Happiness and the Universal Laws Governing It (Alma 41:3-5, 10, 11)

In Alma chapter 41, Alma is speaking to his son about life after death. He teaches:

“And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.

And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other—

The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.” – Alma 41:3-5

When we die, we will be restored in proper order.

If we do good work, then we will be restored to good; evil to evil.

What I find interesting here is when Alma says that we will be raised to happiness according to our desires of happiness.

Who doesn’t want to be happy??? I figure we all want to be happy, yet for some reason we have this idea that happiness can be achieved in any way our natures desire.

Instead, if we want to be happy, then we need to understand the universal laws that govern it. (***Universal laws = God’s laws. I just want to emphasize here that these God’s laws aren’t arbitrary rules of a power-hungry God. They are universal laws: intact whether or not we believe in them.)

The universal laws that govern happiness are righteousness and repentance. There are others, too (consecration, sacrifice, obedience, etc.) We can’t make up our own rules about happiness. We need to follow God’s laws. If we desire to be happy, then we will begin to shift our desires from worldly and natural pleasures to God’s laws and righteousness.

This isn’t to say that God is boring or pious. He wants us to experience beauty and happiness in this life. In fact, we learn later on in Alma about God’s nature – that it is the nature of happiness. (See Alma 41:11.)

Because God’s nature is the nature of happiness, we can expect that things that will bring us closer to Him will make us happier. Whereas things that distance us from Him will cause us pain. As Alma teaches his son, “Wickedness never was happiness. (Alma 41:10).

A lot of this stuff might seem repetitive, but it is so important to understand. God’s plan is the plan of happiness. We are here to have joy. We need to understand the distinction between lasting joy (the happiness God offers) and fleeting pleasure (Satan’s counterfeit).

An analogy.

A few days ago, I took a long walk. 14 miles in length. This walk also includes a bit of a mountain climb. I would guess about 4000 ft in elevation gain. It isn’t easy. The first 8 miles are an ascent up a giant mountain. The road is steep. It switches back and forth.

I could look at this walk like a chore; like something to be avoided. I could resent the sweat and pain in my lungs and then instead do something that is much more immediately pleasurable.

I could look at this walk like something I want to do, but struggle along the way. I could huff and pant, and keep up a very fast pace up the hill -without ever stopping to take a breath. I could choose to see this walk only in terms of the “goal” – arriving at my destination. I would experience joy when I arrive, but I think that I would also miss out on the joy along the way. In fact, if I have this mindset, there is a chance I might never finish – getting too exhausted and tired along the way.

Finally, I could look at this walk as something I want to do, and I could be patient. I could be committed to climbing the mountain and completing my walk, but resting assured that as long as I’m walking that I’ll make it. There will be points when I must push through fatigue and shortness of breath. Maybe I’ll take a break. If I do, instead of chiding myself for physical weakness, I’ll look out to the neighboring canyons and pine-covered mountains. or maybe I’ll notice a small red wildflower growing on the forest floor amongst aspen and hellebore and other alpine plants. Though moving slowly, I’ll be filled with joy even as I walk up the mountain – noticing the blessings along the way and imagining the blessing it will be to make it to the pass at the top of the mountain.

And then, when I make it to the top, I’ll see more than one valley beneath me. A 360 degree view. Though the walk up was hard, I’ll feel rejuvenated and invigorated by my accomplishment.

Life is a lot like a long walk up a mountain. It is hard. It requires effort. We might be tempted to think that we could experience the joy of the view at the top anywhere on the mountain. It is easy to misunderstand this experience and think that we need to climb up it as quickly as possible, passing all of the beauty and joy that God blesses us with along the way.

But there is only one way to the top of the mountain: up.

There is only one way to feel God’s joy and happiness. It is when we come unto Him. We do this through Christ and keeping the commandments. If we follow these universal laws, then we will experience in this life and in the life to come.

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The Paradox of Affliction and Joy

Like so much of life, the gospel is full of “paradoxes” – not inconsistencies, but oppositional forces – yin and yang situations.

One of these yin and yang moments of the gospel has to do with joy.

We, the faithful, can have joy, but this life isn’t always a joyful experience. It is kind of hard sometimes. We must have patience in our afflictions, in fact, if we want to have any peace and joy. Alma teaches this to his son:

“But that ye have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions.” – Alma 34:41

There will be a point when we can rest from our afflictions, but while we are still experiencing mortal life, then the joyful life is rife with affliction and adversity.

Often, the Lord comforts along the way, but joy is not about a life free of opposition or difficulty. In fact, it is through overcoming adversity that we often feel joy.

