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Dan Masterson & Danae Handy

Happiness Through Christ

Brother Dan Masterson

Thank you, Austin, Ben, the choir. The first time I heard that song I couldn’t help but cry. It’s always remained a special song to me after that. Everybody that stands up here usually goes through some sort of prologue. And I feel compelled to do the same, but I don’t want to take up too much time, so I decided to give the Reader’s Digest condensed version of it: historic, wonderful, marvelous, thank you—I think.

I was sitting here a couple of weeks ago listening to the devotional and hoping for some inspiration, and I had already pretty much put my talk completely together. And for whatever reason, I realized as I left the devotional I couldn’t talk about what I was going to talk about. The thought came to me that I needed to talk about happiness, and in order to do that I needed to go and do some research about happiness. So we’re going to go on a little journey about what I found out about happiness and some consolidation of what I already knew.

But first, before we do that, I need to have a disclaimer. Some of you know Grumpy Cat, right? Well, the Mastersons have a Grumpy Cat gene. When I have my photo taken, my wife often says to me, “Smile!” And I tell her I’m already smiling. And so if you look at me and I don’t look like I’m happy, it’s just because of this Grumpy Cat gene. To show you that that’s actually—this is the latest Masterson, and if you look closely at him, he has the Grumpy Cat gene. We call him our little grumpy baby. But my wife would not let me sleep tonight in my bed if I didn’t show you this picture of him also. He’s also very happy. That’s him enjoying a car ride with the window open.

One of the scriptures I came across as I started my preparation to talk about happiness was this one: “Now, was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.”[1] This happened when Alma and Ammon and his brothers reunited. I don’t know if you remember the story completely, but Ammon seems to have this problem of when he’s overwhelmed, he hits the ground. And you get that in this case, too. And you think that Alma might write something like that about Ammon that he was just a little bit odd. But this scripture is what Alma wrote after that happened.

The thing that jumped out at me was “humble seeker of happiness.” That had never made an impression on me before, and I realized that we need to be humble seekers of happiness. I looked further in the scriptures and came upon some of these about happiness. They call the plan of salvation “the great plan of happiness.”[2]

We talk about that our eternal lives will be a “state of happiness which hath no end.”[3] Now, when I see the word “state,” as a computer scientist I get all excited because we study state machines and things like that. A state—you’re all familiar with, because you drive something that has a state machine in it. That’s when you go from first gear. With an automatic transmission, when it’s in first gear and it realizes it needs to go into second gear, it moves to a new state—second gear.

I cannot imagine being in a state of continual happiness, but that is what is promised to us. One of the interesting things about happiness is . . . We all know this scripture, Alma 41:10—by the way, Alma is full of scriptures on happiness, especially in chapters 41 and 42 when he is talking to his sons. But “wickedness never was happiness.” This is interesting because the scriptures give us a negative definition of happiness. There’s actually a theology out there that defines God by what He is not, and it’s an interesting concept. There’s a lot of things messed up with that theology, but I find it an interesting concept to define something by what it’s not. We’re told by the prophets that “wickedness never was happiness.”

There are other things that are not happiness. Contention, and its brothers gossip, backbiting, murmuring. I know for a fact, having been involved in contentious circumstances, that there is no happiness there no matter what side of the contention you are on.

Hate—it seems like today that the world is filled with hate, and there is no happiness there. I can vouch for you that anger brings no happiness. Sometimes we feel justified in feeling angry at other people, but there is no happiness there. In fact, anger can become such a canker in your soul that you can lose yourself in it.

Jealousy, addiction—let me talk about addiction for a minute. There are a lot of things that you can become addicted to. You can become addicted to pornography, drugs, sports—anything that takes over our lives and we can’t seem to break away from it. I know that a lot of you play computer games, and you probably heard in my résumé that I was involved in computer game development.

