Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Dutiful happiness

We've all heard the stories of people who approach a member of the Church saying something like, “You're always so happy. Why is that? I want to have what you have.” -- a golden opportunity to share the gospel.

Well, that's never happened to me. I consider myself a pretty happy person; my life is going fairly well, I generally enjoy my ward and my job and love my family. I am excited by many aspects of the gospel and love to study and ponder it. I'm relatively outgoing. And I think much of that has roots in the Church and the gospel.

But I'm not sure I'm significantly happier than many of my (non-Mormon) neighbors seem to be. Should I be? After all, the scriptures instruct us to “be of good cheer” and to “lift up your hearts and rejoice.” Is this intended to be an inward rejoicing and cheer, or something the world is to see and desire? Do I have a duty to be happier?

On a related note, to what extent is the gospel intended to make us happier in this life? Does it have a more significant effect on our happiness than, say, sufficient food, a roof over our heads, adequate transportation, a family who loves us, a fulfilling job, enjoyable hobbies, etc.? Do you think that you are happier than your neighbors because of the gospel?


  1. I was just invited to a missionary discussion evening for a protestant church; one of the primary claims of the evening was, in essence, that I will be happier if I accept Jesus into my life.

    It seems to me that most every religion expects its adherents to be happier as a result of participation in their specific religion. I have now had experience both within and without of the LDS church, and don't think that the "gospel" is the variable at play in general human happiness.

  2. One time I think members of the Church are generally happier than their neighbors is when someone is critically ill or dies. The plan of salvation brings lots of comfort.

  3. The evangelistic focus of Mormonism and Evangelicals will naturally lead to the "join us and be happier" claim. No one is going to say, "You will initially be sad, even depressed, but in the long-run a measure of happiness will return. In any case, truth is more important than happiness."

    Of course, it's not hard to fake being happy, especially to look good for a visitor. I think "peace" (see D&C 19:23) is a better term for what religion ought to offer, and you can have it whether you are beamingly happy or temporarily burdened with a load of care or even just depressed for a short season. I think the need to depict the Church as a "be happy" religion (and that if you're not "being happy" there is something wrong with you and your testimony) is one of those harmful folk distortions that actually hurts people who struggle with depression or who don't have naturally happy personalities. Recall that Jesus didn't laugh in the gospels.

  4. Is truth more important than happiness?

  5. Do you want the blue pill or the red one?

  6. Remind me which is which. It's been a few years since I saw The Matrix.

  7. Red is the one Neo took. Blue is what Cypher wishes he'd taken.

    I think The Matrix is a movie about whether truth is better than happiness. Cypher (echoing both Faust and Judas), eating a virtual steak with Agent Smith (as an updated Mephistopheles and Caiaphas), says that after 10 years of living in the real world, he's come to the conclusion that life within the Matrix was better than reality, and cuts a deal to betray Morpheus in exchange for being re-inserted into the pods and the Matrix.

    So I read your question to inquire whether Neo made the wrong decision.

  8. Reparsing what Greenfrog said:

    Is the choice really between truth and happiness? It certainly doesn't seem that Neo considers it to be such; instead, his uncertainty about the truth -- "What is The Matrix?" -- is a large part of his discontent and lack of direction at the beginning of the movie, and truth for him is requisite for happiness.

    For Cypher, on the other hand, seems to be saying that pleasure and comfort, not happiness per se, are more important than truth. Given his wholly selfish state, I'd be surprised if "happiness" even registered on his internal radar. (To paraphrase Alma: "Behold, killing your longtime friends for the sake of a steak never was happiness.")