Can You Be Truly Happy Outside the Church?

by: Jake

September 6, 2012

wickedness-happiness-shirt.pngThis weeks Sunday School lesson was meant to start with a description of how Satan markets misery to people. As the manual says:

“answers may include that he could make misery look appealing or that he could trick people into thinking that his product will bring happiness instead of misery.”

Later in the lesson it explored the interpretation of the phrases from Alma and Helaman: “they sought for happiness in doing iniquity” and “wickedness never was happiness.” As a class we explored what was happiness and what was mistakenly labeled happiness.

Since then I have pondered this.  I often hear people describe those outside of the church as being not truly happy. But as I look at many of my less-active and non-member friends, they certainly seem happy, so I ask:  how can you determine between true happiness and (as the manual suggests) misery disguised as happiness?

Happiness and True Happiness


There are many strategies within church culture to obscure the fact that some people are happy outside the church. The most common tactic is to draw a distinction between so-called “true happiness” and misery that only appears to make someone happy. As the scripture says:  “Wickedness never was happiness,” so if someone wicked or apostate appears to be happy, it can’t be real, true or lasting happiness. This is the message of this week’s Sunday School lesson, that Satan deceives people into having a false form of happiness. In this passage from Talmage’s Jesus The Christ:

“Happiness includes all that is really desirable and of true worth in pleasure, and much besides. Happiness is genuine gold, pleasure but gilded brass, which corrodes in the hand, and is soon converted into poisonous verdigris. Happiness is as the genuine diamond, which, rough or polished, shines with its own inimitable luster; pleasure is as the paste imitation that glows only when artificially embellished. Happiness is as the ruby, red as the heart’s blood, hard and enduring; pleasure, as stained glass, soft, brittle, and of but transitory beauty.” (Jesus the Christ: A Study of the Messiah and His Mission According to Holy Scriptures Both Ancient and Modern [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], page 230.)

This suggests that we can not judge happiness simply by what it feels like to us, or what it may appear. There is another criterion that must be considered in order to determine if you are happy–the level of our obedience to the church. This suggests that the church not only has a monopoly on salvation but also on happiness. As says:

Many people try to find happiness and fulfillment in activities that are contrary to the Lord’s commandments. Ignoring God’s plan for them, they reject the only source of real happiness. They give in to the devil, who “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27). Eventually they learn the truth of Alma’s warning to his son Corianton: “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).

Given the claim that the LDS church is the only church containing the fullness of the gospel, the only way to obtain the will of God is through the mediation of Church leaders. No one outside of the the church can ever be truly happy because they do not have the fullness of the gospel.  At best they can live it partially, but they are still missing God’s plan for them, the only source for happiness. Real happiness can only come through the church.

So what is Happiness?

In true undergraduate essay style (not to mention your typical LDS talk) let’s see the Oxford English dictionary definition of happiness:

  1. The quality or condition of being happy
  2. The state of pleasurable content of mind
  3. Successful or felicitous aptitude, fitness, suitability, or appropriateness

Of course, dictionaries are a graveyard of old word meanings; they describe how the word was used in the past and not necessarily how it is used in the present. In the past 5 years there has been an explosion in self-help books on happiness, and consequently, a shift in the concept of happiness. Happiness has become a commodity to be sold as a product. Let’s consider a review of this literature from Psychology Today:

What is happiness? The most useful definition—and it’s one agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, behavioural economists, positive psychologists, and Buddhist monks—is more like satisfied or content than “happy” in its strict bursting-with-glee sense. It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilising your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.

It’s maximised when you also feel part of a community. And when you confront annoyances and crises with grace. It involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort. It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in. It’s not joy, a temporary exhilaration, or even pleasure, that sensual rush—though a steady supply of those feelings course through those who seize each day.

Contrast these definitions with how the church uses the word in the past twenty years in LDS publications.  In church publications, the word is increasingly used in conjunction with obedience.  This is explicit in an 2005 General Conference talk on happiness that says:

Happiness comes as a result of our obedience and our courage in always doing the will of God, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Elder John Dickinson further equated happiness with levels of obedience in his talk ‘After the Manner of Happiness’:

“the closer we come to living in accordance with the patterns and principles He has set, the happier and more complete we will be.”

Elder Marlin Jensen said:

“living righteously and keeping God’s commandments make us happy. Alma gave a concise sermon on this topic when he said, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Based on my own experience and my observations of others, Alma’s declaration is as categorical a statement as can be made on the subject, and our chances of proving Alma wrong are about zero.”

Interestingly we have also seen a shift from the Mormon narrative being called the Plan of Salvation in the past to the Plan of Happiness now. Central to the plan is obedience. It is the first covenant in the temple and one of the central principles of the missionary lessons; we are told that salvation comes through Jesus Christ and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. The shift to calling it the Plan of Happiness further equates obedience with happiness.

Happiness and Depression


Oddly, the place that should be the happiest place in the world, the place that has the fullness of the Gospel and living prophets in its midst, has shocking depression statistics. Has true happiness been falsely labelled as depression because the world is so deceived by Satan? Has Satan deceived the Psychiatric profession in America to diagnose the true happiness that comes from living the Gospel as depression. James Talmage hints at this:

“The present is an age of pleasure-seeking, and men are losing their sanity in the mad rush for sensations that do but excite and disappoint. In this day of counterfeits, adulterations, and base imitations, the devil is busier than he has ever been in the course of human history, in the manufacture of pleasures, both old and new; and these he offers for sale in most attractive fashion, falsely labeled, Happiness.”