Let me warn you just a little bit about computer games. I love to play them. I love to play board games. But the games today, you have to be very, very careful about. One, some of them are overly violent. Two, they’ve been designed to addict you to them. One of the things that happens is that they give you small goals to achieve. Every time you achieve one of those small goals, you get a dopamine hit in your head, and you want another one. You want to take another turn, and pretty soon you’ve wasted an entire evening when you should have been studying. Or you haven’t spent the time with your family. Play games, have fun, but make sure that you’re not getting drawn into them or they’re taking over your lives. There is no happiness there.

Guilt—I think a lot of people leave the Church because of this one. They feel guilty, and they think, “I’ll leave the Church, and I’ll be happier.” They don’t find it; I can guarantee you that. I have several friends who have left the Church. Some of them are now in conditions that they are more unhappy than they ever were. There’s a way to get rid of that guilt, and we all know what it is. And it leads to great happiness.

Fear—there is no reason that we as members of the Church should ever be fearful. That should not rob us of our happiness.

Let’s look at Mosiah 2:41 for just a second. “And moreover, I desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state”—there’s that word again, state, so I’m all excited again—“of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.” So the commandments are steps to happiness. That is what we need to do to take hold of that promise that God has given us—that we can be with Him forever and forever be happy.

I’d like to talk just a little bit about something that I discovered, actually a couple of years ago, and this comes from the secular world. There is a type of psychology out there where they don’t just study abnormal; they also study that which is positive to try to figure out what makes people happy, what makes people successful. There is a book out there that I would recommend you all read called The Happiness Advantage.[4] It’s been put together by Shawn Achor, and he talks about—it’s really directed toward businesses, and how businesses can become more effective by becoming happier. As I read the book, though, I realized that he was just teaching what we already knew and what our prophets and apostles have already told us.

I really like his definition for happiness, though: “Happiness is the joy we feel when striving after our potential.” Isn’t that what God has asked us to do? To strive after our potential? And not only our potential here on earth, but our potential hereafter?

One of the things that they have found out in their studies about happiness and how people can feel in a positive mood and things like that—they found out that money and success do not lead to happiness. They find that as they interview people and talk to them, the amount of money really makes not a whole lot of difference in how happy they are. Where they are in their careers, and things like that, doesn’t make much difference in how happy they are.

But they have found things that lead directly to people’s happiness. This is where we’ll find that we already have teachings in the gospel that have taught us these things. Meditation, conscious acts of kindness, spending money—I know you’re all excited about that one—gratitude, positive journaling, exercise. I’m not going to talk about exercise because as you can see, I haven’t been very successful at that—although I am 40 pounds lighter than I was several years ago.

Let’s talk about meditation for a second. This from 2 Nephi: “For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them.”[5] Meditating about the scriptures—how often have we been instructed to do that?

Here’s a quote from David O. McKay:

We pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. In our worship, there are two elements: One is spiritual communion arising from our own meditation; the other, instruction from others, particularly those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is the meditation. Meditation is the language of the soul.[6]

One of the things that we probably aren’t good at—and I know I’m not good at it—is spending time listening to my Father in Heaven. Too many times my prayers are one-way. But we know that this will bring us happiness, if we sit there and listen to our Father in Heaven and truly commune with Him.

Conscious acts of kindness—Elder M. Russell Ballard has said this:

Great things are wrought through simple and small things. Like the small flecks of gold that accumulate over time into a large treasure, our small and simple acts of kindness and service will accumulate into a life filled with love for Heavenly Father, devotion to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a sense of peace and joy each time we reach out to one another.[7]

This is something that I know President Richards has encouraged us to do. Others have encouraged us to do it. And let’s look for ways that we can be kind to others. Often, we think about the scripture in Mosiah about “[if] ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”[8] And it’s become trite to some degree. But it really is something that we need to do. It doesn’t need to be a big thing. First of all, the Church is filled with lots of opportunities to give service. But just saying hi to somebody might be a service if we look for somebody that feels down.

