Happiness is a Choice – LDS Talk

Hey there, I’m Rachel and I’m the creator of this blog.  I was recently asked to give a talk in my LDS Church about true happiness and where it comes from.  I was honored and blessed to study on this topic at a perfect time in my life.  I, like many of you, suffer with depression and feelings of sadness sometimes.  There are times when I am not happy but I want to be and don’t know how. I think sometimes people look at my life and see me as “privileged” and I’ve heard “perfect” thrown around a few times.  I know sometimes we look at people and think that they have it all and have never struggled in their lives.  Things might appear that way on the surface, but in most cases, it is simply not true.  I would like to share my story with you.  It is very personal and my feelings are very raw about it sometimes.  But it makes me…. well, me.  It give me motivation to choose a different way for me and my children.  It’s why I do this blog, so I can help others.

I wasn’t privileged in my growing up life (although I was blessed with people in my life that were literally my saving angels). I grew up seeing and being exposed to addictions of every kind: drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling, eating disorders, and nearly every kind of abuse you can think of.  With a single mom, there were many times the gas tank or the fridge was empty and we had no money.  There was hardly a holiday where someone wasn’t fighting, sometimes coming to blows. There were times I felt worthless because my father didn’t want a relationship with me.  I struggled to forgive. However, most of the time I was a happy kid, and I didn’t realize any of this was different from other families.  Maybe it wasn’t.

I was a statistic.  I was a high school drop out.  That’s when the Lord and his Spirit touched my life and prompted me to change.  I learned then the only way for me to get out of this lifestyle I felt stuck in, was to work hard.  I worked hard and got a tutor and went back to high school and ended up graduating a year early.  I worked at 3 jobs to pay for college.  I worked hard all through college and got good grades and good jobs and I stayed out of debt.  I worked so hard I nearly wore myself completely out!  However, I learned that valuable skill that is a part of me now.  I now have a choice about how my current life will play out.  I choose to be happy.  I choose to give good things to my children including a life surrounded by love and the Gospel of Jesus Christ because I know they learn by example.

This talk was given in October 2012 at my LDS church here in Orem, Utah.  Some people in the congregation asked for a copy of my talk and I thought other people might want to read it too, so I will be posting it here.  I hope it prompts you to change as it did me.

Happiness is a Choice

About 9 months ago, a friend of mine recommended a book to me called, “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert.  It is a fairy scientific book that cites studies about how the brain works and how happiness is achieved.  Honestly, at first I was really bored with the book, but as I kept reading, there were some simple truths that really resonated with me.  I was really surprised because happiness comes from a very different place than I thought it did!

My husband and I got in some lively discussions for weeks and months about the topic and studies from this book. He said he thought it would be a great topic for a sacrament meeting talk.  In February, he asked if I would give a talk on the subject in a few months.  I said I would.

Well, a few months came went and my Mom was getting very ill with cancer and my time was very limited as I wanted to spend as much time with her in her final days as possible.  Steve didn’t mention the talk again as there was just so much going on for many months.

During this last conference, Steve knew he was going to be released from the Bishopric but that he was in charge of getting talks for today, so he asked if I would give the talk from over a year ago that he wanted given so long ago.  I thought he had forgotten!

At first I said, I’m so busy, we have this and that going on and I can’t do it right now.  There were many talks in conference this month teaching and testifying of the way to be happy.  After listening to President Uchdorf’s talk “Of Regrets and Resolutions”, I felt guilty for saying no because I felt I would regret it if I didn’t give this talk.  I thought about it and decided the things I was doing right now weren’t as important as remembering where happiness really comes from.  I needed the gentle reminder right now and I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to study about this topic again and try to be better.

I would like to ask you a question, Are you happy?  I would assume that if you were able to answer my question, you would probably say, “Sure I’m happy”… although you would probably use some kind of qualifier such as…

But when this project is done at work, I will be happier…  or

When my kids get a little older and more independent, I will be even happier… or

When I own a home, get a better job, have better health, or have more money or when my spouse does this or that, I will definitely be happier than I am now.

The purpose of our existence is to have joy.  In 2 Nephi 2:25 it says “Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy.”

Why can’t we have joy now and not qualify it when some future situation may or may not happen?  Marjorie Pay Hinckley (one of my favorite people) said, “The trick is to enjoy life.  Don’t wish away your days, waiting for better ones ahead.”  I think there is so much wisdom in that statement.  Things might now be perfect in our lives at this very moment but we can be joyful despite our trials.