Studies show that despite their secular culture, Scandinavian countries are the most happy places in the world. Surely with their low rates of church attendance, Scandinavians should be the most miserable nations in the world and Utahns the most happiest.  Yet the reverse is true.

Perhaps Utah is caught up in a Book of Mormon pride cycle and they are not as obedient as they should be to the Gospel it is why they are suffering from high depression levels. Of course it’s easy to equate Utah with Mormonism, but as this response to the frequently asked questions regarding Mormonism points out the percentage of members in Utah is not as high as many people assume. It quotes a study that says the following:

“While Utah does have the highest rate of antidepressant use in the United States, there is no evidence that this is because of stress from the LDS lifestyle and culture. Credible research has shown that LDS women are actually more likely to identify themselves as “happy” than non-Mormon women.”

Maybe we’re dealing with different definitions of self-reported happiness.  If Mormons draw a distinction between worldly happiness and true happiness, their self-identification as “happy” in a study would be meaningless for comparison because they are referring to different things when they say happiness. Under this definition, it’s possible to say that you are happy even if you do not feel happy because true happiness is being obedient, even if you feel depressed.  So a depressed Mormon could claim to be happy by this definition.  (For example, consider this blog curiously titled: Depressed (but not unhappy) Mormon Mommy.

Even outside of Utah I see very little joy and happiness in the church. Church services are very rarely vibrant and full of energy and joy.  Boredom, tedium and banality seem to me more accurate descriptions. People talk about having true happiness in talks and lessons, but the sadness in their eyes, the weary tired look on their face suggests otherwise.  It’s as if they are saying: “I have done everything that the church says should make me happy, so therefore I must be happy.”  I rarely hear genuine expressions of internal joy and happiness.  While this may be cynical and you are justified to ask by what right I judge the sincerity of others’ expression of happiness; yet this is precisely what the church teaches that we should do. We should distinguish between real happiness and counterfeit happiness, or as the manual says “misery labelled happiness.”

Am I really Happy?

These competing definitions of happiness inhibit meaningful communication with those outside the church.  To most people, happiness is not the product of obedience; it is an emotional state and a way of interpreting the world. It is a way of interpreting our own experience and our attitude toward life.  To call someone’s claim to happiness illusory or untrue is to say that people are not capable of judging their own experience and interpreting what they are feeling and experiencing.

How do I understand my own experience?  Do I judge it myself or do I put it through the filter of church ideology? Further, how do I judge whether others are happy when the very people the church tells me possess true happiness are the ones who least appear happy, and the ones that appear to be happy I am told are not “truly” happy.

The times in my own life when I have felt the most stress, misery and unhappiness have correlated with high levels of obedience and conformity to the church.  The times I have felt happiest have been when I was most lax in my devotion to the church codes of conduct. This leaves me questioning not only my own emotional state, but my own memories. Am I deceived by Satan in thinking that the happy moments of my life are only illusory and not real happiness?  Maybe the church is right and what I think is happiness it is not true happiness, but perhaps illusory happiness is better than constantly questioning my perceptions of my own experiences.


  • What is the difference between real happiness and false happiness?
  • How do you know if you are really happy?
  • Can you be happy outside of the church/gospel?


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51 Responses to Can You Be Truly Happy Outside the Church?

  1. FireTag on September 6, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    I still remember a testimony from a service I attended as a youth that took the form: “God has been so good to me this week. I just hope I can get through another week.”

    I think the self-deception can go the opposite way. We have to tell ourselves we’re happy in the church, because to do otherwise is to unwittingly admit we must be wicked.

    I think a modern Alma might instead say “wickedness was never evolutionarily-successful”. Unhappiness, like other forms of pain, is a signal we need to change something for our own good. “False” happiness and “true” happiness simply provide no signal at all, and so will not promote further change. No change means no growth, too.

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  2. SilverRain on September 6, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    Yes, I think it was taught in the sense that lasting happiness is defined as being close to God. Wickedness will never bring you closer to God.

    But wickedness is not directly related to Church membership….

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  3. Jenn on September 6, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    MY views on this have changed drastically in the last year. I was definitely a believer in the “sure, those apostates may LOOK happy, but they aren’t happy like I am” mindset. And now that I AM one of those apostates, I realize I am now happier than I ever was. And not happy in a “eat-drink-be-merry” kind of way, but in a deep, lasting, loving-and-feeling-loved-and-zen-with-the-world kind of way. I feel closer to God and more loved by him than ever before, and more on track to being a christ-like person. And yet my mom cries periodically because I’ve left the church and at some point the other shoe will drop and I will be miserable. Her faith tells her so.

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  4. Brian on September 6, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    Even the phrase “true happiness” makes the hairs stand on my neck. Our happiness is genuine, yours is not. Ugh. The idea of “true happiness” is a game the church has established. Their game, their rules, their definition. In the real world, sure happiness is elusive but it is not one religion’s monopoly. To think it is, smacks of cultism for sure. But then I doubt that many members actually believe the only happy earthlings are Mormons.

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  5. prometheus on September 6, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    “Even outside of Utah I see very little joy and happiness in the church.”

    So true.

    For me, the only happiness that I would say is real in my own life is found in the relationships I have. The more positive and love-centered those relationships are, the happier I am.

    Church attendance, obedience to leaders, have had no real impact at all, except insofar as I have relationships there. I have been in a ward where I was definitely thrown to the wolves and ostracized by a number of people, and attending was like entering a war zone, shields up and guarded. Very unhappy. I am currently on a sabbatical from active church attendance and because the relationships I have are generally strong and positive, I am very happy most of the time.

