of you will make some of the
most significant decisions of your lives.
What could you begin doing today
that would help you get closer to the Holy Ghost? What could you stop doing
right now that is preventing you from being worthy of the Spirit?
Let me conclude with my testimony.
My young friends, I am just a little bit older than you, and just a little bit
further down the same road that you are traveling. I am grateful beyond
expression that I haven’t been climbing a ladder for the last 30 years that’s
leaning against the wrong wall. I am a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and
it is my humble honor and privilege to bear witness of His reality in all the
world. Now, I have no idea where you are in this moment, in terms of your own
testimony and your own level of spirituality. But I don’t want you to leave
today without knowing that I know that God is a reality. I know that He lives,
and I know that He is our loving Heavenly Father. I bear witness that you and I
are His sons and daughters, and He has intimate, comprehensive knowledge and
understanding of each and every one of us, which goes well beyond name.
I bear witness that God so loved
the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son to come and implement the plan of
happiness, through the Infinite Atonement, and the principles and doctrines
that are a part of His great plan of happiness. There is no other way nor means
under heaven whereby we can be saved or we can be happy—only by following Jesus
of Nazareth. I bear witness that He is our Savior and our Redeemer, and that He
loves us, and that all things are possible for you and me because of His infinite
Atonement. And through the Atonement and the covenants that we have made, we
have access to the power of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, to make
whatever changes we need to make in our lives, and to meet and overcome and
conquer any challenge of any nature and any consequence in our lives. We are
infinitely more than adequate, particularly when we have the companionship of
the Holy Ghost to show us all things what we should do.
I bear witness that the scriptures
are true. In your day and time there will be an unending set of reasons why you
should leave the plan of happiness and pursue some other course. I beg you—I
beg you to stay firm and committed to the Father’s eternal plan of happiness.
In the end, it’s the only thing that will matter. I bear witness to you that
God loves you, and you and I will be happy if we follow the pattern of
happiness in our lives. Decide to be happy. Be obedient, because happiness is
the consequence of personal righteousness. And constantly seek for the companionship
of the Holy Ghost, and you will have peace and happiness and joy in your lives,
and you will fulfill your divine potential. I so witness, as a servant of the
Lord Jesus Christ, in His name, amen.