Don’t Worry. Be Happy.

Don’t Worry. Be Happy.

My train of logical thinking was finally jolted from its tracks last night, sending it jouncing and jangling down the rutted roads of Gulu…all because of watching men play board games. This morning, I found it resting in a grassy field near a village. After a few more creaks and pops, and a final exhaling hiss, it sat quiet. Today I see that what I took for the locomotive of right thinking a few months ago now sits motionless in a kind of Eden.

At a mid-week priesthood activity night, six men showed up. They took a table and chairs outside and started playing board games. I came out from another meeting midway through their games, so I watched. That is when my train left the tracks. Watching them, I realized that these six men, with daily struggles I cannot fully grasp, were delighted to just play together.

When we came to Uganda in January, we expected to learn how the people found happiness even in the midst of misery. But now I see that they are closer delight than misery. Let me replay some of their animated banter from the chess game (sitting on the wall).

Wow! Nice move. But you just watch, I’m going to get you.

You think so? I am the master of this game. You don’t have a chance!

There! See? You cannot stand up against me.

Awwwww. You came from behind. Nice play. But look at this…

Move to the board game (in the foreground):

I am winning! I am king! Nobody can stop me now.

You talk too much. You will be humbled. Just wait.

Wow, I can’t believe I always roll a 1 or a 2.

Here I come, you cocky man. No more peace for you…

Aha! See? I told you I was the king, (jumps from his chair doing huge fist pumps into the air and dancing around the table). I am the king! I showed you. I am the king!

As I observed these men, it seemed that they had not a care in the world. They were completely joyful in living and exhaled love from their core. They might not have eaten that day, and perhaps had no means of eating today, but they completely loved life and took the greatest pleasure in the moment.

I tried to imagine our Elder’s Quorum at home having such a night as these men were having. I tried to picture the Quorum President doing fist pumps and running around the table in triumph. It would not conjure.

As all of this settled in my mind for the very first time, I saw that we at home are the ones whose life paradigm is messed up and not the native Ugandans. They have it more right than we do. They are not just enduring their hardships, but finding joy in them. They live so simply. None owns a car. Very few own a motorbike. Virtually none own a home. Many grub in their village garden to eat. There is less cash here than in the days of the Great Depression. And yet…they are happier and more balanced and grateful than we are in the states.

As Kennedy offered the closing prayer, he included these phrases:

We’re so thankful for the gift of life.

We pray that we will live to see the sun tomorrow.

Some may have thought it very strange to see me turn away from the games with tears in my eyes. I found myself envious of them. I wanted to live in a round mud hut with a grass roof and a few chickens and goats in the yard. I wanted to sweat to earn a few shillings for posho and beans, and to play board games like it was the Super Bowl.

I know I’ve said many times how much happier these people are than we Americans. But last night was the first time I really saw why. I used to think they were in some kind of denial, or were ignorant of how good life could be if they only knew. But suddenly it all made sense. They have none of the numbing clutter we have to mess up their perspective. They are not driven by a hunger for stuff. They are completely happy being with one another and celebrating life and thanking God for a new sunrise. And I want to be just like them.

When the time comes for us to return home, I believe we will experience a kind of mourning for the loss of this simple, beautiful way of living. It will not be easy to return to all the noise and competition and trinkets found in the good life back in the USA.


  1. Elder Taylor,
    You put into words the feelings I had this last week here in Fiji. It was a ward family night. They (all ages) were playing “do you love your neighbor?” a simple mixer game. We have played it in MIA on occasion at home. Every time someone called out a new category (“Yes, I love my neighbor, except for those wearing sulus”) and those wearing sulus had to jump up and change their place in the circle, the crowd roared with approval and delight. I sat there trying to imagine having our ward at home play this. The teen–agers would have been “too cool”, the adults would have been too bored, too tired, too stiff to get up and down; we might have gotten the primary-age kids to play.
    You hit the nail on the head–the good life isn’t from the outside in–it’s from the inside out. There is such delight in the moment that, as you said, you would think they had no cares in the world. Some work in the gold mine here for about $20 a day, and are grateful for a job.
    We listened to a speaker retell the story of the prodigal son and he said, “then the son remembered that at his father’s place there would be food and sandwiches!” His idea of a feast.
    Can we learn some of this joyfulness? Perhaps first we need to unlearn our worship of stuff. Carry on Taylors.
    We love you. Tanners

    • Thank you, Tanners. We enjoy seeing your photos and reading some of your weekly posts (we don’t read every one). This really is a life-altering experience. Hope it doesn’t fade too quickly upon our return home. God bless you in His mighty work!

