Main idea: The telos (purpose) of human nature is to move us towards actualizing our true potential. People are happy when they are actualizing their highest potential and unhappy when they ignore this part of their nature. Human nature is therefore designed to move us from incompleteness to wholeness and happiness is a feedback mechanism that tells us if we are actualizing that potential.
i.) The Purpose (Telos) of Human Nature
Aristotle said that all things have a telos or an end/purpose for which they exist. Teleology involves examining things to discover their aims, purposes and goals. Organisms experience teleological development as they move from being imperfect to becoming more perfect. All organisms strive to become the perfect form of their kind or to actualize potentiality. For example, a seed becomes a plant, an embryo becomes a baby or a baby becomes an adult. The true essence of something is therefore what it can become and not necessarily what it is at a given moment in time.
The Psychologist Carl Rogers observed that people begin life incomplete but have an “actualizing tendency” that, if ignored, leads to arrested development and adaptive difficulties. This actualizing tendency leads to the fulfillment of intrinsic human nature. Human nature is designed to move us towards wholeness and to fulfill the purpose of our existence on this earth (the Telos).
Aristostle believed that true happiness was found through achieving one’s telos (purpose). The telos of humans is to live a virtuous life in accordance with reason. He called this “eudemonic living.”
The Scriptures teach us that the purpose of our existence is to have joy. Lehi taught that: “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). Similarly, the prophet Joseph Smith taught: “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.”
Joy and misery are feedback mechanisms that indicate if we are in harmony with our Telos. President Dallin H. Oaks taught:”Joy is more than happiness. Joy is the ultimate sensation of well-being. It comes from being complete and in harmony with our Creator and his eternal laws. The opposite of joy is misery. Misery is more than unhappiness, sorrow, or suffering. Misery is the ultimate state of disharmony with God and his laws. (Dallin H. Oaks, “Joy and Mercy,” Nov. 1991)
Our joy in this life is but a shadow of the “fullness” of joy that we are promised we will have when we are resurrected. D&C 93: 33-35 teaches us: “For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy; And when separated, man cannot receive a fullness of joy.”
Jacob taught the Nephites the same thing in 2 Nephi 9: 18 which reads: “They who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever” (2 Ne. 9:18).
If joy is the purpose of our existence then the only way to fulfill our telos and to become like God is to obey those laws that lead to joy. In D&C 88: 18-20 we learn that the purpose of our souls’ creation was to learn to live the Celestial law:
“Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory; For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father; That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified.” (D&C 88: 18-20)
In Ecclesiastes, we learn that the main purpose of life is to prepare for judgment day by fearing God and keeping His commandments: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Eccl 12:13-14) By learning to keep the commandments in this life, we prepare ourselves to live the law of the Celestial Kingdom in the next life.
Nephi recorded that his people lived “after the manner of happiness” by building a temple, reading the scriptures, worked together in unity and keeping the commandments of God. (2 Nephi 5)
We will now examine what the scriptures teach us about how to fulfill the measure of our creation and “live after the manner of happiness.”
ii.) What makes people happy
a.) Basing our lives on the teachings of Christ.
