Thursday, March 5, 2015

Harold B. Lee on the happiest years of life

President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1941. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1970-1972, then as Church president from July 1972 until his passing less than 18 months later in December 1973.
"I recall the many times out at stake conference we always have the returned missionaries, if there are any, report, and almost without exception these boys say, 'They were the happiest years of my life.'  Maybe you've heard that expression.  Maybe some of you have said that. 
"Why were they the happiest years of their lives?  Well, they had probably been 'feeding' on some things that made them happy.  They had been giving unselfish service.  They weren't concerned about the paycheck.  They weren't concerned about the clock.  They were giving of themselves.  They were going beyond the call of duty.  They were rendering a meritorious service, and the net result was that they were happy and satisfied with what they had done. 
"But if I see that same missionary twenty years from now, and he still tells me, now having been married, having a family, and having held some high position in the Church or community, that his two years in the mission field were the happiest years in his life, I'll say, 'What in the world have you been feeding on these last twenty years that you haven't been happier?'  Experience, training, and development should have increased one's capacity for happiness, and the last years, immediately preceding, should have been the happiest years.  If he's been filling up each day the best he could, so that at day's close he could kneel down and witness before his Heavenly Father that whatever has come to his hand that day he has done to the best of his ability, then I know he'll be a happy man."
- Harold B. Lee, "What Men and Women Are Tomorrow Depends upon What You Learn Today," BYU Devotional, March 12, 1952; see THBL p.
Click here to listen to this full talk

A recent commercial movie used the title "The Best Two Years" to refer to that traditional description of the mission experience. Part of what makes a mission such a joyful time is that total focus on blessing the lives of others.  When the mission ends, it's easy to forget those things in the necessities of our ongoing daily lives. And truly, we can't neglect the more "temporal" aspects of  earning a living or getting an education. But they must be kept in perspective.

President Lee uses an interesting expression — what are we "feeding on" from day to day? What are the motivating forces, the things that help determine our actions from day to day? Are we driven by a paycheck and timeclock, or by the ability and opportunity to give and serve? That makes all the difference.

It's sobering to evaluate our lives in the quest for happiness. President Lee suggests that the growth that comes with maturity and passing years should also result in greater happiness. The best two years should always be the most recent ones!

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