Recently in church, we had a speaker who had returned after serving a two-year LDS mission in Hong Kong. He said that he became happiest on his mission when he learned to love the people and focus on them more than focusing on how to make his mission more comfortable for himself.
It reminded me of my mission. 18 months into my mission, I was transferred to a city called Pau in the south of France. We had an incredibly small studio apartment. Our whole apartment including the little kitchen and bathroom was smaller than my current bedroom. I had hardly anything to my name; some white shirts, a suitcase, a few books, and a couple worn out suits. Pretty much everything I owned fit in or on my dresser. I was far from home and I hadn’t seen my family for a long time. We worked hard and were exhausted every day when we would come home. There were a lot of reasons why you might think that I was unhappy. But that wasn’t the case.
I remember thinking at one point of how little I really needed to be happy in life. We lived in pretty humble circumstances, yet I was as happy, probably much more so than I had ever been. It was really encouraging to me. I whatever the future held, material things were not needed for happiness. If I could be happy in this little studio apartment, I could be happy almost anywhere.
This is a picture of our little studio apartment.
I was learning some important life lessons. One thing is that I do not need a fancy place to sleep. As I’ve been self-employed much of my career, I have traveled a lot. I don’t need to stay in the fanciest hotels. I can stay at a very basic hotel and be content. I sometimes will think to myself, “I’ve stayed in worse places on my mission.” Now I do want to be comfortable, and I do want to be safe, but if I can check those two things off, I can stay at a decent hotel without thinking I need to stay somewhere swanky… though every now and then that is nice I’ll admit.
Another lesson is the overriding reason I was happy; I wasn’t worried or thinking about myself. I was so focused on serving others, that my needs were secondary. I just didn’t think about my own personal wants. Every waking hour was thinking about how we could serve other people and make their lives happier.
As I’ve had opportunities to serve others, including the daily task of being a father, I find myself thinking of myself less often, and being more concerned with others. I believe that this is a great key to happiness in almost every circumstance.
This is me in our tiny kitchen.
I love the biography of President Gordon B. Hinckley. He is one of the great heroes in my life. I love reading about his life and I love reading his teachings. Sometimes just hearing his voice will bring tears to my eyes. I have such an incredible love for this prophet of God who has passed to the other side. This is a lesson I have taken to heart that he learned while serving his mission in England:
“As a new missionary serving in Preston, England, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley was facing a major trial in his life. He was sick when he arrived in the mission field, and he quickly became discouraged because of the opposition to the missionary work. At a time of deep frustration, Elder Hinckley wrote in a letter to his father that he felt he was wasting his time and his father’s money. A little while later, Elder Hinckley received a reply from his dad. It said, “Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.”
Earlier that morning during scripture study, Elder Hinckley had read in the Bible, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35).
We all face adversity and challenges. If somehow we can stop dwelling on our own circumstances, and look around us, and see others who are struggling, who are feeling down, if we can somehow forget our needs and help another, it will bring us the joy we are seeking.