I like to think of it this way – think of hiking up a mountain or running a race. It’s hard work. You can’t do it without putting for real effort. You might sweat. You might get short of breath. You might feel uncomfortable and ready to stop.

But you put your mind over matter, push through it, and endure. Then, when you make it to the top of the mountain, or to the finish line of your race, you feel extreme joy and satisfaction. You have overcome the opposition, and you have succeeded. You are joyful because of the opposition not because of a lack of opposition.

We can apply this knowledge to our lives. Instead of balking at affliction or complaining during trials, we can remain grateful and we can seek comfort. We can take time to notice the little blessings on the way and remain full of hope for the joy we will experience when we can rest from these afflictions.

Afflictions, Meaning, and Joy (Alma 31:38)

In chapter 31 of Alma, Alma gathers a team of missionaries to preach the gospel. Before they start, Alma blesses them to have the Spirit to do the work, then they proceed.

We read:

“And the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith.” – Alma 31:38

This verse teaches us something about the Lord and what happens when we exercise our faith.

Though several things are listed, I’d like to focus on one part:

The Lord will Give Meaning to our Afflictions

This is the part that really stands out to me in this verse: “that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.”

The Lord doesn’t promise us an affliction-free life. We will face affliction. This is a simple fact. Faith isn’t affliction-repellant, and the sooner we accept this truth, the sooner we can actually receive what the Lord does promise us.

The Lord promises us that any of the afflictions that we suffer will be swallowed up the joy of Christ. This is an interesting statement. Maybe it could still be misinterpreted – that Alma wouldn’t experience any affliction that brought him pain. Instead, these afflictions would magically be joyful because of the joy of Christ.

It’s important to consider what this statement really means. It may help us to shape our expectations and be willing to be faithful to the Lord even during times of affliction. (Remember, this is a blessing of faith, so if we aren’t faithful during our afflictions, then this result can’t be rewarded to us!)

This phrase shows that there is meaning in our afflictions. The Lord isn’t letting us experience random afflictions. In fact, He won’t let us faith an affliction that won’t have some kind of potential for joy. We may not feel the joy he promises during the affliction, but if we stay faithful, then eventually that affliction will be swallowed up in the joy of Christ.

What else in this world can give us this offer? No one, no amount of money, no amount of education – can promise to take our affliction and in return give us joy.

I have experienced this very miracle in my own life. During some of my deepest trials and afflictions, I did turn to the Lord. And because of my willingness and His mercy, I have been blessed. My greatest sorrows turned into the paths toward my greatest joys. I know that it is the Lord who made this miracle possible.

I know that the Lord wants us to be happy, and for this very reason He offered us His son – so that to us all, He could offer to take our afflictions so we could then have joy.

Inequality of Humankind: A Result of Sin and Wickedness (Alma 28:12-14)

Every once in a while in the Book of Mormon, Mormon (the prophet who abridged this record) gives us an insight. One of these commentaries is included in the book of Alma.

We read:

“While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness.

And thus we see how great the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression, and the power of the devil, which comes by the cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men.

And thus we see the great call of diligence of men to labor in the vineyards of the Lord; and thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing—sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life.” – Alma 28:12-14

Mormon sums up a few things in this part of the abridgment and helps us to draw a few conclusions.

We can compare and contrast the lives of these people: The Lamanites (who would not convert to the gospel) and the People of Ammon (who were originally Lamanites and then were converted and covenanted with God).

Compare – How are they the same?
They are all Lamanites. They have lived together for hundreds of years. They have shared a common tradition and belief – even hatred of the Nephites for about 500 years. They all live in the same general area. They are related to one another.

Contrast – How are they different?
The Lamanites have clung to the incorrect and wicked traditions of their fathers. They have continued on in sin. They don’t really respect one another. They plunder and steal, they murder, rob, and live lascivious lives. They don’t believe in God.

The People of Ammon – used to have this tradition in their lives, also. They grew up hating the Nephites, feeling wronged. They started their lives without believing in God, and also committed all manner of sins.

However, when they heard the gospel message, they accepted it. They covenanted with God. They kept the commandments and were living vastly different lives.

The Inequality of Man

Mormon concludes (and helps us to conclude) that the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression. Why is this so? Well, read if you past posts and the Book of Mormon, then this fact becomes fairly obvious. But to sum it up – When we sin and transgress the laws of God, we hand ourselves over to the devil. He wants to destroy us. He wants us to be miserable.

Having lost our right mind, we then may start to things that will drive us apart. Divisions, inequalities, a lack of charity and love for one another accompanies the wicked mindset. Inequality then becomes the norm. And it is all just sad.

Sorrow and Rejoicing

Mormon also helps us to see the reasons of sorrow and rejoicing.

