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This is a very interesting post for me. I find the content spot on. Knowledge is better than happiness. Isn't that one of the lessons of the Garden narrative?

It is just that I went to see Bushman speak last Sunday (which was delightful) and I met Jane Doe. Beyond anything that I experianced that day, the short moment chatting with Jane Doe is what persists. It was so important for me because it was real. A moment to look at what we are and feel it all, including the pain, and recognize that we would not have it any other way - regardless of how things resolve.

Dave, nice post. Really, you've given me a lot to think about. I especially like the mini-narrative from Voltaire. It certainly reflects an Enlightenment perspective, in which knowledge is the highest value. But I wonder how many of us actually believe that at the end of the day?

But I wonder how many of us actually believe that at the end of the day?

I often wonder if Christ's pleading with the Father to remove the cup wasn't something along this line. In some Mormon strains, the atonement exalts Christ (a means toward omniscience, perhaps), as well as being a means for our redemption. Perhaps then his moment of suplication was an admission that it wasn't personally worth it, but for our sakes.

I've always thought this about happiness. Thanks for posting this. Nice to know someone else out there thinks that way, too.

One of my all-time favorite songs has a lyric I love: "Is it only happiness you want?"

Is it your contention that happiness is not the reward of the Gospel? Or is it that the happiness promised to the faithful is qualitatively different from what we're conditioned to expect? Or is it that the promised happiness doesn't come until after mortality?

I'm very interested in the nature of the Gospel promise of happiness because I am close to good, faithful people who nevertheless experience depression and despair. Because of the emphasis on happiness as the reward of faithfulness, they see their unhappiness as evidence of unworthiness, which, of course, leads to more despair. It's brutal.

Are there scriptural promises of happiness in this life? In their famous statements on happiness Lehi and Joseph Smith say that men exist so that they can be happy, but they don't say when. On the other hand, we are given the Gift of the Holy Ghost in this life and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc. (Galatians 5) So it sounds like if we're worthy of the Spirit, we should be happy, no?

I definitely don't think happiness is the necessary product of either gospel living or the righteous life. It seems to me quite possible that even if we are better off in all circumstances with the gospel, the choice might still be between really unhappy and kind of unhappy. I don't know how I feel about this eternally, but I'm certainly not convinced of the case for happiness. Excellent post.

an otherwise unremarkable discussion at T&S

Hey! I'm still in the room ya know!

BTW - Good post Dave. I'll riff on it in my forthcoming post on the Garden of Eden as an allegory for all of our pre-mortal progression to sentience.

It seems to me that we are working with a very worldly definition of happiness. As such, it is true that that the gospel does not bring happiness. If happiness is based on getting things the way we want, the gospel will never bring it.

Both Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith were men “of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” But I believe that they were two of the most joyful men – if not the two most joyful men – who ever lived.

Of the many sorrows in Joseph’s life, there was one time he truly began to despair – as he sat imprisoned in Liberty Jail. For this despair he was rebuked most heartily. The Son of Man had descended below all, he had suffered all, and he did not despair. By despairing of his own circumstances, Joseph was effectively saying that his sufferings were greater than Christ’s, and that he was thus greater than He – a blasphemy if there ever was one. Through the Savior, we lost all right to despair.

Man is that he might have joy, and I believe that’s for this life. The peace and joy of the gospel is not the happiness that the world seeks. The joy of Christ is an internal peace, a true happiness. But it does not come as a result of obeying any to do lists – it does not result from our actions. And thus, it does not result from doing righteous acts. The joy of Christ is a result of who we are, a result of a state of being. The more we are actually like Christ, the greater is our joy.

In fact, I take it back. One does not actually result from the other because they are the same thing. Charity and Joy are directly proportional to each other because they are literally the same substance.

Thus, if we are Christ-like enough, that joy can keep us happy in any circumstance. We can be happy in hell.

I was hasty in posting my last comment, and I fear I may have set a trap for myself that will be difficult to dig my way out of. Let me just add an addendum to ease the way.

As I hoped to explain, there is a difference between this Joy of which I speak and common happiness. Obviously there must be. There are wicked men who live with little or no joy who, because of their circumstances, are rather happy in life. Conversely, there are people with a reasonable amount of joy who are nevertheless unhappy. Simply stated, I believe that depression is not a function of a lack of joy, but a lack of happiness. Thus, the principle that I describe above is not a theory of depression.

