I join President Kauwe, your family members, and your friends in congratulating you most warmly on this wonderful day! Today marks such an important step in your life. You come from many different countries and backgrounds. You have faced many challenges—some that you never anticipated, like the COVID-19 pandemic. But those challenges could not stop you from graduating with a degree from Brigham Young University–Hawaii. I am sure you have been looking forward to this day for many years, and you have the opportunity of a wonderful future in front of you.
Some of you will pursue further education. Others will begin a career. But all of you will have many choices to make, and your future happiness will depend, to a large degree, on those choices.
Happiness is an interesting word. Even though we are all familiar with it, if we were each asked to give a definition, I am not sure we would all come up with the same one. Some equate happiness with pleasure or comfort. Others might describe it as a feeling that motivates us to climb higher, work harder, and improve ourselves. Happiness could also be considered a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life, one with a sense of meaning and deep contentment.
The scriptures teach that happiness comes from living the gospel. King Benjamin spoke of the “happy state of those that keep the commandments of God” (Mosiah 2:41). And Alma warned, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).
Sometimes we jump to the incorrect conclusion that if one is not keeping all the commandments, that person cannot be happy in any sense of the word. I do not think that is completely true, but I do believe that there are many different levels of happiness.
I have learned that God gives us commandments to bring us happiness—the kind of happiness only He can offer.
Jesus Christ taught that there are two great commandments. They are:
- “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38).
- “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).
May I share some additional scriptures that might help us better understand these two great commandments. The Doctrine and Covenants records a beautiful vision that the Prophet Joseph Smith received of the three kingdoms of glory. Please note that while they are all different, each one is referred to as a kingdom of glory. This alone helps us understand Heavenly Father’s infinite love for us—that He would create a kingdom of glory for virtually all His children who chose to accept His plan in pre mortality.
The lowest kingdom, called the Telestial kingdom, will be inhabited by those who in this life were “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.” They are those who “received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:103, 101).
It appears to me that people in this group love themselves more than they love God or their neighbor. They place first their own desires, which include greed, power, lust, and whatever it takes to satisfy their personal wants. They do not want to follow the commandments of God, and they do not see their fellow men as their equals.
Is there a happiness for these people? I would say that it depends upon one’s definition, but the answer is probably yes—a type of happiness. However, it may be the kind that comes from pursuing happiness, not from actually achieving it. To use Samuel’s words, they “sought all the days of [their] lives for that which [they] could not obtain”—“happiness in doing iniquity” (Helaman 13:38). Before these inherit the telestial glory, they must be purified of those desires.
Now let us look at the description of those who will inherit the terrestrial kingdom. “These are … honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. These are they who receive of his glory but not of his fulness. … These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:75–76, 79).
These sound like good people. The word “honorable” suggests that they have worked in wonderful causes, and their hearts were right in helping others. I would say they probably do love God and love their neighbor, and they find happiness in that. So, what were they missing? Why did they inherit terrestrial glory instead of celestial glory?
I think at least part of the answer is this: They settled. They received some of God’s glory, “but not of his fulness.” The Father had so much more to offer them—unimaginable blessings—but for whatever reason, they contented themselves with only a portion. They had a testimony of Jesus; they just were not valiant about it. They chose good over evil, but they also chose good over great. As a reward, they receive happiness. But they could have had more.
Let us return to the scriptures and see those who inherit the Celestial kingdom. These “are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized …, being buried in the water in his name. … These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” The scriptures go on to say that they “dwell in [God’s] presence,” where “they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace. And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:51, 69, 94–95).
These are individuals who learned to love God and love their neighbors. They likely sought to eliminate evils in the world, like prejudice, poverty, and suffering—after all, they are “just (or righteous) men and women.” But because of their humble reliance on the Savior and His atoning power, they eventually became better than just. He made them perfect. They had trials and weaknesses, but because they turned to God and “received of his fulness and his grace,” they find purpose and meaning, even in difficult experiences. They fully embrace Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and as a result, they receive a degree of happiness not available in any other way.
We find happiness by degrees, and the degree to which we seek it will ultimately determine our destiny and the kingdom of glory we inherit. As Alma taught his son Corianton: “One [is] 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” (Alma 41:5). And because we have agency, those desires are expressed in the choices we make.
May I share three choices you can make that will lead to celestial happiness, eternal happiness, God’s happiness.
1. Choose to be Happy
First, choose to be happy. Of course, there are cases of clinical depression, and we are thankful for professional help in such cases. But when it comes to the ups and downs of life, we all experience, there is great power in accepting the premise that we can choose to be happy.
To the paralytic man lying helpless on a bed, Jesus proclaimed, “Be of good cheer” (Matthew 9:2). To the frightened Apostles battling a tempestuous sea, Jesus appeared on the water, declaring, “Be of good cheer” (Matthew 14:27). As Joseph Smith met with 10 elders about to be sent out on missions fraught with trouble and danger, the Lord commanded, “Be of good cheer” (Doctrine and Covenants 61:36). In each instance, the people had every reason to be anxious, fearful, and hopeless, yet the Lord directed them to choose to be cheerful.