Sorrow comes of death and destruction. It comes because people have turned their hearts and lives over to wickedness and selfishness. Not only does sorrow come to the damned, but the followers of Christ feel sorrow over their brothers and sisters who have chosen this life.

Rejoicing – This comes, as Mormon teaches, because of the light of Christ unto life. Life. Joy. Fewer problems. More solutions. Love. Equality. Peace.

Joy.

We have so much sorrow in this world. While we can’t escape all of our pain during this life, there is a “fix” that is everlasting – the Gospel. The Savior came to this world to redeem us from death and hell. He offers us light, life, peace, and rest. We can have joy, if we will simply give up our wicked desires, put our wills on the altar of the Lord, and serve Him.

Accepting and Rejoicing in God’s Blessings (Alma 26:16)

I’ve noticed a trend lately. Maybe it’s a trend in only myself…but maybe not. It seems like we can’t accept the way that God has blessed us in our lives. I’m not saying this the way I mean it. It seems like it is popular to only notice our shortcomings and our “opportunities for growth” instead of rejoicing in the ways that the Lord has blessed and strengthened us.

I’ll give an example. Let’s say you meet someone who is really fit. You might say to her, “Hey, you are so fit and strong. You look great.”

What do you think her response will be? Most of the time it goes something like this, “Thanks, but you shouldn’t say that. My __(insert some kind of dissatisfied body part)____ is not what I’d like it to be.”

Why can’t she say, “Thanks. The Lord has really blessed me to get a handle on my health and fitness.”

Or maybe you meet someone who is very wise with her use of time and talents. You might say to her, “You are so organized!”

What would be her response? Probably something like, “Oh, no. You should see my desk…”

I do this. In fact, it is so common, I find myself preemptively discrediting myself – I’m not sure why. I guess it is to appear humble. And it happens all the time.

Thankfully, we have the Book of Mormon in these latter days. And we can see that many of our foibles aren’t relegated only to this time or to a specific sex. It seems like the faithful have had a hard time with acceptance and rejoicing in the blessings of the Lord for a long time. I think it comes from a good place. We don’t want to appear proud. But it is important to be honest. God is perfectly honest, and He wants us to be, too.

***
In Alma, we read about the experience of the sons of Mosiah preaching the gospel to the Lamanites. After fourteen years, they experienced many hardships and also unimagined success. As they were traveling back to Zarahemla, Ammon begins to rejoice in the miracles and blessings that they experienced during their missions.

In fact, his joyfulness caused his own brother to comment to Ammon:

“And it came to pass that when Ammon had said these words, his brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting.” – Alma 26:10

After this brief censure, Ammon responds:

“But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.” – Alma 26:11

Why shouldn’t Ammon rejoice?! He had just spent the last fourteen years of his life serving people. He had experienced highs and lows. He saw the fruits of his labors, and was feeling great joy in this fruit. I’m sure that he also developed relationships with many of the people served. There is a difference between pride and rejoicing because God is good and has blessed us.

Ammon later states:

“Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.” – Alma 26:16

I love this! I need to apply this into my life, too. Who can glory too much in the Lord? It isn’t wrong to accept and rejoice in the blessings and successes He has given us. This is a show of our gratitude and love for Him.

I have struggled with this. There are times when people pay me a compliment. I have a hard time accepting it for various reasons 1) I feel inadequate 2) I don’t want to become prideful, and I know that my successes are 100% results of blessings of God.

Instead of beating around the bush and acting shy, I can say thanks. Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t say that…” in an I’m not worthy tone, I can use the opportunity to glorify and testify of God who has blessed me in the first place. I can recognize the hand that God has had in my life, accept His blessings, and remember Ammon’s honest question, who can glory too much in the Lord?

Humility and Joy (Alma 22:15)

The Spirit lets us feel joy. I’m not going to take the time to prove this fact right here in this post. Feel free to read throughout the rest of my blog. Better yet, read the Book of Mormon.

For now, we’ll examine the quick example of King Lamoni’s father. He’s one of my very favorite people in the Book of Mormon.

King Lamoni’s father was humbled by Ammon when they ran into each other on the road. (Ammon and King Lamoni were on their way to Middoni. King Lamoni’s father was on his way to see King Lamoni.) King Lamoni’s father was upset with his son and with Ammon. He attempted to take Ammon’s life, but ended up being compromised by Ammon’s strength. In an attempt to be freed from Ammon’s grip, King Lamoni offered up half his kingdom.

Ammon wasn’t looking for power or land. He simply wanted to teach the gospel, and he had developed a true friendship and love for King Lamoni. So, he asked that King Lamoni’s land be protected and that he lived in peace.

