Latter-day Saint Life

Latter-day Saint Psychologist: The Wise Men's 3 Keys to Finding Happiness


When I was a seminary student many years ago, I loved short scripture mastery scriptures, as they were easy to memorize. One still lingers in my mind today: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Back then, this scripture didn’t mean much to me besides being an easy “check off” on my scripture mastery list. Now 30 years later, after disappointments and stress and challenges and heartbreak, this scripture carries more personal meaning. If men and women exist to be joyful and happy, they why do so many seem to be unhappy and depressed? If happiness is the design of our existence, has that design been thwarted?

After Nephi’s people were chased from their new settlement by Laman and Lemuel’s followers, they had to start from scratch. They built homes, reestablished their lives, and even built a temple. The people worked hard and studied the gospel. Nephi makes an interesting comment regarding their endeavors: “And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27). Please note what he does not say. He does not say “happiness found us” or “we did whatever we wanted and somehow were still happy.” I think you can restate Nephi’s words as follows: “We identified those things that lead to happiness and we did them.” The righteous exercise of agency is critical in overcoming any challenge, including mental health issues. Acting in faith can include such interventions as talking with a doctor, visiting with a counselor, discussing with a priesthood leader, and following any medical, psychological, or spiritual counsel that is appropriately given. The key is action.

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Consider the story of the wise men who sought the Savior after His birth. When younger, I didn’t think much of their experience. They were simply three minor roles in our annual family nativity where you got to dress in fancy robes and hold presents. Yet as with many scripture stories, their history teaches valuable lessons for our progression. I believe the story of the wise men is the story of how we can find happiness. Let’s examine three principles of action taught in their account.

1. Watch for the Signs

The birth of Jesus Christ was foretold for thousands of years. The wise men lived in lands far distant from Jerusalem, yet they studied the scriptures and knew the signs associated with the Messiah’s advent. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they naturally went to Herod to inquire where the “new king” was: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). Biblical scholars suggest the wise men traveled an extended distance, perhaps over several years, to reach Jerusalem. Why did they come when so many others didn’t? The star would have been visible to thousands in their homeland. Some may have not seen the star at all, distracted by other endeavors. Others may have seen the star and wondered at its brilliance but thought nothing more. But those who knew the prophecies watched for something specific. When they saw the star, they knew what it meant. They packed their bags, embarking on the long journey to see the promised Redeemer.

As we try to increase our own happiness, we have to look for it. Most everyone has plenty of experiences on a daily basis that can increase or decrease happiness. I once interviewed a homeless man as part of my job. He lived on the streets and had zero income. All he owned he carried on his back. He had a history of depression, but he reported that he felt less depressed over time as he chose to regularly focus on the good things in his life. I remember thinking, “If this guy can find happiness in his current situation, then surely I can as well.” Our lives will be a mix of positive and negative—opposition is necessary for spiritual progression. Yet we always have the choice of where to concentrate our focus. If we look for the bad, we’ll find it. If we look for the good, we’ll find it as well. We don’t have to have our heads in the sand, but if we focus on the negative to the exclusion of the positive, unhappiness will result. Watch for signs of happiness in your life.

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2. Persist in Faith

Remember the wise men’s journey was extensive, perhaps as long as several years. That’s a long time to follow a star that you hope will lead to an amazing outcome. Many years ago, I was on an exercise kick, going to the gym almost daily. Back then, my least favorite time of year was January. For about four to six weeks, the gym was extra crowded and I didn’t have as easy access to exercise machines as I did during other months. Yet despite my frustration, I knew I just needed to hold on and be patient. Why was that? Because like every other year, the newcomers would fade away one by one until gym attendance returned to normal levels. I didn’t campaign for their attrition, but I had seen the process repeat so many times that I knew what was likely to happen. Exercise is hard and resolves can weaken over time. The combination of passing time, hard exercise, and weakening motivation almost always resulted in fewer and fewer people attending.

Finding happiness follows a similar pattern to achieving good physical health. Any competent nutritional expert will tell you that a healthy diet and adequate exercise will improve physical health. But one day of appropriate diet and exercise will not accomplish this. Neither will one week. Depending on your starting condition, it could take years to achieve good physical health. Similarly, if you go to a counselor who recommends strategies to improve happiness, one day of following such strategies will not change your mood. Even a whole week of consistency will barely move the needle. Yet as those strategies are practiced for months and years, old patterns begin to change. Improved moods and more optimistic outlooks tend to result. Like the wise men, your journey to happiness will not be complete in a few days. Keep your eye on the goal, moving forward a little each day until you reach your destination.

3. Look Heavenward

I imagine the journey of the wise men was dusty, dirty and difficult. It would have been easy to become discouraged. I can hear Satan whispering to them, “Why do you continue on this foolish journey? For heaven’s sake, you are following a star. Surely your education and experience has taught you that all stars are not compasses. This folly will result in years of wasted effort.” I’m sure there were days when the wise men cast their heads low, watching the grubby road as depression and doubt increased with each step. Yet the Spirit whispered to them, “look up.” As they elevated their gaze heavenward, they saw the brilliant star. The star that had been consistent. The star that heralded the birth of a King. “Keep going,” counseled the Spirit. “Have faith. Trust in what you have felt and what you believe.” I believe such moments happened and refueled their resolve, helping them continue in hope. It reminds of similar heavenly counsel given to the early Saints of this dispensation: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36).

For many, the journey to find happiness may be long. It may traverse challenging and untamed terrain. Some days you may strive all day to be happier and not notice a significant difference in your mood. Satan will whisper, “What are you doing? Don’t you know you can’t change the way you feel? Look at the world around you. How could anyone be happy in this mess?” Yet the Spirit whispers, “Keep going. Follow those who are there to help you. Keep your eye on the Savior. He loves you and will help you achieve the happiness you desire.” During times of doubt, look up. Find the reason you started the journey in the first place. Trust that the Lord truly wants you to be happy. He did not send you here to be miserable. He sent you here to be tested, which necessarily involves difficulty and periodic distress that is not designed to endure. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). That is what you will find at the end of your journey—a loving Father in Heaven who will take you into His arms and wipe away your tears. Look heavenward. Watch for Him now and trust in His promises. Greater happiness can come to those who do.

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The path to happiness will be different for each individual who follows it, but true principles mark the way and provide consistent direction. God bless you to reach out to Him, learn His will, and act in faith as you do those things that will help increase happiness in your lives.

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