Let me give you one example of this. I was walking through the mall down in Las Vegas—I was there at a convention. And I saw this guy. He was a security guard officer, and he had a really fancy uniform on. I thought, “I’m going to go over and tell him how good he looks in that uniform.” He looked a little down, and so I told him, “You know, you look really sharp in that uniform.”

He said, “Thank you,” and I moved on. But as with anything in the gospel, when you do good, it comes back to you. Silly—we were walking around the mall trying to find some place, and we couldn’t find it for some reason, and he noticed us walking around. So he escorted us to where we needed to go, and we talked a little bit. He was out of his original job as a stock broker—this was just as the market crashed in 2008. But we received as much from him as he received from us. So, look for those little acts. Find those things that you can do for your roommates, your mom or your dad, your fellow students.

Gratitude is an important thing to keep us happy. This is what President Thomas S. Monson has said:

We can lift ourselves, and others as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.[9]

One of the things they’ve found in studies is they’ve asked people to do gratitude journals. Some CEOs they’ve taught to tell their kids each day three things that they’re grateful for. And it’s a great experience.

One of the things that I had learned from someplace else was to write a letter of gratitude to somebody that’s no longer in your life. I’ve done this a couple of times, and it’s an amazing experience to reach out to somebody that’s not going to be in your life—for me it was an instructor from college 20 years ago, an employee that had worked for me and sometimes I hadn’t been too kind to her. I reached out and told her how grateful I was for her, and it turned out to be a very, very positive experience. Look for those opportunities and practice them as often as you can, especially in your prayers every day.

Positive journaling—this is something that President Henry B. Eyring has said again and again. I’m just going to paraphrase what he wrote here, but he found early in his young married life that if he would sit and think about his day while he was writing in his journal, he could come up with positive things that he could relate back to the hand of God being in his life.[10]

They studied a group of nuns that all lived in the same convent, and they were able to look at their journals after they passed away. They found that those who had been writing positive journal entries actually lived longer than those that didn’t do so, and that they were happier.

One of the things we might ask ourselves is, can we be happy in trials? Well, we know that the pioneers as they came across the plains sang and danced and had opportunities to have joy and be happy. They didn’t let it overwhelm them. Sometimes our trials are so great they do crush us, but with a little effort we can start to bring happiness back into our lives.

Now, I know that we can overcome trials and still be happy because I have a living witness of it in my home. My wife, over the last twenty years, has had over 30 operations. She has two replaced hips, she suffered breast cancer and all that entails, she’s had both of her shoulders operated on, she has a plate in her neck, she has a plate in her foot—I can’t even remember everything else she’s done. But the members of my ward come up to her and say, “How can you be so happy?” And she’s happy in our home, most of the time—except for when she’s upset at me. But her response is, “What else can I do?”

We need to choose happiness. We have so much that has been given to us; even with all our trials we need to be happy. I testify to you that Christ lives, that Joseph Smith is a prophet. I also testify to you of something I learned 25 years ago. I was sitting in a lecture on C.S. Lewis at BYU Campus Education Week. And one of the things the instructor said—and it had nothing to do with C.S. Lewis, but he said, “When our lives are over, we shall look back and call it all good.” This I testify of in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Our True Downbeat

Sister Danae Handy

I love Dan. We have been on a committee together for the last couple of months, and I have really come to appreciate him, especially in light of the fact that there are people like Dan, and they’re here—and then there’s the rest of the universe. Like here are goat herders, and here are mob bosses, and then there’s me. People who do computer science absolutely astonish me. You might as well stand up and say, “By the way, I turned straw into gold today.” I am just in awe. So he builds computers, and then I teach you how to play with them.

I love this building. I’m so excited to be here—I love this building. It is my favorite building on Temple Square. I know my favorite is supposed to be the temple, and I like that one too, but I love this building. And a lot of why I love this building is I spent a lot of time here when I was your age. I have a degree in music from the University of Utah—Go Utes! No sass—and my choir performed here a lot.