But, while I believe that happiness and joy are not same thing, I do believe that there is a relationship between the two, albeit a very complex one. Thus, while I agree there is much more in play in depression than can be explained by the principle I attest to, I do think that this principle is a piece of the puzzle – and a piece often overlooked by many psychologists.

Essentially, I think it is a principle often overlooked by us all, and which would do us all great benefit.

I think the "happy endings" is part of the attraction of Islam. Jesus Christ was killed, his followers scattered. Moses was allowed to see the Promised Land, but forbidden to enter it. Closer to home, Joseph Smith died exlaiming "Oh Lord, my God." In sharp contrast, Mohammed died a conquering hero. In the Judeo-Christian-Mormon experiences, you have to look at their followers to find any kind of triumph.

And I always get sad at the end of the Book of Mormon--first Ether, then Mormon, then Moroni all die, having seen their once-great people wiped of the face of the earth. To paraphrase Paul, if this life is all we have to live for, we are the "most miserable of men."

To me, what the gospel brings in general, and the temple in particular, is perspective. So many things were created simply to beautify the earth. And it was created for us. The hard part for me is to keep that perspective.

I've wondered a lot about the questions you raise. For years I assumed that my level of happiness was a direct result of my faithfulness, which led to a lot of guilt over my failure to be happy (reinforced by comments like "happiness is a choice" and the assumption that if you aren't feeling it, it's due to either a negative attitude or sin.) But when I've actually stopped and paid attention to it, I've been a bit startled (and unsettled) to see how often my happiness is more or less unrelated to how closely I'm keeping the commandments. I'm not saying that there isn't any connection at all— simply that there is less of a link than I would have expected.

On the question of knowledge, I've been fascinated by some of the studies I've seen by social psychologists which suggest that in some ways people who are depressed perceive the world more accurately, in terms of such factors as how much control they have over things, or how others view them. My experience with being depressed is that it comes with a sense that you're seeing the world as it actually is, in all of its bleakness, while those around you are deluded. ;) (Though I think that's inevitably a distortion in that there is so much you are failing to see when you're in that place.) For me, a belief in Christianity means a belief that reality is ultimately positive, that truth and love are in the end inseparable. That gives me hope that even when knowledge is difficult and painful, it will lead somewhere other than despair.

The best anti-happiness is Jacob 7:26.

Whoops. The best anti-happiness scripture for a particular prophet is Jacob 7:26. Of course all of Jeremiah is close.

The best scripture for pushing people into a depressive spiral of guilt and sadness is Moroni 10:22. "And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity."

A "depressive spiral of guilt and sadness" is one way to choose to respond to that scripture, Beijing, but is it the only way?

Eric, it's likely that believers who are already in despair aren't going to be able to "choose" in any meaninful way how to respond to that scripture.

Note to self: Do not have big, melodramatic, angsty, adolescent-sounding crises in public.

However, having already engaged in the above-mentioned unseemly behavior, I would now like to defend said crisis with the following list of arguments and clarifications:

1. I do exist.
2. I did not feel sad one day, and then say hmm..this gospel is failing to bring me joy so it must be false. I said hmm... given all the evidence, it seems plausible, even likely, that the church is false. And this thought made me sad.
3. My spiritual experiences directly contradicted the logical conclusions of my brain. This contradiction led me to confusion, and to the fear that I could not rely on those spiritual experiences as a guide to truth. This was very sad to me. Not only might this church be wrong, but I might be left with no guide to lead me to any truth of a religious or spiritual variety. All religious claims are suspect; all belief is just that. I started to lose hope in the possibility of anyone making any absolute truth claims about God, our purpose here, what happens after this life, etc. What if the truth is, no one knows, and we all just fumble around here to the best of our ability, and then we die?
4. I feel pretty certain that I am not sad due to chemical imbalances, environmental factors, or childhood issues. I feel in fact that my emotional response (sadness and confusion) is a very logical, rational, and reasonable response to my conundrum.
5. I simplified my backstory on the T&S thread. I did not detail every thought, doubt, question, challenge, struggle, and mood swing I had prior to my Bloggernacle exposure. I did not live in a complete bubble of ignorant giddiness. But I had a deep faith in a loving God who was watching over me. I believed that there was some such thing as absolute truth, of which God was a possessor, and which we could come to know line upon line, through following his plan for us and seeking personal revelation. I believed that ultimately good would triumph over evil, and the pain and suffering and injustice of this world would be healed. I believed that someday, when we had all the pieces of the puzzle, they would fit together, and the resulting picture would be beautiful. This gave life a certain type of deep, underlying joy, hope, and peace, which I do in fact think we are promised in this scriptures. I do not claim that every moment of mortal life should be a big, fun pajama and popcorn party. I do think, however, that a belief in the fundamentals of the gospel fill even the darkest moments of life with a ray of hope. But when that ray of hope starts to fade, that is a scary moment.