The first and most important principle of fulfilling our purpose is to based our lives on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught this principle when he gave the parable of the Wise and Foolish builders. He compared those who base their lives on His teachings to those who build their houses (lives) upon a rock (a solid foundation) so that when the storms come (adversity) the house is not moved. He compared those who based their lives on anything else to building their houses on sand (weak foundation) so that when the storms come the houses get blown away because they are not built upon a solid foundation. (Matt 7: 24-27)
On another occasion, Jesus taught Martha that learning of God trumps all other responsibilities we might have in this life. Martha had complained that Mary dropped her household responsibilities to listen to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus told Martha that it was important to care for her home but that Mary had recognized that it was more important to listen to and learn from Him. All other responsibilities are less important than coming to know God and grow spiritually. (Luke 10: 38-42)
Jesus taught the same principle to a disciple who would put off following Jesus until he had buried his dead father: “And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.” (Luke 9: 21-22)
When we base our lives on the teachings of Christ, we seek to please God and don’t make gaining the approval of others our primary concern in life. Paul wrote the Galatians: “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10)
When we base our lives on the teachings of Jesus, we enter into covenants with Him that ensure peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come. In Psalms 25: 12-14 we read: “What man is he that feareth the Lord?… His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” (Psalms 25: 12-14)
When we base our lives on the teachings of Jesus, we become inheritors of the riches of eternity, regardless of our temporal circumstances. Paul taught the Corinthians that though they were poor from a temporall perspective, they were very rich from an eternal perspective. He said that the saints were: “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” (2 Cor 6:10)
In the Book of Psalms we also learn that being righteous is better than having the riches of this world: “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.” (Psalms 37: 16)
b.) Subjecting the will of the flesh to the will of the Spirit and obeying God’s commandments.
When we base our lives on the teachings of Jesus we begin to subject our natural desires to the laws of God and the will of the Spirit. Jesus taught that our main goals and labors in life should be around gaining eternal life and eating the “bread” that He would gives us: “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
c.) having a clean conscience brings peace
The scriptures teach us that peace of conscience is a gift from the spirit given those who obey the laws of God. In D&C 59: 23 we read: “But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.” (D&C 59: 23) Peace indicates to us that we are on the path to fulfilling the purpose of our creation and gaining eternal life.
The prophet Isaiah taught that peace is the fruit of righteousness and that the wicked cannot know peace: “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea… there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.” (Isaiah 48: 18,22)
Paul stress the importance of always having a clean conscience when he said: “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” (Acts 24:16) He also told the Philippians that the peace of God “passeth all understanding.” (Phil 5:7).
In the end, only obeying the commandments of Jesus can give us peace in this life: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
d.) having faith in Christ and a hope of redemption fills us with joy.
The scriptures also teach us that putting faith in Christ and exercising hope in redemption fills us with joy. Proverbs teaches us that those who trust in God are happy: “He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.” (Proverbs 16:20)
Isaiah also promised that those who exercise faith in God will have perfect peace: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength:” (Isaiah 26: 3-4)
The prophet Joseph F. Smith taught that keeping God’s commandments grants us faith in hope that we often call “God’s rest.” He said: “The man who has reached that degree of faith in God that all doubt and fear have been cast from him, he has entered into ‘God’s rest’” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith , 56).
e.) fulfilling our preordained life missions that conform with the will of God brings us joy
The Book of Jonah is a lesson on the importance of fulfilling our life mission. Jonah was given a clear mission from God that he tried to run from but ultimately found that it was futile to live a satisfied life while ignoring the clear life mission that God had given him. This book teaches us that unless we are working towards completing our preordained life missions we will not be satisfied.
f.) true joy is a gift of the spirit given to those who obey God’s laws.
Ultimately the true spiritual “joy” that passes all understanding, is a gift of the spirit given to those who obey God’s law. The Spirit taught Nephi that the love of God is “the most desirable above all things..and the most joyous so the soul.” (1 Nephi 22-23)
g.) experiencing the opposite of joy gives us the capacity to understand it.
In 2 Nephi chapter 2, the prophet Lehi gives a great sermon on the necessity of opposites. He teaches that without opposites, there is no existence. This means that joy would not exist without its opposite: misery. Lehi said that if Adam and Eve had not partaken of the fruit and experienced misery then they could not have known joy. (2 Nephi 2:23). Our capacity to feel joy actually increases as we endure pain and misery.
h.) Focusing upon Christ, the light and things that give us joy will make us happy.