I want to tell you a story about a time, about one particular concert. I’m telling you this story because of where we are in the semester. As a writer, we talk a lot about middles. Beginnings are fun. Beginnings are great—you are brainstorming, you’re creating new characters, you’re creating dialogue—and endings are great because it’s great to have wrapped up that story and tied it all together. You submit it, and there’s a lot of joy in endings.

Middles are hard. Middles are really hard, and we’re kind of wrapping up the middles, right? And do you feel like you’ve had a case of the “middles” for the last three, four, five, ten weeks? Yeah. And I see it on your faces, and “Oh, on top of it, it’s 175,000 degrees outside.” I feel you. I feel your pain. We all are suffering from a case of the middles.

The ends are coming, and then they are sad because then you leave my class and then I’m sad. But you know, we’re all kind of slogging through the middle. I see it on the faces of my students. I had a conversation with a student just recently who is definitely suffering from a case of the middles.

I want to tell you a story about a concert that we sang in the hopes that maybe I can help you get through the rest of the middles, get to a really good ending. I sang with the University of Utah A Cappella Choir. We were performing a piece of music that takes about 40 minutes to perform, like the “Messiah,” or something like that. It was one we had prepared for a long time. We had been rehearsing for several months. In our room up at the U, we knew the acoustics and how they worked, and we learned how our director was going to cue us. And we learned the music really well, and we felt like we were as prepared as we could possibly be when we came to this building to perform.

But this was kind of a high stakes concert for three reasons: one, we were only ever going to perform this music once. We would never perform it again. We had one shot at it and that was it. And I can tell you, after thirty years, I have never yet again sung that particular work.

The second is that we were recording. And when you do a recording, that’s hard enough when you have a chance to do do-overs and one more take, and so forth. It’s really hard when item 3 comes up, and that is, you’re doing it for a live audience.

And that’s what we were doing. We were performing for a live audience and recording at the same time a piece of music that we had prepared that was difficult but beautiful, and I was really excited to be there.

We were singing with the Utah Chamber Orchestra, which is a smaller version of the Utah Symphony, and they pulled these seats out and there was a big platform right here, and that was where the orchestra was sitting. Rather than sitting up here in the choir seats, we were standing on risers right here. And you know what I mean by risers—those steps that choirs stand on with a shell behind them—in the hopes that all of our sound could project to the back of the room like it’s supposed to.

So, we got here and realized that this was a different place than the place that we had practiced and prepared, and there were different people involved, and there was a completely different energy. There were microphones everywhere and cords everywhere. Choir singers like to have their conductor right up in their faces. As a choral conductor, if I could stand in the middle of the tenors and just kind of conduct in a circle, that’s how I would do it. Orchestra, band—you guys are different. You’ve got your music stands, and you don’t care where your director is as long as they keep a beat. But choir people really like our conductors up close and personal.

Ours was standing down here, and we had that chamber orchestra between us, and then all of this stuff, and then risers. So we were a long way away from our conductor when we had been accustomed to being maybe eight feet away most of the times in our rehearsals.

So, one of the things that affect you in a space like this—I love singing in this space because it is just the right size for an audience. Too much bigger and you have to get a lot of mics going; too much smaller and you don’t get to kind of fill the room with sound. So this is a really great space. The problem with this space has to do with the Doppler effect, and that’s the echo.