King Lamoni’s father was shocked – he didn’t expect to hear such a charitable response. His heart began to be softened and humbled.

***

Later, Aaron travels up to King Lamoni’s father to share the gospel. King Lamoni’s father had been thinking a lot about this experience and was already becoming more prepared to be receptive to the gospel message. He listened to Aaron’s message – which was the gospel and basic scripture stories.

It seems like King Lamoni’s father was becoming aware that though he had so much, he didn’t have any joy. After listening to Aaron’s message, we read:

“And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.” – Alma 22:15

We can learn so much from King Lamoni’s father’s tender and humble example!

The Spirit of God enables us to feel joy. And if we aren’t feeling joy, then we have to do just as King Lamoni’s father did. We must ask ourselves what we can do to obtain the Spirit of God, and then be filled with joy.

This is really applicable on every level. As I read this verse, I thought of the things that troubled me, and realized that in one way or another I’m allowing them to trouble me. I can choose to ask God what I can do to receive the Spirit and be filled with joy.

Men and women are that they might have joy. We can have joy. When we choose to look within ourselves and root out the wicked spirit that blocks the Spirit of God, then we can be filled with joy.

Cheerfulness as Resourcefulness (Alma 17:31)

I have to admit that when I think of “cheerfulness” I often conjure this really cheesy – cheerleader-y image in my mind. (No offense to you cheerleaders. I know that it isn’t easy). But I hope you know what I’m getting at. For some reason, cheerfulness kind of connotes a sort of vapidity. It doesn’t seem helpful or smart.

Yet the Lord tells us to be of Good Cheer. And He is anything but vapid.

As I was reading the example set by Ammon, I think that I finally can understand what the Lord wants us to be when He tells us to be cheerful.

Background

Ammon is a missionary to the Lamanites. The Lamanites are not really aware of this yet, but Ammon is living as a servant to King Lamoni. He has been commanded to help care for the sheep of the king.

From time to time a band of Lamanites scatters the king’s sheep – as a tactic to steal them. When this has happened in the past, the king, in his anger, kills his servants.

Now Ammon is helping to tend the sheep, and wouldn’t you know it – a group comes to scatter the sheep as they are drinking water. The other servants of King Lamoni become really worried and afraid…I mean – they “wept exceedingly.” They knew they were going to die.

Ammon collects his thoughts, then speaks to his fellow servants:

“And it came to pass that he flattered them by his words, saying: My brethren, be of good cheer and let us go in search of the flocks, and we will gather them together and bring them back unto the place of water; and thus we will preserve the flocks unto the king and he will not slay us.” – Alma 17:31

Ammon’s example shows us that Joy and cheerfulness can actually help us to think clearly in stressful situations.

Because of the good cheer that filled Ammon’s heart – on account of his faithfulness and his good habits (like scripture study and prayer) – Ammon was able to think during this moment of duress and then come up with a good solution.

This is a product of prayer – true prayer. Prayer teaches us to be still. It teaches us to breathe and listen and be in the moment. When we take the time to do this every day, it becomes a part of our nature.

Maybe you pray – and you’re thinking, “I’m a basket case.” Have you considered your prayers? Are they times when you peacefully commune with the Lord? Are you listening? Are you stilling your mind so that you can open your heart? Or are your prayers a time when you “vent” your fears, frustrations, and foibles?

I think it’s okay to go to the Lord with our difficulties, but I can also see how this kind of focus has been a problem for me. For a long time, my prayers suffered. The Lord has always answered them, even though my attempts were feeble.

Last year, I felt prompted to study meditation – in a traditional “eastern” sense (sitting on the floor, cross-legged, and controlling my breathing). As I began this practicing this meditation regularly, I noticed a change. I became more cheerful. Things fell into perspective. The Spirit could reach the deep recesses of my heart. And during times of immediate trial (the proverbial scattering of the sheep at the waters of Sebus), I had an automatic response of cheerfulness and hope.

Such cheerfulness and hope has helped my mind to be more active – in the right ways. It has helped me to see clearly and to discern between truth and error. It has helped me to find solutions to my problems, or to at least feel peace until a solution made itself evident.

Because of the good cheer in Ammon’s heart, he was able to make such an obvious and wise decision – gather up the sheep! None of the servants were killed, and soon Ammon’s bigger problem (preaching the gospel to the Lamanites) had a solution as well.

The Lord will empower us to find solutions to our problems when we will simply calm ourselves and choose to be of good cheer. Cheerfulness isn’t some cheesy-hokey-fake personality trait. It is a deep and abiding trust in God. It is retaining in our minds that nothing is too hard for the Lord.