So how do we do this?  Well, we can understand where happiness comes from.  Feeling happiness is conscious choice we make for ourselves.  We must choose to be happy.  Because we have agency, no one else can make this choice for us.  Happiness has almost nothing to do with our circumstances and everything to do with our attitude and I will go into this more later.   As we read in 2 Nephi 2:27, it says, “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”

From this scripture, we know that happiness comes through Christ who is our mediator and not being happy or depression comes from the devil or Satan and makes us feel as the scripture says “miserable”.

When illustrating this concept, I think about Nephi.  Nephi left his comfortable and beautiful home in Jerusalem to wander in the wilderness, living in a tent with his brothers who hated him and even tried to kill him on multiple occasions.  He went back to Jerusalem and gave all of his worldly possessions to Laban for the records containing his family history and had to kill Laban, which I’m sure was traumatic.  After 8 years in the wilderness, the Lord tells Nephi to build a ship, which he had no experience doing.  He endures constant murmuring from his brothers and even from his parents and really is the only one in the family that doesn’t complain.  Next he was to sail across the ocean to a foreign land in this first ship that he has ever built.  While on the ship, his brothers tie him up and try to kill him again.  There is a terrible storm and everyone almost dies.  The brother’s repent and everyone arrives at their destination eventually with the Lord’s help.  Nephi gets to the foreign land and says about 30 years after they left Jerusalem, they were in the promised land and there was so much conflict with the Lamanites that they decided to part ways and split from each other.  But still Nephi says, “…that we lived after the manner of happiness.”

Clearly, all was not “rosey” in Nephi’s life but he was a happy person.  How could this be?  When the scripture says they “lived after the manner of happiness” it suggests that the Nephite’s positive outlook and lifestyle was a conscious choice they made for themselves despite their many challenges.  We can make the same choice.

If I asked you what would make you the most happy, what would you say?

Some people might say:

  • More money
  • Bigger home
  • Better education
  • More obedient children
  • Better car
  • Improved health
  • Different church calling
  • Less debt
  • If I had more time…  I would be happier
  • Or anything else you can think of… there are probably unlimited things we think will someday make us happy

The book I read cites multiples studies that say what you have in material wealth or any of the items I mentioned have almost no lasting impact on how happy you are as a person. I think we tend to look at people who have been blessed monetarily and automatically think they must be happier than us.  However, multiple studies show that rich people have a much higher suicide rate than poor people which would suggest poor people are generally a lot more happy than the rich.

Would you believe me if I said that you could get any or all of the items I listed above and you would be exactly as happy as you are right now after having them for just a short time?  It’s interesting that we adjust and adapt to the joy material things bring very quickly and our level of happiness doesn’t change long term when we get a promotion or a new car, etc.  This is why someone who wins millions in the lottery often will frivolously lose all his or her winnings in a very short amount of time and be back in the same situation they were before (or worse).  Happiness has next to nothing to do with wealth or material goods and everything to do with our attitude.  There is an exception here and that is with those living in extreme poverty that do not have shelter or food or a way to fulfill their basic needs.  This group of people tends to benefit and actually become happier when those basic needs are met.

I would like you to think of this question: What would make you the most unhappy?  This question was posed to me when I was reading the book I mentioned in the beginning of my talk called, “Stumbling on Happiness”. The first thing I thought of for myself was to be permanently disabled.  For a few years, after my last child was born, I was legally disabled and in nearly constant pain, many times being unable to walk.  I wasn’t in a wheelchair, but I couldn’t do many (or sometimes any) of the things I used to.  I couldn’t walk up and down stairs, I couldn’t stand up long enough to cook meals for my family, I couldn’t get out of bed many days.  During this time I also suffered with debilitating fatigue. I would say for me to be disabled and have no cure would probably be the one thing that would make me the most unhappy.

It turns out being disabled is among American’s #1 answer when asked the question, What would make you the most unhappy? Ironically, it turns out that in reality permanently disabled people in the United States are among the happiest group of people in this country.  After I thought about it, I could see that was true. I know several people that are in wheelchairs with permanent disabilities.  I have a friend who is paraplegic. I knew a blind person and a deaf person from a singles ward before I got married.  They were among the happiest and most positive people I knew.  I also think about the people in some third world countries.  They have very little in material wealth.  They have very small homes that many people live in, some don’t have an indoor bathroom or running water, but most of the time they are very happy people, much happier than many people who live in this country who have so much more in terms of material conveniences.  How could this be?  This goes against the way my brain works but it’s true.  Happiness is a choice and an attitude and has nearly nothing to do with your circumstances.