When you sing—I’m going to go with singing because that’s what I do—when you sing in a space that is this size, you’re going to get an echo. But it’s not like an echo in a big cathedral, like the Cathedral of the Madeleine or the big cathedrals back east, where you recognize the echo for what it is. It’s a short echo, but it still echoes. And because of the Doppler effect, by the time the sound that you have just sung reaches that first row on the balcony, it has dropped in pitch just a little. And then when it comes back to you, it has dropped even more. But on top of that, if you are waiting to hear what you just sang before you move on to the next note, you’re going to come in late. And it’s just a fraction of a beat late, but you’re going to come late because you are waiting for that echo. And so between the drop in pitch and the delay, you wind up out of tune and your progress is slowed. In fact, twice as a conductor, I’ve had to stop a choir in the middle of a concert and retune them because they had fallen victim to the Doppler effect and had fallen so far out of tune and were going so slow that the only thing I could do was to stop them, get them back in the same place, and then start them again—fortunately, just twice in the years that I’ve been a conductor.

So that’s all kind of crazy, and we’re so far away from our conductor, and we’re a little wigged out. But it’s time to start the concert. Now, the place is filled—this room, this beautiful, lovely room is filled. And I’m standing on the top row of the risers, so I’m about as high up as this balcony railing. And we’re doing really great! We are just all singing the right notes, and we’re singing in the right time, and things are going really, really well.

Part of why things are going well—we had a couple of things. One is, we’ve worked to resolve the Doppler effect by taking two speakers that are attached to the microphones in the orchestra, and instead of turning them towards the audience, they’re turned towards the choir. And they’re sitting right up here next to us on the risers. So we’re hearing the music as it is truly being played. It’s in tune, and it’s in time. And if we just stay tuned to those speakers, then the echo doesn’t have nearly as much effect on us.

The other thing is, you never take your eye off the stick. And that is where my darling friend, Ed Thompson, who is Sister Carey’s brother—he was our conductor, and he was our department chairman, and he was my mentor and remains one of my dearest, dearest friends. But he always said that you never take your eye off the stick. Your hair can be on fire, and you keep singing and you keep watching that stick. You never take your eye off it. You never take your eye off the director.

The good news there is that if you do, the downbeat is the true beat. It’s not what you hear coming to you from the back of the room. So, if you watch conference and it looks like Brother Wilberg is conducting ahead of the choir, it’s because you are falling victim to the Doppler effect. The choir is with him, but you’re hearing them in a delay. Now you know. That’s a much science as I’ve ever learned.

So we’re doing fine; we’re singing, we’re doing great. We’re about ten minutes into this gig. It’s really humming along nicely. And I’m holding my folder—you hold your folder like this, so you can see your conductor. I’m on the top row, and I’ve got my folder up, and something in my peripheral vision, up on top, flutters past. The first time I ignore it—I stay in the music; I’m doing my job as a choir singer, right? But it flies past again. And then I see a really strange thing. These seats are all filled, and we get a kind of a wave action going in the balcony, through the whole thing.

This is not a Jazz game or a hockey game; we’re at a classical concert. Why are they doing the wave? Finally, I look up, and there is a bat circling in the ceiling. Now they don’t normally drop on your head unless it’s a warm summer day in the middle of the afternoon, so I wouldn’t worry about that at all. He’s circling up here, and he’s buzzing the balcony—flying over the heads of the people in the balcony—and whenever he comes over they go, “Woah, I don’t want that bat on my head,” so we get this wave going in the balcony.

On top of that, at this point everyone in the room can see the bat. I make the first big mistake. I took my eye off the stick. I stopped watching the conductor because I’m watching the bat. I watch the bat fly, fly, fly, and it lands right there. It lands on the steps. There’s an elderly gentleman up there, and he has a cane. He’s decided that what we need is to stop the bat from flying around so that it’s not a distraction in the concert. So, his cane has a big rubber tip at the end, and he very gently sets the cane on the wing of the bat.

In case you’re wondering, bats hate that. And they don’t just write an angry letter to the editor to express their displeasure. The way that bats let you know they hate something is they scream this hideous, awful, shrieky, horrible, shrilly thing. And now that screech is echoing across the hall, and it’s sitting on top of the sound that we’re all making. Oh wait, no. We’re not all making it, because I have stopped singing. I’m not singing any more. I’m not doing the thing that I came prepared to do, that I had been working for weeks preparing to do. I am not doing that anymore because I have become epically distracted by that crazy bat.