    To be perfectly honest, I think that part of the reason for the unhappiness at church is the idea that happiness is found in following the orders of ecclesiastical leaders. Perhaps I am becoming apostate-ish, but I don’t recall that the laws of gospel include anything other than loving God and loving each other. Period. Every single thing that any leader ever might say that is outside the scope of those two things is no law at all.

    And to that extent, living in obedience to the laws of the gospel indeed has increased my happiness. Tithing did not, fasting did not, white shirts and ties never did, earrings do not. Loving other people absolutely has, and as I have come to internalize that concept better over the last few years, I have indeed been happier.

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  6. Howard on September 6, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    I was very happy living an honest but worldly life outside the church. My happiness and capacity for it greatly increased following a spiritual epiphany that resulted in living by walking in the Spirit. The church was and is completely irrelevant to this for me but I suspect the church provides a path for others. It is my hope that the path the church offers will become less Mosaic and pharisaical and much more spiritual.

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  7. hawkgrrrl on September 6, 2012 at 6:41 PM

    Unrealistic expectations, victim mentality, and resentfulness make us unhappy. Being obedient but resentful or entitled (two sides of the same coin) definitely is a joyless enterprise. Being obedient without giving it any thought usually slides into entitlement (I deserve good things) or entitlement (I was promised good things – where are they?). Feeling like a victim never was happiness.

    I usually think of wickedness as acting with no integrity (your actions differ from your values), and that doesn’t lead to happiness. When your actions align with your values, you are happiest. The conundrum is that my definition of wickedness is morally relativistic, but if we’re linking it to happiness it has to be.

    For example, if I say family is the most important thing to me but I treat my family poorly, I won’t be happy. Even if there are external pressures like I spend too much time away from my family at work or at church meetings, then I won’t be happy. But if family isn’t really the most important thing to me but instead it’s something like building houses for the poor, I could spend time away from the family doing that and still be happy.

    The thing is that the church is pretty much irrelevant in that equation unless the church is part of our values.

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  8. Jenn on September 6, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    I absolutely agree with everything hawkgrrl said, though I do think it’s not the full equation. Because when I was in the church, I was absolutely doing everything in a way that lined up with my churchy priorities: I believed it, and I lived it. And was “happy”. Yet it wasn’t until I walked away that I realized how much guilt, pressure and sadness I carried around because I couldn’t “be ye therefore perfect” or be someone “unto whom much is given, much is required”. My RS president says it sounds like I don’t really understand the atonement, which may be true- the atonement made me feel guilty more than anything; I’ve been a pretty darn good person- sure I make mistakes but I learn from them and move on, and none of them have been so bad that someone who loves me that much would have to die a horrible painful death. So again with the guilt.
    The church is not that way for everyone (thank heavens!). And it is a recipe for happiness for a lot of people. But I think what it comes down to is the way I internalized the values of the church kept me from ever being truly happy. It had nothing to do with wickedness/righteousness or how I spent my time on good activities. It had to do with (as hawkgrrl said in her opening line) unrealistic expectations, on myself, that no matter of doing righteous things could fix.

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  9. Will on September 6, 2012 at 7:23 PM

    God’s purpose is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man — to distribute the souls of men into their final state. The older I get and the more experience I have, the more I am convinced we will end up in a state where we are happy. I think telestial beings will be happy living a telestial law. The hell they feel, I think will be fleeting and will more what they think they are missing not being in a higher state, but will ultimately be comfortable with their state. The purpose of this life is to determine that state.

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  10. Glenn Thigpen on September 6, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    I think that the “wickedness never was happiness” is addressing an eternal perspective. I do not equate pleasure with happiness. Pleasure is fleeting and usually comes from external stimuli. True happiness comes from within, with being at peace with ourselves and the world. That is something that few people seemingly achieve.

    I cannot claim true happiness for myself because of a medical/mental condition that precludes any type of sustained good feelings. My bits of “happiness” come few and far between. I can only hope that this condition will not follow me throughout eternity.

    There are some who may find church meetings tedious, boring, uninspired. Maybe there are some elements in some of those meetings. But that is the one place that I can find some help. I may go wishing not to have to interact with anyone, feeling so depressed that I would really just like to cease to exist. But almost invariably, as the Sacrament Meeting moves on, I will find that depression lifting and by the last amen, actually feel like a human being.

    There would be no true happiness for me outside the church. My testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel is too firm. I have experienced both sides of that coin.

    But I do believe that people can find true happiness on this earth without the church. I just do not believe that people doing wickedness can achieve that state. I believe that they may find pleasure in their wicked acts, but not real happiness from within. There are some who leave the church and feel much happier than when active. But I do not think that they are doing wicked deeds at the same time.

    I recently read an article about a man visiting India. I cannot remember the name of it for the life of me. But he observed some of the people in India of the lowest caste, living in abject poverty. He was amazed though, at how incredibly happy they were. People without anything, so to speak, and without the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.


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  11. hawkgrrrl on September 6, 2012 at 9:06 PM

    I also wanted to address something from the OP in particular. I do think Jake’s onto something about the church defining things differently from everyone else (see also “pride,” “Christian”). That does cause some problems when you take the green glasses off and leave the Emerald City.

