One would expect, and almost rightly so, that with the much adversity Joseph Smith faced, he would almost always be sober, serious, and perhaps overly pious. This might be expected, but it was not the case. Joseph did not fit the stereotype, the usual image of a prophet. He was a large, muscular young man who loved athletics and had a keen sense of humor. He was an impressive, memorable individual. Brigham Young said, years later: “I feel like shouting hallelujah all the time when I think I ever knew Joseph Smith the Prophet.” 7 Joseph’s balance, his perspective, his enthusiasm in the face of opposition and tragedy were remarkable. He acted and reacted in a manner, which was peculiar to him. He did not confine his behavior to that which was conventional, nor to that, which was expected by society.
Parley P. Pratt wrote a vivid description of Joseph Smith and among other things emphasized the fact that Joseph Smith was “affable, had an unconscious smile and was cheerful.”
President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active; of a light complexion, light hair, blue eyes, very little beard, and of an expression peculiar to himself, on which the eye naturally rested with interest, and was never weary of beholding. His countenance was ever mild, affable, beaming with intelligence and benevolence; mingled with a look of interest and an unconscious smile, or cheerfulness, and entirely free from all restraint or affectation of gravity; and there was something connected with the serene and steady penetrating glance of his eye, as if he would penetrate the deepest abyss of the human heart, gaze into eternity, penetrate the heavens, and comprehend all worlds. 8
Among other things, a St. Louis reporter wrote:
“…The Prophet’s most remarkable feature is his eye. . . . His voice is low and soft and his smile, which is frequent, is agreeable.” 9
The fact that Joseph loved athletics and often relaxed by engaging in athletic contests is evident from entries in his journal such as the following:
“Played ball with the Brethren a short time.” 10
“I wrestled with William Wall, the most expert wrestler in Ramus, and threw him.” 11
“Rode out in the afternoon…and afterwards played ball with the boys.” 12
Joseph’s own account details why he was about to be cheerful, hopeful, pleasant, and engage in fun-filled activities:
Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth! As the dews of Carmel, so shall the knowledge of God descend upon them!
And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book!
Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel. . . .
Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King; And ye rivers and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy. And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever. 13
Joseph Smith’s perspective offers a reality that we should all develop. Perhaps it would be well for us who also on occasion have difficult decisions to make and have burdens to bear and occasionally have sorrow come uninvited into our lives—perhaps we should consider that which permitted Joseph to be cheerful, optimistic, and joyful. He had eternal perspective. He had viewed the eternal worlds and had seen the eternal possibilities of the patient, faithful person. He knew with certainty the reality of God and His Son. He knew the necessary price had been paid for our sins, and that through obedience we could dwell with God. That knowledge filled him with joy. Through the revelations of God to Joseph, and through his writings and teachings, we may also know and be filled with joy. How unfortunate that on occasion we lose sight and perspective of our eternal opportunities and, as a result, experience unhappiness. Joseph wrote the following concerning the purpose of our existence:
Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. 14
The Prophet knew that happiness was not necessarily the by-product of an undisturbed life—that happiness did not necessarily come because of the absence of difficulties. Rather, happiness is the result of a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and the privilege of being a recipient of the Holy Spirit, which brings peace, hope, and joy. This knowledge is not secret; it is attested to in the scriptures and in the teachings of prophets of God. But sometimes the reality of this truth is obscured by false philosophies and the enticements of the world. Some have the idea that the truly religious life is dull, drab, uninteresting. It would be difficult to find anything dull, drab, or uninteresting in the life of Joseph, the Prophet. His life from the beginning to end was literally crowded with excitement and challenge. The Lord does not direct his servants to the periphery but to the forefront of the battle of life. Everyone who truly wants to follow the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will find a most interesting, meaningful, vital life. If the follower of Jesus will permit the intercession of the Holy Spirit into his personal life, that follower will immediately discover that his life will not be wasted in a meaningless expenditure of energy. The servant of God will be directed to participate in that which is truly meaningful—not meaningful by the consensus of a group or a committee, but meaningful by the witness of God who is the possessor of all knowledge. Happiness, it would seem, would almost of necessity have to result from a sure knowledge that one is engaged in something of importance to God, his fellowmen, and himself. It would also follow that such a person would have confidence in himself and have purpose in his life. Joseph Smith is a remarkable example of one who captured those things of most importance in life.
Article adapted by Leon Hartshorn, Unformatted Source info: JOSEPH SMITH: PROPHET OF THE RESTORATION, by Leon R. Hartshorn. Deseret Book 1970
8. Pratt, pp. 45-46
9. Evans, pp. 178-79
10. HC 5:260
11. Ibid., p. 302
12. Ibid., p. 307
14. HC 5:134-35
Additional Articles in This Series:
Joseph Smith: A Man of Courage
Joseph Smith: A Prophet of God