The idea of happiness has a long history, much corrupted in modern times to mean a state of gratification. Prophets, poets and philosophers have written, spoken and ruminated on happiness since the beginning of recorded thought. Indeed, the founders of our country enshrined "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right granted by God. They weren't thinking of warm puppies or "happy hour!"
While the Oxford English Dictionary defines happiness as good luck or fortune, the more serious definition, and the one that has occupied the minds of thoughtful people, is that you are happy if you are "blessed" and have "a feeling of great pleasure and content(ment) arising from satisfaction with one's circumstances or condition ... which results from success or the attainment of what is considered good."
"True happiness, according to Plato, is found in only in the performance of one's duty ... (Aristotle) believes that individual happiness depends on (in addition to our circumstances) our virtue." (Unknown)
Contemporary thinker Dennis Prager has written a book, "Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual." Prager notes that "the pursuit of happiness is not the pursuit of pleasure. The pursuit of pleasure is hedonism, and hedonists are not happy because the intensity and amount of pleasure must constantly be increased in order for hedonism to work. Pleasure for the hedonist is a drug. But the pursuit of happiness is noble. It benefits everyone around the individual pursuing it, and it benefits humanity. And that is why happiness is a moral obligation."
In the scriptures, the word blessed and the word happy are often used interchangeably. For example, in Psalm 1:1, the word blessed is a translation of the Hebrew word for happy. So this verse could read, "Blessed (happy) is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." On the other hand, Alma teaches his son Corianton that you cannot "be restored from sin to happiness," and that "all men that are in a state of nature ... in a carnal state ... in the bonds of iniquity ... are without God in the world, and ... have gone contrary of the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness." Thus, "wickedness never was happiness." (Alma 41:10-11)The Prophet Joseph Smith taught us that "Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know, unless we comply with or keep those we have already received."
Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org The gospel in words