p.s. I liked the Brahmin story.

p.p.s. Actually, as I was typing #4, I thought, yeah, actually I do still believe all this (God, hope, big picture, etc.). As illogical as it is, I just really can't bring myself to dismiss those spiritual experiences. It means (today at least) that although I'm very confused about specific LDS foundational truth claims, I am not quite so much in the pit of despair (cue albino lisping).

Jane, so glad you dropped by to leave a comment. So maybe life isn't all "deep despair" and you are just struggling with the same questions of religious and absolute truth that many people confront at some point in life, although it seems to be touching you more deeply than most. That's probably because you take the questions seriously, whereas many people sort of skirt around the full import of such questions. Good for you -- you're a Brahmin, not a peasant.

I'd like to note that while I used your earlier T&S comments to frame an interesting issue in the first paragraph, the balance of my post was general reflection on the theme of despair and depression (generally minimized or ignored in the Church) rather than commentary on you in particular. But the post seemed to ring a bell for several commenters, so it's fair to say that many people find themselves dealing with questions and emotional tides not unlike your own.

Best of luck. Drop by and comment anytime.

That’s exactly the point I wanted to disagree with, Ann. We can and do choose. Let me put it this way, if someone is clear minded enough to have the capacity to sit and discuss whether or not they have the ability to choose their response in a given situation, then they most certainly do have the capacity.


I have been in a similar situation that you seem to be in. I don't want to be exponintial here, but when that moment came, and I had my crisis, I made a choice, and I still believe, and I still have spiritual experiences. As far as most issues and facts about historic truth claims go, I have found that when it comes to doubting the truth of the gospel, I have always been able to give the benefit of the doubt, and eventually, find the answer I am looking for.

I hope in your personal journey, you find the same.

Jane D.,

I'm not going to touch foundational truth claims or historical inconsistencies. I just want to say that anyone who can work a reference to The Princess Bride into a comment like yours, and do it so gracefully, has a soul that is in better shape than most. In fact, if you're a Princess Bride fan, you have probably already had your calling and election made sure!

Eric R.,

I tend to agree with you, at least theoretically, but I think it would be useful to suggest some ways despairing people can respond to Moroni 10:22.

And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.

I think a good way to understand this verse is to realize that despair is part of our mortal experience, for some of us more than others. Despair cames because of iniquity, but not necessarily because of our own, personal iniquity.

Dave - I think I have learned that my own logic and reasoning lead to me to a place that I really do not want to be. The consequences of my reasoning do actually lead me to deep despair. The only reason I'm not feeling it quite so much right now is that I have consciously chosen to back away from these conclusions, and to embrace the illogical, the irrational, the unprovable: those moments of divine contact. These give life hope and make it bearable.

But my brain continues to insist on somehow trying to make sense of it all. And so I think the process will last a lifetime: how to mesh these colliding worlds of the intellect and the spirit? I used to think that part of what made our religion so compelling was that it was logical; that "truth was reason; truth eternal" led us to our doctrinal understandings. Other religious systems left gaping holes; we had the answers. Look how well it all hangs together! Now I have to confess my testimony has been completely stripped of any claim to understanding, and rests solely on those pure moments of spiritual connection (assuming, of course, one could have a "pure" moment of spiritual connection and discounting the human/cutural contamination involved on my end.)

Maybe you should do a post not on the questionable idea that the goal or by-product of the gospel is happiness, but the questionable idea that the gospel should somehow make sense. I think Kierkegaard was pretty critical of this notion.

