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The answer to what we are pursuing in real life is not “happily ever after.” The answer is “happily.”

Despite what Hollywood movies and romance novels regularly portray, in this mortal existence there really is no such thing as “happily ever after.” There is only “happily.”

We have been conditioned to believe that the culmination of any good story or saga is found in the final six words, “And they lived happily ever after.” Many honestly believe that the final words, in the final sentence, are what the story is all about. If that were true, why would the essence and purpose of the story only get six words? In our race to get to the “happily ever after” finish, we often miss the most meaningful moments and most important lessons.

There are usually thousands of words before you get to “happily ever after” in a book. In a movie there are about 120 minutes of action and drama before the 10 seconds of “happily ever after” — fade to black, cue the music and roll the credits. Come to think of it, I don’t recall a book or movie that really shows what that “happily ever after” actually looks like or what it is, likely because it simply can’t be captured.

Could it be that the other 99.9 percent of the story before the final line is what matters most? The 99.9 percent is filled with obstacles, setbacks, tension, uncertainty, heartache, success, failure, lessons learned, weakness exposed and character strengthened. It also is likely to include relationships lost, found, saved or secured. Personal redemption and critical realizations combined with tears of both sadness and joy make appearances. Above all, there is a steady stream of interaction with other imperfect people on their own journey.

Lacking such highs and lows, good and bad, there is no reason to engage in the story. The 99.9 percent of the story is the reason there is a story, and the .01 percent may just be a placeholder for storytellers to catch their breath before the journey continues. “Happily ever after” was likely invented for parents in order to get their children to go to sleep.

The answer to what we are pursuing in real life is not “happily ever after.” The answer is “happily.” As we pursue our journey in life, “happily” is not a place to travel to. It is simply the way to travel! When we travel happily, all of the challenges and difficulties can be endured, overcome, learned from and ultimately enjoyed.

Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often quoted Jenkins Lloyd Jones, who put it this way, "Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. (The fact is) most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. …

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"Life is like an old-time rail journey — delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.” Riding happily is indeed the key to fully enjoying life’s journey.

A heavenly “happily ever after” can come after this life is over. For now, in our personal stories, family struggles and community adventures, simply learning to travel happily is far more important than a relentless and hyper-focused pursuit of getting to “happily ever after.”

And they lived happily.