  2. Wow,this humbled me. I can see why you would be emotional. We Americans are lucky and spoiled at the same time. I wish we could always remember what you saw and felt and put it in our everyday lives. Thanks so much for posting. You and my sister are doing great missionary work. So proud of you both. I feel I am with you in spirit.

  3. So what can we do to be more like them? It’s obvious that they have been raised much different than us and have been taught the magic of life. They are perfect examples of what I think of when I think “in the world but not of the world.” I enjoy reading your posts but I’m an action-taker. I ask myself, “how can I be more like those people?” I don’t just want to read about it I want to live it. It’s hard because I would love to live in a yurt in the mountains but that is not socially acceptable in this society. And I love having friends and being social, I don’t want my kids to be seen as freaks. So what do we do different to break out of the American challenge? And don’t misunderstand, I love this country and appreciate what it stands for. But so much has changed since Washington’s days. This is a real concern for me as I watch people (not just teenagers!!) ignore each other at restaurants distracted by phones and strangers not making eye contact. What to do?

    • That is a powerful question for which I have no answer right now. We were just discussing this with two African Elders tonight. We expressed to them how we want to be more like Ugandans in many ways. Then they told us how their home countries in South Africa are very Westernized, and said the same problem exists there as in the U.S. Your use of the term “American challenge” struck me to the heart. I believe that is at the core and agree that a workable solution needs to be found. But for now, I’ll have to think on it. If you come up with an answer, please let us all know. It is not enough to point out the problem if you have no solution. There are plenty in this world who can point fingers. Let’s find a cure for the American challenge.

      • I want to clarify my statement about the “American Challenge”. I consider myself to be a patriot and want to iterate the way I feel about this country. I have read enough books and have been enough places to know that we are extremely blessed to live in a free country. A country with free enterprise, a constitution (although not always honored perfectly) and an organized government. We have clean water, green grass and modern plumbing. We are blessed to be treated almost entirely equal in my opinion. We have job and education opportunities that others don’t. Those who know me know I enjoy being involved in politics and doing my part to be informed and engaged. I am proud to be an American, I just wonder if we can get back the humble, joyful lives the first settlers experienced; the disconnection from “things” like the pioneers; the friendship and cooperation of the original 13 colonies; the play-outside-all-day without fear of our own childhoods. So much has been affected by the media. So much has been affected by greed. But I believe we can break loose and be who we truly want to be- happy no matter what. This gospel brings much peace to my life and makes sense of things that otherwise could knock me down. This gospel is what can help us break loose- we can be the good neighbor, the compassionate friend, the selfless person like the Savior exemplified. We can be happy no matter what, we can smile at a stranger, we can detatch ourselves from “things” and we can make a difference- even here amongst the chaos. (I am still up for discussion on the yurt in the mountains idea though..) Love, Me

        • Beautifully put, Lisa Dawn. You have been blessed with a wonderful, inquisitive, and inspired mind.
          Mom and I talked about your question regarding how to solve the American challenge. We concluded that one must be voluntarily humble without being forced by circumstance.

          Alma 32:13-16 13 And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved. And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word? Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty. Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.

          The challenge is to abase ourselves without being forced to it. And how specifically to do that without becoming proud of our humility takes great care. Truly evaluating our basic needs compared with our wants is not easy. And being okay with others thinking we are having a hard time when in fact we are just being modest in our living also requires its own kind of humility.

  4. This inspires me to have gratitude for each day. And to live joyfully! Thank you Elder Taylor!

  5. Since 1989 I have had opportunity to visit 25 or 26 countries; almost all of them in the “third world” or for the PC crowd, “developing countries.” According to the Gulu Districts website something like 64% of the 100,000+ people in the district live on less than $1.50 per day. Yet people are happy. What Elder Taylor describes is a phenomenon I have observed in just about every country I have traveled to. Happiness is not about STUFF! But in America we seem to think it is.

