By Ellyn Christensen
The search for happiness has always been a struggle for me. When I was a child and adolescent, I thought happiness could be found in things. My junior and senior years of high school I transferred my search for happiness from acquiring things to being wanted – not loved, mind you: though I had several boyfriends in high school, I always felt wanted, but not necessarily loved. But the feeling of being wanted brought me happiness. When I got to college, I initially thought that my happiness in my younger years was held back somehow by my family, and now that I was on my own I would be able to explore and find true happiness. I began finding happiness in things, friends, feeling wanted, new-found freedom, new experiences, and taking care of myself. However, this happiness was short-lived. By my sophomore year at Michigan State University (MSU), I again started questioning whether I was happy. I loved my roommates, my sorority sisters, my friends. I did not love my classes, after changing my major about a dozen times. I did not love our weekend extracurricular activities and thought many times, “There has to be more to life than this.” So, I determined that my school was really the problem. I just needed to transfer to a different school, and all would be well.
Early in my sophomore year, I applied to Brigham Young University (BYU), a private university in Utah that one of my high school boyfriends attended. I went to visit him for spring break my freshman year and again in October of my sophomore year. On the way home from the second trip, I realized something I had never thought of before. At the time, my plan was to major in International Law. I suddenly thought to myself, “How will I be able to be an international lawyer and raise children at home?” This insight flooded my head with the idea that I had to immediately change my major yet again. When I returned to MSU, I also started meeting with the missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I told them at the first meeting that I was not going to be baptized, so they shouldn’t even ask me. They were very patient with me. I knew that if the relationship I had with my boyfriend was ever to become more serious, I had to know what his church was all about. After all, I had heard all of the weird things about Mormons – polygamy, no drinking alcohol, no drinking coffee. But, at the same time, my boyfriend and his family were kind, good people – not weird. There was only one mom and she was definitely not subservient to her husband.
I listened to the missionaries and learned how to pray. I read not only what the missionaries asked me to read, but anti-Mormon material as well. Though I was searching for happiness, I was pretty content with how I was living my life. I was a good person, with many friends, academic potential, and much family support. I didn’t really want to change who I was. Several things happened to me while I was meeting with the missionaries for six months. I learned that happiness can’t come from outside sources. True and real happiness for me came when I realized that being baptized was something I had to do. I didn’t know everything about the Mormon Church when I told the missionaries I was going to be baptized. And, to be honest, I didn’t really want to be baptized, but I felt that I knew I was supposed to, and I knew that God knew it as well.
A great learning experience had begun. I have learned a great many things since I was baptized twenty years ago. I am still learning. I still don’t know everything. But, I know this: my life has changed in a multitude of ways. As I began to make better decisions for myself (including a husband, a major, a career, and lack thereof when I chose to stay home to raise my children), amazing things happened. I found confidence in my choices. I found a greater understanding of who I was, what my purpose has been here on earth, and what truly makes me happy. When I am in accordance with what my Heavenly Father wishes for me, I am happier. When I appreciate my life as the gift that it is, I am happier. When I see my children as God sees them, it makes my job easier, which makes me happier. Of course, I cannot say that every moment since I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been bliss; it hasn’t. I have had trials I would not wish on anyone. But the strength I’ve gained from having gone through those trials has prepared me for what was to come next. I would not trade those trials because of the perspective they have given me. I thank my Heavenly Father every day for the knowledge and perspective I’ve gained and the type of person they have helped me to become: in one word – happy.