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The Relationship Between Fun and Happiness

I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you amazing young people today, and a fair amount of amazing old people! My patriarchal blessing indicated that I would “teach the Gospel to the nations of the earth.” And, I have taught in places like Arizona, New Zealand and Vietnam. But, today I am really getting to speak to the “nations of the earth.” I consider it a wonderful privilege – and a huge responsibility. I hope and pray that the things I’ve prepared will be just what many of you may need to hear at this time.  

I’d like to start with just asking if you’re happy!? You don’t need to answer out loud; but I’d like you to think about it, are you happy? I hope that you are; but if you’re not, maybe you need to lighten up, and have more fun! Is that what some of you were thinking? If you really think that you need to have more fun, so you can be more happy, I hope that you’ll listen very carefully today. Or if you know those that are not very happy right now, perhaps the things that I’ll share today may be able help them in some way.

The title of my devotional message is “The Relationship Between Fun and Happiness.” To help you to know the relationship, and not have to try and figure it out on your own, I’m going to tell you right off the bat what the relationship is between fun and happiness, there is none! That’s right! They are two totally different things. Many people spend a lot of time and concern in their life trying to find happiness. They think that if they have “fun,” they’ll be happy! I am really hoping today, that you can all leave here with a better understanding of how to better find “true happiness” and that you’ll know some of the things that are guaranteed to bring you true joy and happiness!

As I pondered how to present this topic today, I did as any good Mormon would do, I went to the scriptures and started looking for the following terms: fun, happiness, and joy! (I might add here that, for the purposes of my talk, I will use the terms “happiness” and “joy” interchangeably.) Well, as most of you would suspect, the terms happiness and joy were all over in the scriptures! And maybe the most powerful scriptural reference to joy is that in 2 Nephi 2 “men are, that they might have joy.” But as I searched further in the scriptures, it was interesting, the word “fun” is not in the scriptures at all. (That’s another bit of evidence that the terms fun and happiness are not related!) So, why do we care if “fun” and “happiness” are related?   

Years ago, I came across an article in the  Reader’s Digest, called “The Secret of True Happiness.” It caught my attention. It sounded like the title of an old Church video, called “Man’s Search for Happiness.” I wanted to see what someone, not of our faith, might have to say on the subject of “happiness.” It was fascinating! I don’t know that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland could have said it any better! The author, Dennis Prager, explained that basically, “fun” is temporary, it’s what we experience during an activity. The positive affects end when the activity ends. (Like playing basketball, or video games, swimming, etc.) But, “happiness,” on the other hand, is the deeper, more abiding emotion that we enjoy long after the activities or experiences are over. He went on to also point out that if people believe that happiness is found in the fun-filled, pain-free, life then pain must be equated with unhappiness. But, in fact, the opposite is true. He said, “More times than not, things that lead to happiness involve some pain.” Prager gives several examples that should ring true to all of us, that achieving true happiness may include pain, struggle, and sacrifice (“The Secret of True Happiness,”  Reader’s Digest, condensed from REDBOOK, by Dennis Prager. February, 1989)! He then mentioned things like having children, getting married, achieving success in life’s work, religious commitment, and self-improvement. His examples are excellent!

At this point, I’d like to expand on some of his examples, and include some of my own, to try and help you see the differences between “temporary fun” and true lasting happiness.

When our oldest son went on his mission, I noticed that our younger children would include something like this in their prayers, “Please bless Alan to have fun on his mission!” I don’t know that I thought much about that at first; but then I started thinking, I really don’t care whether Alan has FUN on his mission or not! Very few of us, would describe missions as “fun.” We found great joy and happiness through our service; but if you asked a missionary at the end of a very hard, hot, sweaty, or freezing cold, discouraging day if that was “fun,” I don’t think they would describe it as that! But, missions are often described by the returned missionaries as the “happiest” two years of their lives to that point. Yes, it involved pain, it involved sacrifice and effort.

Let’s look at another part of life, and see if we would describe it as being “fun” or bringing “happiness.” Having children! Fun? Well, I sat right by my wife as she gave birth to all 10 of our children; and it didn’t look to me like she was having too much “fun.” (Sisters, I hate to be the one to tell you; but it appears that there is some serious pain involved in giving birth. Epidurals seem to be helping, but that was after my wife’s time!) Anyway, I think you’re getting the point. Having babies is not “fun,” but, oh the joy and happiness we both felt as minutes after their birth, they laid the newborn babies in her arms.  

Oh, and by the way, raising children would probably not be described as “fun” either. Sleepless nights, poopy diapers, the seemingly eternal cleaning up messes, etc. are really not that fun; but, you see, you have to go through that in order to experience the overwhelming joy that comes from a young child laying their head on your shoulder and putting their arms around your neck. Or getting the “butterfly kisses” from your angel little girl. That’s joy. That’s happiness. And it is NOT temporary, but it will sustain you through mountains of dirty laundry, and teenage rebellions.