    Jenn, I think priorities and values differ, too. Often, priorities are a checklist of activities. Values are much deeper, and honestly, I don’t think we often have figured out what our values actually are. It takes a lot of soul searching and maturing to figure it out. We have a hard time articulating our values in general terms; it’s easier to articulate them situationally (e.g. “cheating on your spouse is bad”) than it is to say we value “self-reliance” over “salvation” or whether “open-mindedness” trumps “educational achievement.” But all of these are core values.

    There is an activity called a Rokeach Survey that is designed to help you determine what your core values are. I did it 15 years ago and recently looked at it, and I would do it differently now – not necessarily because my values have changed but because my self-awareness has increased, and my ability to articulate why things are important to me continues to grow.

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  12. Zara on September 6, 2012 at 9:53 PM

    Jake, your last few paragraphs were exactly the sort of thinking I engaged in for much of my life as a member. It was that inability to reconcile my own experiences with what the church was telling me, and always having to question myself and my perceptions, that left me a miserable, though believing, member. I thought, well, the church is true, and wouldn’t lead us astray, so the problem must be me.

    Because I was so miserable as a believing member who was truly trying to live the gospel, it was actually a relief for me to discover that the church wasn’t true (my opinion and experience only). I had always believed that apostates and non-believers were only fooling themselves in terms of being “really” happy. Now I know that’s false. I’m much, much happier, and much more mentally healthy now that I don’t have to second-guess myself. We should know whether we’re happy, right? We shouldn’t need another party to tell us whether we’re happy or whether we’re just temporarily happy. I think the idea of “true” happiness vs. counterfeit happiness is one that is there to motivate us to press on in the church, and to not wish we could be a little more worldly.

    As hawkgrrl states, the church really does have different definitions than the world at large. One of the definitions that bothers me is that of “wickedness.” I’ve heard the “wickedness never was happiness” maxim applied to things like modesty or the Word of Wisdom–never mind the fact that most of the world, including other churches, don’t believe drinking a beer or wearing a tank top to be “wickedness.” But since it’s against LDS teachings, it would follow that going against those rules would not lead to happiness. That caused me a lot of confusion when I looked at my friends growing up–you want to see them as good people, but you know they’re doing “wicked” things. So you just tell yourself they aren’t being asked to live according to the light that you have. You make everything fit in your own mind, even when it doesn’t really seem to make sense.

    One of the things that has made me happier in my life outside the church than I ever was inside the church is that I can let go of trying to make sense of things like that. I don’t have to assign a judgment or value to clothing or drinking alcohol moderately, or voting Democrat. :-) I kid, I kid. I’m also much happier now that I don’t see actions as “sinful,” but rather, good or bad decisions that bring their own consequences.

    I think the church brings happiness to a lot of people, and at times, I was one of them. I found happiness through community and service in the church. But overall, I’m happier on the other side of the fence. Genuinely so.

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  13. Zara on September 6, 2012 at 10:07 PM

    One more thought–I will say that I would never have found happiness as a Jack Mormon. If I still believed in the church’s truth claims, I wouldn’t have found happiness outside its confines. The guilt would have crippled me. So I guess for me, when I was a believer, wickedness would have been misery. I’d have still been confused about the apostates and never-Mormons, though.

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  14. FireTag on September 6, 2012 at 10:38 PM


    Discovering our values have changed (or perhaps deepened would be a better expression) is precisely the kind of thing that does come out of core values surveys taken at different times. I guess in a sense, this is what life does (and I think Will was getting at this) as we are presented with more and more finely divided choices as we grow older and our situations change. I know I’m still learning things about what I choose when the world shows a different facet than I expected and I can’t choose any of my old options.

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  15. Henry on September 7, 2012 at 2:20 AM

    I compare this situation to a spouse murdering the other for insurance money and getting away with it temporally. It’s always in the back of your mind that you will have to face ultimate justice one day. Same here. In the back of your mind you know that if you never straighten out and you die, you are going to lose your exaltation. Eternity is a long, long time. So how can you be truly happy?

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  16. Henry on September 7, 2012 at 2:21 AM

    So how can you be truly happy outside the church when you once knew and tasted of its blessings?

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  17. Taryn Fox on September 7, 2012 at 2:43 AM

    When I look back at my years and years in the church, I remember moments of fleeting pleasure and intimacy with the divine, scattered amid a sea of guilt and shame and fear and sorrow and having to endure others’ anger.

    I wish I hadn’t been told that everyone else in the world is lying when they are happy. I would have looked outside of the church and my abusive family sooner, and seen that my life did not have to be this way. I only truly began to live once I did.

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  18. hawkgrrrl on September 7, 2012 at 2:47 AM

    For the record, I do find a lot of happiness within the church. My secret is that I do what aligns with my values and not what doesn’t. I am also fortunate to have been raised by convert parents whose perspective included both internal and external experience. They weren’t miserable before they joined the church, but they have also been very happy in the church.

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  19. Hedgehog on September 7, 2012 at 3:19 AM

    I like the definition you quote from Psychology Today, particularly:
    “It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilising your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.
    “It’s maximised when you also feel part of a community. And when you confront annoyances and crises with grace. It involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort. It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in.”
    I guess the gospel can tie into that by supplying meaning, providing opportunities to use our gifts, and providing a community. Too often though, I think members aren’t willing to learn, stretch and grow, or to act on life as opposed to taking it in. They may be living with purpose, but without thought. I think all the elements are important. I don’t think for one moment we have a monopoly on happiness and I get irritated by the way we, as a church, redefine words. It can really mess with heads…
    I see the church as a means to an end, to be used by us, to help us, and to help us help others. Too often we can get bogged down so much in fulfilling callings, doing what we think is our duty, we loose sight of ourselves and the progress we need to be making. Sometimes leaders seem to demand too much time for things that aren’t important, and we need to step back and say no. These days I try to concentrate on the two great commandments, and if something doesn’t fall into either of those catergories I’m getting better at getting rid etc…
    I am happier when I question, think, learn than when I put stuff on a shelf and plough on regardless – just the process of discussing those concerns in prayer is a huge help. I am happier when I draw my own conclusions, and act accordingly.
    I can well believe some former members are happier too, when it means they are owning their journey through life.