How do we choose to be happy when we’re experiencing a trial or we suffer from depression?

I’ve noticed in my own life, when I’m depressed, I seem to turn inward.  I think that my suffering is someone else’s fault and they are the reason why I’m not happy.  I start to think that happiness can be found anywhere but the stage I’m in and I begin to feel sorry for myself.  I begin to be selfish and only think of my own needs and my own sorrow.  This is the captivity Nephi speaks of in the scripture I read earlier.  This is not a nice way to live.  I have seen members of my family wallow in this thinking their whole lives and shut everyone else out.  This thinking destroys their life and pushes their loved ones away. I’ve learned by watching them, this is not the way I want my life be.

Well, I have a secret.  When we feel like we are in the depths of sorrow, the way out is service.  How can we be depressed when we are helping others?  Have you ever noticed that the happiest people in our ward are the ones who are always saying “I will” to do any calling or service opportunity?  These people have families, they work, they have busy callings, and they have almost no free time, but they find a way to serve.  That’s their secret.  The secret to real happiness is not to dwell on ourselves and our own problems.

I guarantee you once you serve others, you will see first-hand that the hand you’ve been dealt is pretty great compared to others.

President Gordon B. Hinckley believed in the healing power of service. After the death of his wife, he provided a great example to the Church in the way he immersed himself in work and in serving others. It is told that President Hinckley remarked to one woman who had recently lost her husband, “Work will cure your grief. Serve others.”  These are profound words. As we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives and our own happiness.

Some ways we can beat depression by service might include

  • Helping a neighbor
  • Missionary Work “That perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance … is my joy” (Alma 29:9).
  • Family History
  • Volunteer Work
  • Doing Better in your Calling.
  • Doing your Visiting and Home Teaching – It may seem like such a small thing, spending maybe an hour a month doing your home or visiting teaching can change lives.

I was baptized into the church because of a faithful home teacher who came every month for 20 years to an inactive grandma of mine.  This man changed my life forever.  You can have this impact too.  All you have to do is spend a few minutes out of your month to think about someone else.

If you can physically do none of those things, you can smile… you can say a kind word to someone who is suffering.  Just by being a positive person, you can help others.  Everybody can do SOMETHING.

Sometimes our service doesn’t seem big at all.  Maybe most of the time it will go unnoticed or will be anonymous or even the people it was intended for won’t be thankful.  But just the act of turning away from our own selfish desires for our own well-being and turning toward someone else helps us to truly feel joy.

President Uchdorf said, “When we reach out to bless the lives of others, our lives are blessed as well. Service and sacrifice open the windows of heaven, allowing choice blessings to descend upon us. Surely our beloved Heavenly Father smiles upon those who care for the least of His children.”

I think that if we take that a step further, we must also be willing to let others serve us.  We shouldn’t turn down service because the giver may greatly need the blessings by serving us.  We shouldn’t deny them that.

There are also a few simple things that can help make you a happier person, including

    • Gratitude Journal – people who write down 3 things each day they are thankful for are 50% happier than those who don’t.
    • Simply decide to change and pray for the Lord’s help and guidance
    • There was a book I read in college where whenever the author was asked, “How are you?”, he would answer, “it’s my best day so far!” (Book called My Best Day So Far)


To conclude, I have learned that God created everything we need to be happy.  He created us so we could be happy.  Whether we are happy or not is our own choice and no one else’s.  Happiness has next to nothing to do with our circumstances and everything to do with our attitude and we can change our attitude by serving others.  When we realize this, it’s a lot easier to be happy and content with what we have right now and not always seeking for more or some future goal that will make us happier.

The Spirit has testified to me personally that these concepts are true and it is a great desire of mine to improve and to find more joy and happiness in my life and I’m trying to make small steps to be better.

I bear testimony that the Lord gives us the all the resources we need to make us happy, but it is our choice to feel lasting joy in our lives.  I know some of you suffer from tremendous trials.  I know some of you are sad and are suffering.  But I also know that no matter what your circumstance is…  whether you are rich or poor.  Healthy or sick.  Depressed constantly or simply feeling down…Or anything in between, he will help you find joy in your  journey.  Pray to Him and let Him help you.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.





Leave a Reply