    To illustrate I am reminded of two experience our family had in Mexico. The first was in an ex-hacienda on a mountain top where about 50 families still resided, though the hacienda had been gone for about 50 years.Our family was strolling through the village where gringos were seldom if ever seen. As my son and I were walking through what might be called a street, though it was really just a wide path since nobody had a vehicle, a young woman about 20 approached us from behind and said, “My mother would like to invite you to our poor house for a meal.”

    Sensing an adventurous cultural experience I accepted the invitation and gathered up the other 4 members of our family and the young lady took us to her “poor house” as she described it. And it was poor. Made of mud bricks there was only one room but 2 doorways. The rear entrance had no door, just an opening. The two windows were just holes where no bricks had been put in and the front opening of house had no door because the hand crafted door had been removed and propped up outside to provide shade for a sow and her 6 piglets that were part of the family food supply.

    There was no electricity or running water in the home and the floor was dirt. (Very similar to homes in Gulu but not round). The only furnishing in the home was an unfinished wooden table with 6 chairs around it. We were invited in; we sat down in the 6 chairs and the mother served us 6 bowls of vegetable soup with very few vegetables in it. The 5 family members did not eat nor did they sit. They stood behind our chairs. As we ate the family ducks wandered through the house and pecked around under the table at our feet. They were followed by the chickens which did the same. Our family pretended not to notice.

    As we ate we talked and we laughed. They told us about their life in the village and we had a grand time. The family never ate and as we left I peeked into the pot of soup. Nothing there but broth. But there was never mention of how tough life was in their isolated mountain top village. Nor was there envy at our 23 foot motor home that was our transportation. However, they were impressed that we had an indoor bathroom. They were happy. And the only thing they asked of us was to give their daughter a ride down the mountainside to the next village where she worked because it was 10 miles away and we had to pass through it anyway. Otherwise she would have to walk. But from all we could see, the family was happy.

    The second experience was in a village called Janitsio where we had gone to celebrate the Day of the Dead, which is a huge Mexican holiday. The village is on an island in the middle of a lake and Mayan people live there. Again we were exploring the village and we came to a door where the family was having a mass in their home to honor their dead ancestors. As the door was wide open our family stood outside and watched in silence as this was obviously an important tradition for the family.

    When the Priest was finished a family member said a closing prayer in the Nahuatl language. We bowed our heads. Immediately following that the grandmother of the family invited us in to have pazole, which is a soup like dish made for special celebrations. Her tiny kitchen, if you could call it that had one shelf with 6 bowls on it. She filled the bowls and gave one to each of our family and we tried this special dish which we had never had before.

    As my wife looked around the single room home she noticed how sparsely furnished it was and their was absolutely nothing on the walls. So in gratitude for this woman’s kindness to us and sharing important family time with our family, my wife took a small framed picture from her bag and tried to give it to the lady. But she graciously and politely refused and said, “No thank you. It would just be a burden to me to have to care for it.” This was not the response any of us expected, but I say again, Happiness is not about stuff. In fact most Americans have so much stuff it is a burden to them and they don’t even realize it until AFTER they have a big garage sale and some of their stuff has gone on to become someone else’s burden.

    So what can we do as individual Americans to gain more happiness? Get rid of our stuff? Maybe. But a more effective way might be to volunteer every day for a month at a local homeless shelter. Or the next time there is a flood, hurricane or tornado near you, take a week off of work and spend 2 weekends and the vacation week helping other people put their lives back together. Or take a Caribbean Cruise and at every port of call, instead of taking a tour, visit an orphanage, but stop at a store before you go and buy as much food as you can afford and take it to them along with 1 soccer ball. Or take a volunteer vacation to a children’s home with disabled children and read stories, play games or make puppets with the kids. My point is that a 1 time volunteer night is great, needed and appreciated and you will feel good after. But an extended experience helps you develop relationships that will impact you long term and make you happier, because your stuff will be less important to you.

    I’ll finish this lengthy rant with one final thought. Earlier I said this happiness phenomenon is one I have seen in almost every country I have visited. The few where I found people were not happy were communist countries or formerly communist countries. When people have no personal freedom they are not happy. When we lose personal freedom in America, no amount of stuff and no amount of charity will make us happy.

    • Thank you, my dear friend. What a thoughtful and timely response. I am touched that you took the time and effort to share such meaningful experiences. By the way, hello from the street kids of Gulu. They talk of you often, including today.


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