Mark - I'm so glad somebody caught that reference. Otherwise it might strike people as a somewhat odd random phrase just casually to drop here and there in the midst of one's religious and philosophical ramblings.

I've always loved Jacob 7:26 and Jeremiah.

I wouldn't use the term "happy" to describe my experience of the gospel. I often think of D&C 59:23, which describes the reward of righteousness as peace. Trying to live the gospel doesn't save me from the various doubts and pains and sorrows of mortality (or, as Lisa just put it on FMH, the fact that life sucks), but it undeniably heals and saves me from the torment of guilt. In that sense it brings me peace. When I'm doing the best I can to live the gospel and am completely miserable anyway, I try to remind myself that if I were engaged in major sins, I'd only feel worse. It makes more sense to me to think of the gospel not as a promise of happiness, but as a promise of peace of conscience.

Part of the issue, I think, is what we mean by happiness (and joy, although I'm not totally persuaded that anyone's established a meaningful distinction between the two). I think LDS culture sometimes promotes a sort of relentless and trivial positive-mental-attitude happiness that's completely alien to the scriptures. Enoch sees God weep, and Isaiah describes Christ as "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). It seems fairly clear that even Godhood and perfection do not save us from sorrow.

Jane, I'm intrigued by your reference to Kierkegaard and the idea that the gospel should make sense, and I agree that it would make a great post. I've often heard the LDS Church contrasted with others in terms of the greater sense it makes, but it seems to be such a fundamental experience of religion to hit these blank, impassible walls of things that just do not make sense to us, even if other people seem to have found completely satisfactory answers for themselves. That can be such a hard and lonely experience.

And do watch out for lisping albinos--good luck staying out of that pit of despair.

One of my favorite books in the OT is Ecclesiastes. It appears the King takes all that life has offers, but in the end after analyzing it all he is at a loss. Saying things like "all is vain and these is nothing new under the sun." All knowledge and wisdom didn't make him happy. So he concludes the whole matter with this:
"be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much astudy is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and bkeep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every awork into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."(Eccl.12:12-14)
On another note the great song "Turn, Turn, Turn" came out of this book. There is a time, season and purpose for everything that happens under heaven. May we each find that peace in this mystery of life.

Thanks for the fine comments, everyone. By popular demand, I guess I'll put together a post next week on the theme, "it all makes sense ... sometimes." [Update: Actually, go read this new T&S post, which covers it better than I would.]

If we accept Christ's words from the BoM, after his death He said, "And now, behold, my joy is full." That would seem to contradict the knowledge vs. happiness dialectic.

"And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?"

"The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands .... but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; ... wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?"

This has been said elsewhere, but I do not think the point of life is "common happiness."

But I don't think the point of life is "knowlege" either (at least, not the way I am conceptualizing it).

The point is to become more Godlike. This, of course, involves knowlege, but that's not the whole story. There is also the cultivation of depth of feeling and intuition. Greatness of Spirit is the aim. I think that "knowlege" per se only encompasses a limited portion of that (important as it is).

Beijing, you have no idea how you surprised me with your take on Moroni 10:22. That verse has been one of the most optimistic for me since I noticed it 20+ years ago. I used to be frustrated as I tried to help people when I couldn't solve their problems. After reading this scripture, I realized that helping them see that there is/can be an answer is what removes despair regardless of whether I am the agent that solves it.

An example is when someone overcome by guilt despairs of joy. I can offer my repentance from vile sin and my healing to give them hope for their own future. People in despair tend to accept a difficult answer as long as they have hope that there is an answer. I did so when my SP explained what I would need to do -- I've been disfellowshipped for more than a decade now but I'm still free from my earlier despair because I'm supported by the Comforter now and I have hope for the end result.

What I'm trying to say about the optimism Moroni 10:22 brought me is that we can eliminate despair *now* by giving/finding hope for a solution *later*. Just knowing that help is on the way frequently suffices for now.

Moroni gives the solution to verse 22's "and despair cometh because of iniquity" only ten and eleven verses later, when he promises the possibility of being "perfect [complete] in Christ," "sanctified," and "holy without spot." Feeling the reality of that possibility brought a lot of hope to this person who was in despair because of iniquity.

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