What we focus on will ultimately determine how we behave and what we become. Jesus taught: “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.” (Luke 11: 34)
President Russel M. Nelson encouraged us to find joy by focusing on the good things in the world. He said: “Jesus Christ is our ultimate exemplar, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” Think of that! In order for Him to endure the most excruciating experience ever endured on earth, our Savior focused on joy! If we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?” (Russel M. Nelson-Joy and Spiritual Survival)
ii.) False Idols of Happiness
Aristostle contrasted eudemonic living with hedonistic living or the pursuit of pleasure. According to Aristotle, you can pursue pleasure or you can pursue meaning. The psychologist Martin Seligman wrote:
“What makes life worth living is not ephemeral. It does not result from the momentary tickling of our sensory receptors by chocolate, alcohol, or Caribbean vacations. The good life is lived over time and across situations, and an examination of the good life in terms of positive traits is demanded.”
Ignoring or rebelling against our own “demonic” nature results in pain, suffering and misery. While understanding and fulfilling this part of our nature results in peace, happiness and fulfillment, ignoring or rebelling against it results in pain, suffering and misery.
The scriptures speak of many “false idols” that people follow in an attempt to mimic the “joy” for which we were created. These idols give experiences of pleasure that are cheap counterfeits of the joy that is the gift from the spirit. Some of these idols include: wealth, pleasure, comfort, sin and the philosophies of men. We will now examine each in more detail.
a.) wealth and materialism
Jesus taught his disciples that material goods do not bring happiness nor does lusting after them. He said: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” (Luke 12:15)
The prophet Isaiah lamented that many spend their whole lives laboring for that which cannot satisfy: “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” (Isaiah 55:2)
Ultimately, those who seek after wealth and live materialistic lives will never be satisfied. The preacher in Ecclesiastes declared: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” (Eccl 5:10)
President Dallin H. Oaks observed that: “You can never get enough of what you don’t need, because what you don’t need won’t satisfy you.”
In contrast, the author of Proverbs teaches us that the rich can feel as if they have nothing and the poor can feel very rich. Proverbs 13: 7 reads:“There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.” (Proverbs 13:7)
We should heed the words of Paul who said: “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
b.) the pursuit of pleasure and physical appetite
After reflecting on a long life, the author of Ecclesiastes concluded that pleasure, wine, women and wealth were all vanities that did not satisfy. (Eccl 2) On another occasion the preacher in Ecclesiastes said:“All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.” (Eccl 6:7)
While pleasure can be momentarily gratifying the Lord warns us that the pleasures of sin and the suffering of the righteous exist only for a “short season” (Heb 11:25). Ultimately, those who bear the crosses of the world will inherit eternal joy while those who gratify momentary pleasures will be damned in their progress.
c.) Wickedness and sin
Samuel the Lamanite warned the Nephites who had spent their lives trying to find happiness through sin. He said: “But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and 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)
The prophet Alma, who was a sinful and rebellious youth, bore his testimony that “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41: 10) He describes the contrasts between sin and redemption this way: “My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.” (Mosiah 27:29)
Alma also taught his sons that those who are not born again cannot truly be happy. He said: “And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.” (Alma 41:11)
The prophet Isaiah also taught that the wicked cannot know peace. He said: “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” (Isaiah 57:20) “The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.” (Isaiah 59:8)
Wickedness and sin not only cannot produce happiness but must result in despair. The prophet Moroni taught: “And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.” (Moroni 10: 22)
d.) Pleasant circumstances don’t make us happy.
President Russel M. Nelson has taught that happiness is independent of our life circumstances. He said: Saints can be happy under every circumstance. We can feel joy even while having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad year! My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, which President Thomas S. Monson just taught us, and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.” (Russel M. Nelson-Joy and Spiritual Survival)
e.) The philosophies of men cannot produce joy.
And finally, we conclude with a final warning from our current prophet, President Nelson. He warned that the philosophies of men can never produce true joy. He said: “If we look to the world and follow its formulas for happiness, we will never know joy. The unrighteous may experience any number of emotions and sensations, but they will never experience joy! Joy is a gift for the faithful. It is the gift that comes from intentionally trying to live a righteous life, as taught by Jesus Christ.” (Russel M. Nelson-Joy and Spiritual Survival)