So I’m watching it. I am literally standing around, “Okay, what are you going to do next? What’s coming up next?” And eventually—30 seconds, a year, I don’t know how long it takes—the guy finally thinks, “You know, I’m thinking that pinning this bat to the step was a bad idea. I’m going to go ahead and take the cane off his wing. And the bat—now here’s a new thing about bats; write this down. We’ll put this in the elevator; it’s very inspiring—bats can’t fly from a standing start like birds do. Birds can just be standing there, and then they flap their wings and fly. Bats can’t do that; they have to jump off of something. So now you know; if it comes up on Cash Cab, you’re good.

So, the bat had to work its way to the front of the step before it could take off and fly again, and the whole time it is mouthing off at the guy that pinned it down, “Don’t you ever do that to me again, you big weird guy,” or whatever. Screech, screech, screech. And I’m thinking the whole time, that is the craziest thing because that is going to ruin our recording. Like it matters—I’m not even singing. What am I doing to contribute to the recording, right?

Anyway, it finally takes off, and I’m relieved that the bat is now in flight. Hooray for the bat. And everyone is back to tuning in, including me. Like the prodigal son, I come to myself. Oh! I’m not singing! So, fortunately I am surrounded by people who did keep singing, and I get a feel for where we are, and I find my place in the music, and that’s when I look up at Dr. Thompson. I finally check in. And he’s looking back, right at me. And he has this look on his face that I only saw a handful of times, but I’ll tell you—Cathy can attest to it—it is the all-business face. And it basically said, “Yeah, Danae. You’ve been gone a while. Welcome back.”

But good news. I could hear the speakers; I had found my place in the music, put my eye back on my leader. And for the rest of the concert, I sang really well. And we sang really well. It was a great concert, and it was a great experience.

Here’s something very interesting. When we got the recording back, there was no sound of the bat. Never underestimate the power of a magical sound engineer. That whole sound of the bat was completely scrubbed. So the thing that I thought was so important, so relevant, didn’t matter at all. And I had allowed myself to become comprehensively distracted to the point that I missed something I had prepared for and I would never get that opportunity back again. That is the sad truth of it. Sometimes we get distracted, and we miss things that we never get back.

But you repent, you check back in, and you can still finish strong. So the message to learn from this, of course, is—you are swift of mind; you know—first of all, you have to ignore the echo. You have to ignore it even if it sounds so close to what is really true. In a space this size, that pitch comes back to you almost, almost perfectly in tune. But it’s not, and over time it is less and less in tune because you keep sending out less and less in tune messages. So the message that keeps coming to you is worse and worse. So, you cannot listen to the echo. You have to listen to the true source of the music. That’s what you tune in to. That’s what you listen for.

And then, you never take your eye off the stick. You keep your eye on the leader. You watch for the true downbeat so that the echo—again—doesn’t distract you. We keep our eye on the prophet. We tune our ears to the Spirit. We open our hearts to the Savior. And then if for some reason we get distracted, then the Savior can bring us back to a good place, to a safe place, to where if we had ever “felt to sing the song of redeeming love”[11] we can feel so again.

This is my testimony, and I leave it with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Alma 27:18.

[2] Alma 42:8.

[3] Mormon 7:7.

[4] Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Crown Business: (2010).

[5] 2 Nephi 4:15.

[6] “Chapter 4: Elements of Worship,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, (2001), p. 29–37.

[7] M. Russell Ballard, “Finding Joy through Loving Service,” Apr. 2011 General Conference.

[8] Mosiah 2:17.

[9] Thomas S. Monson “An Attitude of Gratitude,” Apr. 1992 General Conference.

[10] For example, see Henry B. Eyring “O Remember, Remember,” Oct. 2007 General Conference.

[11] Alma 5:26.


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