So, once again, the world may tell us that we ought to have “fun,” and avoid things that involve pain. But please don’t fall for that.  

Let’s look at another example that may apply to you YSA’s. There is a real temptation to putting off marriage, so that you can have more “fun” and more “freedom.” Yes, it may be “fun” to “hang-out,” eat the food in the ladies’ apartments, watch their TV, and try kissing any of them that will let you; but let me assure you, that’s all temporary. It lasts only as long as it takes to settle back into your own cluttered room, and unmade bed – surrounded by other roommates that may be trying to act “happy” with temporary pleasures! Yes, there is sometimes stress, pain, discomfort, and sacrifice involved with working toward the marriage relationship. But, there is true, deep and abiding happiness that comes from those relationships. (I might inject here a quote that I read on the inside cover of the June issue of the Ensign, “Marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other human relationship.”) The goal of living together as families should be a constant goal for every one of you. It’s ordained of God. You’ve heard that before; but can I suggest there’s some real clues for you in looking for a mate that are related to fun and happiness. Watch how those you are interested in spend their time. Do they seek temporary pleasures; or are they living a life of happiness, which includes sometimes inconvenient efforts to serve others, attend the Temple, home or visit teach, wear modest clothing, study the scriptures, and take their education seriously. Keep your eyes on valiant men and women who are earnestly seeking for true happiness! If you find a truly happy person, you are definitely on the right track! Don’t worry about their physical appearance, their muscles, their surfing abilities, or their figures. If they are truly happy you can be assured that they’ll be living the Gospel.  

Elder Claudio Costa, in speaking of “fun and happiness” stated the following. “We are happy as we pray every morning and every night, when we can feel that the Lord hears us and is always willing to bless, forgive and help us. We are happy as we feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost in our lives – as we feel the Spirit when we have to make important life decisions. In short, we can feel happiness every day in our lives through little things we do, and we are fully happy as we keep the commandments of a loving God who cares about us” (CR October, 2002).

Young people, not only look for companions that are happy, be happy yourselves! And that only comes as you live the life described by Elder Costa.   

Now, back to other examples of things that are associated with “fun” or “happiness.” This one may be obvious; but I’m going to discuss it anyway. It’s another example of how some pain may be associated with happiness and joy. I want to talk about the process of repentance. Even though having worldly, wicked fun may have been involved in your sinning – I would suggest that there is absolutely nobody who has sincerely repented of sins that would describe the process as “fun!” But, does it bring great joy and happiness?! Listen how Alma described the “before and after” of repentance, after he was visited by an angel, and then had applied the atoning blood of the Savior – after he had been living a life of sin and rebellion. He stated, “... as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. ... when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:18-20).

What a beautiful description of the feelings that can come to you as you apply the Savior’s atonement to your life. Sometimes we just have to suffer the pains of embarrassment and humiliation, in order to be healed, and not continue to suffer. But, it won’t be “fun.” I’ll never forget, as a bishop, sitting across the desk from a man who had, with his wife, just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. He painfully confessed that he and his wife had been involved in pre-marital sex over 50 years before. For 50 years, they could have been enjoying the happiness and joy that comes with the purifying effects of the atonement! Even after 50 years, the confession was painful; it was not “fun” but finally they were able to enjoy the complete redeeming power of the Savior’s love.  

I'd like to share another example. There was a young mother that came in and confessed to having had an abortion three years previously. Her soul had been “racked with torment” for three years! It was not a fun experience for her to bare her soul, and go through the painful process of repentance. But, the same thing happened to her that happened to Alma the Younger. He said (as I quoted before) and this sister felt, “I could remember my pain no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:19-20).   

This courageous young Mom shared later, that she had finally been able to sleep peacefully through the night, for the first time in three years! She did not forget the sin, but she was not “harrowed up by the memory” of her sins anymore! Young people, and us older ones, if we truly want happiness and joy in our lives, we must repent of our sins. It will not be “fun;” but it is essential to enjoying true happiness. 

So, hopefully you’re beginning to understand the relationship between fun and happiness. Remember, there is none! But there is a relationship between sin and happiness, and righteousness and happiness.  

Let me briefly try to illustrate this. There are graphs that illustrate relationships. Let’s start with the relationship between sin and happiness. It is a very strong relationship. But it’s a “negative” correlation. In other words, the more you sin, the less happiness you enjoy.   

Let’s look at this graph. A negative correlation is one that can be charted like this. If sin is on the line along the left side of the graph, and “happiness” is along the bottom, you can see that if you just sin a little, your happiness is not severely hampered. But, the more you sin, the less you’re able to enjoy happiness. Remember Alma’s statement, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Never! Some may find “fun” and temporary pleasures in sin, but they will NEVER find happiness! Samuel the Lamanite put it this way in reproving the wickedness of the Nephites, “... ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head” (Helaman 13:38).