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  20. Hedgehog on September 7, 2012 at 3:41 AM

    #12 Zara,
    “I’ve heard the “wickedness never was happiness” maxim applied to things like modesty or the Word of Wisdom–never mind the fact that most of the world, including other churches, don’t believe drinking a beer or wearing a tank top to be “wickedness.” But since it’s against LDS teachings, it would follow that going against those rules would not lead to happiness. That caused me a lot of confusion when I looked at my friends growing up–you want to see them as good people, but you know they’re doing “wicked” things.”

    Yes. I was covering for my Valiant teacher the other week, and the topic of wickedness came up. One of the children asked what wickedness was, and another leapt in and said ‘doing wrong things like drinking alcohol or smoking’. I hope I managed to explain well enough that ‘those’ things were not ‘wicked’, just against the WoW. Wickedness is far worse. The wicked people we had been studying had stoned the prophets, so, murder in that instance..
    I had a conversation with my sister a while back, in which she said she wished she’d mixed more with the youth at the orchestra we attended in our teens. She can see now that there were some really good people there, but had been so afraid of ‘the World’, as pushed in YW and especially seminary. She and I are very different, and I’ve always been more inclined to roll my eyes at that sort of rhetoric. All my good friends have tended to be non-members.

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  21. Jake on September 7, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    Something that I have thought about from your comments. Is how not only do we have a competing set of definitions about what happiness is but we also have an ambiguity over what is actually wicked. It seems that often we have the hyperbole and exaggerated status of things to being wicked that are really probably more like bad habits or just non-comforming behaviour. It devalues the power and meaning of the word, when we equate the wickedness of evil dictators, rapists, and murderers with those who drink coffee and alcohol and do not attend an LDS church. Obviously, they are not the same so why use the same word to describe them?

    Jenn, Hawkgrrls and Zara’s comments and their points about living true to our values and principles seems a key point. I think that happiness is probably not correlated to church attendance or levels of dedication really, but rather the extent to which we are in harmony with our personal values. The fact is that when I was an uber-mormon I don’t think I was being true to my self and seemed inauthentic to myself and this was detrimental to my happiness as I was never at ease with myself through either living through other peoples expectations or guilt of not living up to what I was expected to be. I think therefore that happiness is found both in the church and outside of it as long as people are living their own life and not someone else’s. The fact that other peoples expectations impinge upon us interfere with on our ability to be ourselves, which is crucial to happiness and inner peace.

    Glenn, I think that the pleasure vs happiness argument is simply the same as the true happiness vs fake happiness argument but with different names nd using a temporal distinction. Although I would be interested to see how you could tease apart the distinction between pleasure, happiness, and joy. If we take the eternal happiness and time argument then it suggests that no one can be happy in this life, for what we think is happiness could simply be pleasure that is fleeting in that it only lasts for this life.

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  22. Jenn on September 7, 2012 at 6:41 AM

    That problem is you are assuming that somewhere in the back of my mind I still believe that I am losing out on my exaltation, that I’m only pretending to not believe because it makes me happier in the short-term. I don’t know if anything I say will convince you, but this is completely and utterly not true.
    In fact, my actions haven’t changed at all- if what it takes to be exalted is to not drink and to do service and all that, I’ve got it made. What has changed is my belief in whether or not an exclusive exaltation, as mormonism defines it, is still a belief or goal for me. It isn’t.
    The reason I am happy now is not because I can wear tank tops again (as fantastic as that is) but because for the first time in my life, I can now believe, to my very core, that I am good enough for a happy afterlifer (if it exists)- and that God or universal justice or whatever doesn’t need me to pay prices to get there, aside from just being true to my values and true to who I feel God wants me to be.

    I have tasted the blessings of living in the gospel- I have enjoyed being addiction-free, having a strong family and loving community, understanding consequences and priorities: all things I learned in mormonism. The surprising thing is the blessings don’t stop just because my belief has changed. I still put effort into my family relationships, I still have great relationships. I still give to good causes; I still feel the warm fuzzies that come from charity and being a part of something bigger. I’m still working towards being Christlike (whether or not I think mucch of the Christ narrative is fiction, He is still worth emulating), and still enjoying the positive consequences of that. I don’t feel like I’ve lost a single blessing- rather, I feel I’ve gained more, because not only do I feel happy that my family can be together forever, I can be happy that there isn’t some cosmic justice or checklist keeping all of my extended family, or all families, from being together if they want to be.

    This belief works for me, and brings me happiness. I don’t think for a minute it would work for my brother, so I’m thrilled that he believes in the church because that is where he finds his happiness, and I think his is just as legitimate as mine.
    I don’t doubt your happiness, don’t doubt mine.

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  23. Mike S on September 7, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    I believe true happiness comes when we follow true and basic eternal principles. These core values have been consistent across time and across faiths. The core values are surprising similar between different religions.

    – Respect the Divine
    – Love your neighbor
    – Be honest
    – Don’t kill
    – Respect the sanctity of marriage
    – Etc.

