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Book excerpt: Putting happiness on the back burner?

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 12:30 p.m. MDT

We must learn that happiness can be achieved at each stage in life and not at some distant point in the future. We must be certain that we recognize that there are great and wonderful events in our current life situation. (Book cover) We must learn that happiness can be achieved at each stage in life and not at some distant point in the future. We must be certain that we recognize that there are great and wonderful events in our current life situation. (Book cover)

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the book, "Be Still: Using Principles of the Gospel to Lower Anxiety," by G. Sheldon Martin.

"I will be happy when __________. Fill in the blank: When I go on a mission. When I get off a mission. When I get married. When I finish school. When I have children. When the children are in school. When the children move out. When I’m out of debt. When I have grandchildren. When I retire. When I go on another mission. Or, when I die."

Doctrine and Covenants 138:50 says, “For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.” One day when I was reading this, the thought came into my mind, Even in the spirit world, it’s possible to say, “I’ll be happy when ___________.” “I’ll be happy when I’m resurrected.”

This process never stops. It has the possibility of going on for a very long time.

We will always have more hopes and dreams than we can realize. In fact, I cannot think of a time in my life when I have not thought, I will be happy at the next stage. It seems as though we often live life thinking that the next stop is happiness, and when we get there, we realize that happiness is still one more stop away.

We must learn that happiness can be achieved at each stage in life and not at some distant point in the future. We must be certain that we recognize that there are great and wonderful events in our current life situation. It’s easy to say, “If I could only have lived in the days of Nephi to watch him receive the power to seal in heaven and earth,” or “I wish I lived in the times of Joseph Smith, when the Saints were easy to be entreated.” That’s true to a point, but while there were some Saints who were easy to be entreated, there were certainly others who weren’t. It’s true in every stage of history.

We have a tendency to glorify the past the same way we do the future. See history for what it was, both good and bad, and learn to see your own life for what it truly is, both good and bad. It’s easy to glorify the past or the unknown future.

Sometimes we focus too much on the current trials we are coping with because they are happening to us today. If we do this too much, it keeps us from appreciating the good in every day. Learn to appreciate the phase that you are in.

My son, McKay, plays tackle football. When he was in the second grade, he played his first year. If you have never seen second-grade tackle football, it’s like herding cats. In fact, McKay came up to me halfway through the season and said, “Hey, Dad, am I on offense or defense right now?” He had already run about 12 plays, and I thought, this is a major concern.

One day, he lined up in practice to do his tackling drill, and he went up against this boy in practice who was a giant of a second-grader. This other boy was old for his grade and huge for his age. McKay, on the other hand, was young for his grade and small for his age. McKay lined up head-to-head and got run over. I mean, the other boy didn’t even slow down. He hit McKay hard, and I remember thinking, I hope he’s not injured too badly. The coach called for a water break, and McKay hopped up and ran over to me. He gave me a thumbs up and said, “Dad, did you see how fast I got up when that boy hit me?” I laughed and thought, I have got to remember this and write it in my journal because when he’s 16, I’ll miss this type of response.

I have another son, Kimball. We once had a Primary presentation in our ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in which Kimball participated. One day, he came up to my wife and me, crying, and said, “Mom, Dad, I don’t want to do my part.” He was very upset. We told him, “You don’t have to do your part if you don’t want to.”

We were not going to force him, but his reluctant attitude surprised us because normally he wasn’t that shy. Kimball’s part was to stand and say the line, “I am a child of God.” The day of the practice, the Sunday before the Primary presentation, Kimball went up to the pulpit, and it looked like he had decided to say it after all. He grabbed the microphone and began to sing, “I Am a Child of God” — sing, not say. Kimball thought that his part in the program was to sing a solo. No wonder he was nervous. But he did it anyway. I will not get that priceless experience back when he is a teenager.

One day my third son, Joseph, was sitting at the table drinking out of a straw. He paused, looked up at me with a smile, and said, “Dad, look, the straw works backward.” He flipped the straw over and started to suck out of the bottom, and sure enough, it did. My wife and I laughed about that for a long time.

Having little kids at home is difficult, and we can choose to focus on the endless dishes, diapers, laundry, and noise, or we can remember these experiences we will never get back, and they will help us focus on the good things and not just the hard things of the current stage.

Sometimes it feels like the phase we’re in is never going to end. LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson spoke of that when he said, “If you are still in the process of raising children, be aware that the tiny fingerprints that show up on almost every newly cleaned surface, the toys scattered about the house, the piles and piles of laundry to be tackled will disappear all too soon. And that you will—to your surprise—miss them profoundly.”

Stresses come in our life regardless of our circumstances. We must deal with them the best we can, but we should not let them get in the way of what is most important.

G. Sheldon Martin is a seminary teacher and a clinical mental health counselor. He is a favorite speaker at Education Week, EFY, and youth conferences around the country. He and his wife, Nicole, are the parents of five children.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company