Let’s look now at the relationship between righteousness and happiness. It is a strong, positive one! This graph is meant to illustrate this correlation. You’ll see that if you strive to live righteously, just a little, then you may have just a little happiness. But the more you live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the greater will be your happiness! As Elder Costa explained, the more you strive to live the Gospel, the more happiness and joy you will experience! (Remember that if there are sins to be repented of, that could hinder your happiness even if you’re trying to live righteously.) I’d like to share with you a few scriptures that also bear out this relationship between righteousness and happiness.

“... happy is  that people, whose God  is the Lord” (Psalms 144:15).

“Happy  is he ... whose hope  is in the Lord his God:” (Psalms 146:5).

“... those who died in the faith of Christ are happy in him” (Alma 46:41).

“... he that keepeth the law, happy  is he” (Proverbs 29:18).

“If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17).

Before I leave this positive relationship between righteousness and happiness; I’d like to share with you another observation related to this, it has to do with righteousness, happiness, and being “good looking!” I remember noticing when referring to some of the special women in the scriptures, there was the phrase they were “fair to look upon.” And it used to bother me that physical appearance was even worth mentioning – because there certainly shouldn’t be any favor given to anyone by the Lord based on their good looks; at least, for my sake, I was sure hoping it wasn’t a factor. Well, as I have associated with young single adults through the years, and even older people, I’ve noticed that the more righteous they are, and the more they are filled with the Holy Ghost, the more they are “fair to look upon!” I could give you example after example around this campus! That inward beauty and goodness just radiates through the eyes and the smiles, to the point that you are beautiful, and very fair to look upon! (Regardless of your size, shape, or physical traits!)    

So, remember, in our search for happiness, the more righteous we are the more inward peace, joy and happiness we can enjoy! (It doesn’t mean that we won’t have trials, hardships and sorrow; but it means that through all of this we can still have the inner, deep, abiding joy that we seek.)

Now, the final graph, the relationship of fun and happiness. I’ve already given away the answer to this graph. There is no relationship, or correlation, between fun and happiness. Having “fun” (which is temporary) may be associated with happiness, like doing fun things on your mission; or having “fun” may be associated also with sin, and unhappiness. Remember, you can have great joy and happiness in things that are not “fun.” So, as the chart illustrates, these two things are not related. You can have great happiness, with little or no “fun,” and you can have a lot of fun, and very little happiness!

While I’m on the subject of “no correlation,”  I’d like to throw in that there is also NO correlation between money and happiness! It’s very possible to have great happiness, and a lot of money; or to have great happiness, and have very little money! Or to be miserable, and have lots of money; or be miserable, and have no money! I hope you get the point!

Now, to wrap this up, let me share a few other activities and experiences that you might look at differently now – knowing that sometimes fun and happiness are confused.  

(1) What about exercising, eating smart, and being healthy? Is it “fun?” Not for most of us. But there is a peace and happiness that comes as we strive to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

(2) What about studying, learning, and attending classes? “Fun?” If any of you said “yes,” I want you to know that I’ve have met a few people like you; but for most of us, the homework, tests, and term papers, are not “fun” at all. However, there’s happiness in the opportunities that the education provides for us. Is there some pain, discomfort and sacrifice involved in achieving this happiness? For sure!

(3) How about things like learning to play the piano or the violin? Is that fun? When you first get started, it involves pain, part of which is the pain you inflicted upon your parents as you began the process! But what happiness you can enjoy through the years as you are able to bless so many lives through your sweet musical talents.

(4) Service projects! Have you seen the pictures of these “Mormon helping hands” people and their yellow shirts. Look carefully at the trash they are digging through, the things they are raking by the beach, or the gross piles of debris that they are trying to remove. Does it look fun? Why are they smiling then? Because there is a happiness, and joy that goes along with service to others. It’s one of the major sources of happiness; but the service is not always “fun!”

Well, I certainly hope and pray that there will be some of you that will leave here today with a greater desire to enjoy true happiness. If you are not as happy as you’d like to be, you can start becoming happier today, with the first decision you make between good and evil. The happiness doesn’t always come fast, or easy, but it grows each day as you continue to live the principles associated with the Lord’s Gospel – the true “Plan of Happiness!”

In summary, I hope and pray that you’ll focus on the things that bring true happiness, such as the ones that we’ve talked about today, serving missions and paying the price of work, effort and sacrifice while you’re there! I hope some of you will leave here more committed to actually go on a real date, and actually use the “commitment pattern” to get you closer to enjoying the blessings of eternal marriage. I pray that, when you are married, you’ll not put off having the overwhelming joys associated with bringing children into the world, and spending years of happiness with them. Yes, there’s some pain involved; but aren’t you glad that your parents were willing to pay that price? If you’ve got things in your life that need to be repented of please go through with the somewhat painful process and enjoy the blessings and happiness associated with a clear conscience.    

There’s one scripture that totally summarizes what I’d like to say today. King Benjamin shared, “And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it” (Mosiah 2:41).

I add my testimony to King Benjamin’s, and pray for your happiness now and in the eternities to come! In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.