    Keeping these things will make you a happier person, whether you are LDS or not.

    The biggest issue in the Church today is that they have conflated temporary American societal practices with eternal principles, and it is suggested that you will be happier if you follow these:

    – Not drinking wine
    – Covering your shoulders (if you’re a woman)
    – Wearing a white shirt (if you’re a man)
    – Not drinking Coke (or maybe drinking Coke)
    – R-rated movies
    – Etc

    None of these are eternal principles. Christ drank wine, had a beard, didn’t wear a white shirt, etc. The dichotomy comes when LDS members see others doing many of these things yet still see they are happy. It’s not because others are “deluded”, but because they are NOT eternal principles.

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  24. Mike S on September 7, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    Interestingly, I just read this regarding our judging others and their “happiness”:

    “There are many ways up the mountain, but each of us must choose a practice that feels true to his own heart. It is not necessary for you to evaluate the practices chosen by others.” – Jack Kornfield, “Take the One Seat”

    True happiness = being true to one’s heart. For many, this lies within the LDS Church. For many others, this lies without.

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  25. Henry on September 7, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    No hiding head in the sand here.
    Doesn’t church theology teach that only those who continue faithful will live as husband and wife in an exalted state?
    But Jenn, I really am glad you have found happiness. Obviously it is better to be happy that miserable. I actually have been lass active myself for several years and I know that if I never go back, I will not “make it”.

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  26. Henry on September 7, 2012 at 7:35 AM


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  27. Jenn on September 7, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    “Doesn’t church theology teach that only those who continue faithful will live as husband and wife in an exalted state?”
    It certainly does. But the mere act of no longer believing that has brought me more happiness.
    If I DID still believe that, and was going against that belief, then yes, I would certainly not find happiness in having actions that didn’t align with my beliefs.

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  28. Henry on September 7, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    You will be where you can only be happy (telestial and up). For example, if I am brought to an operating table and asked to perform surgery, I definitely will not be happy and will not want to stay there because I did not prepare. I did not train and was not prepared to perform surgery. I suppose a similiarity would exist with exaltation. If I did not prepare for it, I would not be happy there.

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  29. Verlyne on September 7, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    I think what Jenn is trying to say, and that you are not understanding, Henry, is that while your opinion and belief about the afterlife is valid for you, it doesn’t carry any weight for those of us who do not believe it to be true. When you talk about exaltation, I am unmoved, as I don’t believe in the church’s narrative regarding whatever comes after this life. Therefore, my happiness is not connected in any way to whatever kingdom you think I’m going to be relegated to. I’m happy because, as others have said, I’m living my core values. I kicked guilt, fear, and shame-based teachings to the curb, and, fir the first time in my life, I feel happiness, joy, peace, and comfort deep in my soul. I’m almost giddy at the prospect of living out my life on my terms, and figuring out what it all means to me. Yes, I am happy outside of the church. Very happy.

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  30. Jake on September 7, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    Mike S,

    Underlying this is a mistaken understanding of causality. I would agree that happiness is caused by being true to your own heart not conforming to set of American social values, but we mistake a link between what is coincidentally true and what is necessarily true. Ie. If you are happy it maybe coincidental that you coffee or don’t but its probably necessarily true that you are spending your life doing what you love and enjoy.

    Jenn, I find it interesting that you say that it was a change in beliefs that made you happier, rather then a change of action or attitude. Although I wonder if with the change in beliefs it brought with it a change in your attitude towards life, and that this was a contributing factor to your happiness? Obviously I don’t know, but I am just curious how a gestalt shift in belief in itself brings happiness.

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  31. Brian on September 7, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    Henry, to those of us outside the church the doctrine means nothing. In the same way you cast Catholic doctrine aside as meaningless drivel, we cast aside LDS doctrine. You are talking to the wind.

    It was only when I left the church that I appreciated the irony that for most of my life the word telestial could not be found in any dictionary.

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  32. Tiffany W. on September 7, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    I’m not sure that I buy that study about Scandinavians being the happiest in the world. I lived in Sweden for 5 1/2 years and, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a high rate of depression among Swedes, at least. I’m not sure if the problem is really a “wicked” lifestyle–which I don’t think Swedes really lived anyhow, but with the sunshine being a problem for a significant portion of the year, I think that contributed to significant amounts of depression.

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  33. Henry on September 7, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    Remember that simply because one does not believe something doesn’t make it untrue. I feel good when I see people that are happy but one day all of this will end and we all will have to face/pay the piper.

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  34. Jenn on September 7, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    Well, my actions didn’t really change (tank tops aside). I don’t know if I can truly say my attitude didn’t change.
    I mean, my approach to life in general didn’t- I still try not to be grumpy, or be patient with my kids, and try to be optimistic… so “attitude” in that sense hasn’t changed.
    My attitude about how others view me has changed- it’s had to. I’ve had a hard and fast lesson on having to not let other’s views deeply effect me. Still haven’t mastered it (I would give anything to have my family understand) but for the first time in my life I am publicly doing something (not going to church, not wearing Gs), knowing I am being judged and misunderstood by people who matter to me, and doing it anyways. This has caused some anxiety and sorrow but also some freedom and growth. So my attitude there has definitely changed in a way that will lead to happiness (happiness for me now means being aligned with my husband and God, and throwing what anyone else thinks out the window).