An old Native American story helps illustrate how we can do this. One evening a grandfather said to his grandson, “There is a battle going on inside me—a fierce battle. It is also going on inside you and inside all people. It’s a battle between two wolves.”
The boy was puzzled by the thought of two wolves fighting inside him, but he kept listening.
“One wolf is unhappiness,” the grandfather continued. “He is fear, worry, anger, jealousy, sorrow, self-pity, and resentment. The other wolf is happiness. He is joy, love, hope, serenity, kindness, truth, and compassion.”
With some anxiety, the boy asked, “Which wolf will win?”
The grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”
We can choose to be happy by feeding happiness and starving unhappiness. For example, at any moment you can focus on gratitude, counting your blessings. Make a mental list of the things in your life you are thankful for—your health, the use of your legs, your friends, the fact that your eyes work. Keep going until the impulse to complain has left you.
When you are feeling sad or down, choose to stop giving energy to those feelings through dwelling on them. If you are holding a grudge, ask yourself, “What is more important for me right now? To feel justified or to be happy?” Remember, withholding your love accomplishes nothing except making two people unhappy.
Happiness comes to those who, like Nephi’s people, live “after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27). We must learn to appreciate the good around us. Look for blessings in your life every day. Look for the good in the world and build upon it. Choose to be happy.
2. Choose to see Your Trials and Difficulties as Blessings
The second choice you can make is to recognize trials and difficulties as potential blessings. As the early Latter-day Saints were first arriving in Jackson County, Missouri, the Lord gave them a special warning. The Saints did not know this yet, but the Lord knew that Missouri would be a place of heart-rending trials for them. Here is what the scripture says:
“He that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:2–4).
There is a story of a beautiful fictional city, where there was a museum laid with rough-hewn marble tiles. The treasure of the museum’s collection was a huge marble statue. Every day, people from all over the world visited the museum and admired the magnificently crafted statue.
One night, one of the marble tiles complained to the marble statue: “Hey, statue! I’m getting tired of seeing people come all the way here from across the world to admire you while they ignore and step on me!”
The statue answered, “My dear brother, don’t you remember we are actually from the same quarry?”
“Yes! I do,” cried the tile. “That’s my point! We were born in the same place. We are made of the same material. And yet the world treats us so differently. This is so unfair!”
The statute paused for a moment and then said, “Yes, you are right, my brother. But think back to the day when the sculptor tried to work on you with his tools.”
“Oh, I remember that, all right,” said the tile. “I despise that sculptor. How could he use those horrible tools on me? I refused!”
Then the statue continued, “Well, since you resisted his tools, he couldn’t work on you. You limited what he could make out of you. When he started working on me, I knew at once that I would be something different and unique after his efforts. I bore all the painful chiseling and grinding and polishing and allowed him to craft me as he wanted!”
With some regret, the tile said, “But those tools were so painful.”
“My brother,” the statue replied, “there is a price for everything in life. You made your choice, and you cannot blame anybody who steps on you now.”
Brothers and sisters, you will each have opportunities to receive some chiseling and grinding, and polishing. Some of you are going to face health challenges. Some will be lonely as you move to faraway places. “All these things,” and many more, “shall give [you] experience, and shall be for [your] good” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7). But that will not happen against your will; therefore, choose to look for opportunities to grow from your experiences. Be careful not to fall into the habit of saying, “It’s not fair!” or “Why me?” Instead, ask, “What can I learn from this?” Counsel with your spouse, a friend, or your bishop. Through it all, spend time on your knees, turning to God that He may make out of you the person He knows you can become.
3. Choose to Act and not be Acted Upon
Third, choose to act and not be acted upon. There are many influences in the world that seek to act upon you. Influential voices call out to you from all sides.
Often the purpose of such messages is to manipulate you. Never forget that you are a son or daughter of God. You were not created to be acted upon. You were created to act for yourself. You were created to have joy, and you were given agency to make choices. Joy comes when we act and are not acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:25–26).
Certainly, there are many things about life that we cannot control. We may not be able to direct the wind, but we can certainly adjust our sails. And in all circumstances, we can choose to obey the two great commandments. If we will always keep the perspective first of loving God and then loving our neighbor as ourselves, we will find celestial happiness. Our Heavenly Father wants us to become joint-heirs with Christ to receive all that the Father has. This is the ultimate purpose of His great plan of happiness. It is our potential destiny as His children. But it does not just happen to us. We must choose it, and we must commit to that choice with all our heart, mind, and strength, even in the face of opposition.
As you leave this university, take with you what you have learned about your choices. You have a bright future. You have so many opportunities ahead—and so many choices ahead too! The choices you make will determine your happiness. May the Lord bless you to always seek to do His will.
I testify that Jesus is the Christ. I know that we have a loving Father who desires to bless us continually with the opportunities that will mold us to become the person He knows we can be. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.