    The belief change contributed to happiness in a few ways:
    1) the removal of the feelings of guilt and obligation and needing to achieve some ideal. My actions are the same, the results are the same, but I no longer have to put everything on a “good, better, best” spectrum to see if I really am using my time the way God wants me to. Because I don’t think anymore that God really cares how I spend my time.
    2) no longer feeling superior to my fellow man. As mormons, we try to not feel superior, but it still happens: we think we have THE universal, eternal truth, and there can only be one universal, eternal truth. Now I just believe in having a personal truth, and everyone can have that, so I’m no longer in possession of something everyone else needs.
    3) no more cognitive dissonance. not losing sleep because I can’t make sense of something in the church that seemed contradictory. Not feeling tied to church decisions I don’t agree with.
    I’m a very analytical person and the cognitive dissonance I found in the gospel actually did bring me a lot of confusion, sorrow, and mental exhaustion. Leaving that behind makes me happier.

    The great thing is, I can now approach the scriptures and enjoy reading them and getting goodness out of them, BECAUSE I don’t care if they are literal historical truth meant for everyone. Just like I read the Tao, or Les Miserables, or any other book that makes me a better person. I take what helps me and leave the rest without having to make it fit into my theology and world view.

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  35. Jenn on September 7, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    But Henry we aren’t talking about eventual consequences, but rather happiness which is based on perspective.
    Whether or not it is true, if I don’t believe in eternal consequences for my actions, then I’m not going to be worrying about them, therefore they have no effect on my happiness.

    Whether or not I can be a non-believer and be happy in the afterlife is a completely different (and I’d say theoretical) discussion.

    But for now, in this life, I can be happy by living in a way consistent with my beliefs, which doesn’t happen to include eternal consequences for not having all my requirements for mormon exaltation met.

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  36. Heber13 on September 7, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    My son met with the bishop last night because he’s about ready to join the Teacher’s Quorum. When I asked how it went, he said, “The bishop is so happy, all the time…he’s too happy…it so annoying!”

    It made me think of this thread. It is so relative to the individual, and it is an internal thing.

    Because it is internal, it can be realized by anyone…inside or outside the church, rich or poor, old or young.

    But it is not stagnant. It is not a prize achieved and then you have it. It is an ongoing process to be reachieved daily. The gospel can help me in my framework to realize that. The gospel may not make sense to someone else, and they may have other things that help them be happy.

    “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
    **Most likely…not guaranteed, because it is how we use the teachings of Christ that determine happiness.
    **Teachings of Christ…not Church of Christ. Many outside the church can follow Christ’s teachings as much or more as imperfect and growing members in the Church do.

    Missionary numbers would be WAY up if we could demonstrate membership in the Church = Greater Happiness. But reality is, we can’t. In or out of the church, we pursue happiness in choices we make…we don’t just have it because we have the answers.

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  37. Howard on September 7, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    There are many heavens not just the three LDS degrees of glory with a Santa guard at the door checking your naughty or nice list and your memory of secret handshakes to see if you’re allowed in.

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  38. Glenn Thigpen on September 7, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    Jake, on the distinction of happiness and pleasure. I noted that, to me, pleasure is something that is fleeting, such as as eating a scrumptious piece of chocolate fudge, for those of us who are chocolate addicts. That pleasure lasts but a few moments.
    Or maybe a wonderful sexual experience (hopefully within the proper bounds, but let’s not get into that). The pleasure experienced therein lasts for the duration of the encounter. Their can be pleasant memories afterwards, but they too fade.

    On the dark side, a serial killer may find pleasure in their deeds. I just do not believe that such pleasures are actual happiness. But I am not a psychologist, so I will have to leave it as a belief.

    As I stated in my first post, I believe that lasting happiness comes from within, from a person that is not longing, aching for more than he or she can obtain.

    As I also noted, I believe that a person who has been a member of the church can indeed find lasting happiness outside of the church. If the person does not want anything the church offers and finds all of their wants supplied by events and lifestyles outside of the church, there is no reason for anyone to assume that such people are not truly happy in this life.


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  39. Eva on September 7, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    I can usually spot a Mormon by the glow they exude. Walk around BYU campus to see what I mean. I have been told by many I have that glow, and I am generally unhappy, BUT I have JOY almost constantly. And the joy comes from belief in the Gospel.

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  40. Jenn on September 7, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    I think you’ll find that glow in any person who is living a life of integrity with clear goals, who puts effort and importance on relationships. So yes, it comes from the gospel, but is not unique to the gospel.

    I’ve also been told I have that glow- I once had a BYU professor tell me (as she helped me get above failing in her fabulous but hard humanities class) that she was helping me pass because I was a “luminescent being”. She went on to say that I had struggled that semester because of my depression and personal issues.

    How intriguing that you can glow and be unhappy at the same time.

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  41. Andrew S on September 7, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    While I cringe at terms like “real happiness” and “fake happiness,” and of the introduction of the eternities to the mix (where, so often the people who bring it up don’t even realize WHY such a strategy is a non-starter for a lot of folks)…I do think that there is some sort of difference that is not easily captured by our common English terms.

    I tend to describe the difference in terms of “joy” vs “happiness.” Happiness is an emotion that can be fleeting, IMO…I can be “sad,” in which case an am not happy.

    But joy is something more pervasive. I like to use terms like “peace” with accordance with joy…Joy/peace is when everything is going to hell in a handbasket, and it may be unpleasant and you may be sad, but you still have something inside you that is fulfilled, that is calm, that is unperturbed…something that grounds you, as it were.

    I think that is what we should be seeking, because when we have that, we are invincible. And that “invincibility” is not to say that we will never have things that are unpleasant…but rather that no matter how unpleasant life may be, no matter how sad things get, we’ll be “above” that.

    I don’t think joy/peace is all that related to religious participation. I do think that it requires conscious cultivation, but what I would think is that there are plenty of “unconscious” and “uncultivated” religious folks, and likewise, the aspect of leaving a religion can be the thing that wakes a person up and begins them down a path of cultivation.

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  42. Heber13 on September 7, 2012 at 4:49 PM

    “I don’t think joy/peace is all that related to religious participation.”

    I think it can be, Andrew, especially when one can be so committed to an LDS lifestyle, it can encompass work, play, family activities, friends, responsibilities…so much of what defines us can be wrapped up in that religious life.

    But I agree with the point Jenn is making that when that is working for you, you can glow or have that spirit with you that others notice, however, it is not unique to Mormons, and not necessarily to religion. There are other things that can bring that aura from a person. Its not hard to verify that with observation.

    Our bishop is a super happy guy. But so is my Christian buddy, and my Hindu buddy. I honestly see the same exuberance in each of them, and they all live rich lives. I just believe it CAN be connected to what a person takes from religion, but there CAN be other things (sports, hobbies, values, service, vocations) that can bring a person the exact same levels.

    It is not finding the one thing that brings happiness.

    It is finding the balance of everything available to bring happiness.

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  43. Andrew S on September 7, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    re 42,


    I don’t think you were getting what I was saying. When I say, “I don’t think joy/peace is all that related to religious participation,” what I mean is, if you had to draw a graph plot of people by their level of joy/peace against their religiosity, I think it would look like a bunch of dots all over the graph with little discernible trend.

    So I mean, when you say “it can be,” that really doesn’t contradict what I’m saying. When you have dots along the graph, then a lot of things “can” be.

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  44. Anon on September 7, 2012 at 5:47 PM

    Thank you for writing this – I think it takes some courage.

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  45. hawkgrrrl on September 7, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    “I’ve had a hard and fast lesson on having to not let other’s views deeply effect me.” I believe this is a key issue for people who are happier outside the church than in. They can’t truly be happy until they can be themselves. Being authentic involves not putting on a mask for others. You can be that in or out of the church, but I have also experienced that some wards I’ve been in just didn’t really “get” me or dare I say “like” me because I didn’t fit the mold. That didn’t drive me away, but it alternately amused me and made it easier to disengage from the community, especially when I didn’t find anyone I could relate to there.

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  46. Jenn on September 7, 2012 at 7:06 PM

    Exactly. Though it goes a bit deeper than that. While in general there is nothing about the gospel that would make me care greatly about what others think of me, the idea of worthiness as being something determined by others (like bishops) does add to it.

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  47. Phoebe on September 9, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    This whole article reminded me of my first husband. He was abusive, manipulative, and controlling. He convinced me that only he could make me happy. Only he could love me despite all my “issues and problems.” I would be more miserable without him that with him. But you know what, I got out of that marriage and found out he was wrong.

    I think this is a control thing. “Only this church can make you happy. You would be miserable without it.” We can look around and see other people happy but they tell us they are deceived and not truly happy. They are wrong.

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  48. Ray on September 9, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    Yes, people can be happy outside the LDS Church – but they can be just as happy inside it.

    That’s what’s missing from much of this comment thread, imo. People can he happy wherever they can be happy, and, for LOTS of people, that can he inside the LDS Church, as well.

    I am orthodox about some things and heterodox about lots of other things – and I’m very happy inside the LDS Church even as I disagree with a lot of things I hear from the pulpit on a regular basis.


    I’ve found internal happiness, so I can be happy almost anywhere I am. For me, that includes inside the LDS Church – but for others that means having to leave the LDS Church or not join in the first place.

    We as a people need to understand that much better, since we officially say everyone needs to be allowed to live according to the dictates of their own consciences – and because living according to the dictates of one’s own conscience is perhaps the single most important factor in being internally happy.

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  49. Sherry on September 9, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    Phoebe I have to agree. Sounds like my X. Control begins by someone or something defining terms in their own way. Was I “happy” married to X? I thought I was because I didn’t know any better. When I finally begans to see there were other definitions for words/terms I began to experience questioning, divorcing X, then marrying a NOMO, which so many ward members feel is wrong. I listened to the spririt in marrying him and now experience much more and deeper happiness than I ever did when married to Mr. LDS X. Hmmmm…….Too many Mormons have rigid ideas about happiness. I too, have known NOMO’s who are genuinely happy. And I’ve known many LDS who think/ or tell themselves, they are happy, and they are not. I believe to be happy one must adhere to their own set of deeply held values, and live them. Many religions agree on what is decent and good, not just Christians.

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  50. […] But the facts presented are really just a way to get us to try to do certain things…and when we do certain things (so we are taught), it will lead to happiness that we would not otherwise have, and that, in fact, the rest of the world doesn’t have (???). […]

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  51. Geoff - A on September 17, 2012 at 1:24 AM

    Part of the original post was questioning why Scandanavian people are happier than Mormons.

    They are living in a zion society with no poor among them and with collective responsibility for that condition. Perhaps they are living more christlike lives, closer to the Gospel, without the rules that are the church.

    I am an active member but have decided to only recognise the church when it helps me to live the Gospel.

    As you may see I have struggled with the Utah culture which often does not agree with the Gospel, and when it doesn’t the culture wins.

    I believe that the gospel can help us to find happiness but I believe zion is not in the church but that scandanavians are closer to it. What would the church be like if SLC was in Sweeden?

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