“I Am Not As Happy As I Used To Be While Mormon”

“I am not as happy as I used to be while Mormon”

I addressed this in part about with the idea that we will always be restless. However, there is a bit more that should be said.

I posted something earlier that was quite extensive with regard to the current social science of happiness. You can find out by searching the board using the term “The Happiness Hypothesis”.

All I will say for the moment is that the straightforward idea that what we think will make us happy should be followed is unlikely to produce a satisfying life. I prefer to think in terms of what will make us better off. This is often the difference between short-term and long-term satisfaction. In the short term, we would rather not know that our spouse is cheating on us or that our religious leaders are systematically deceptive, because that news will make us profoundly unhappy. In the long term, however, we are generally better off if we learn about dangers of this type as early as possible so that we can take corrective action that will minimize the damage we suffer.

One story that illustrates this point very well is told by Elie Wiesel in his classic book “Night”. He tells of someone from his village who was captured by the Nazis, machine-gunned along with hundreds of other Jews, thrown into a pit and left for dead. He was not on top, and so was not bayoneted to death (as were many who survived the bullets), and instead of running away spent several months hiding and traveling back to his village so that he could warn his family and friends of the impending disaster. At that time, the Nazis activities were not widely known, and there was still an opportunity to escape.

When he finally made it back to the village and told his story, he was dismissed as a lunatic. For weeks he wandered around the town trying to persuade people that they needed to flee. He had very little if any success. Many of the villagers were eventually taken by the Nazis, and died in concentration camps.

Thinking of the story in terms of happiness, if a villager had believed the survivor, would that have made her happy? Probably not. It probably would have meant she had to liquidate her belongings to the extent possible, and leave the only place she had probably ever known to start life over. But, would she have been better off? Probably so. The likelihood of dying would’ve been much reduced; the likelihood of creating a new life in another place was far greater than she probably understood.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Were the people who refused to believe the survivor happier as a result of their denial? Probably so. But were they better not? Obviously not.

I’m not suggesting that those who leave Mormonism will be unhappy. What I’m suggesting is that we should not think of short-term happiness with regard to a departure from Mormonism or with regard to most other things. Human beings habituate very rapidly to the big changes that occur in their lives. If you were unhappy after leaving Mormonism, you’re probably going to within a short time habituate to your new environment, and experience a level of happiness that was very similar to whatever you had within Mormonism. On the other hand, if you react to leaving Mormonism as I did (experience a period of radical euphoria) you’ll soon habituate to your new environment of increased freedom and again you will be back to the baseline experience of happiness that you had while Mormon. That is my case.

This leads us back to the real question — are you and the ones you love the most better off as a result of no longer pouring the energy you did into the Mormon community, and instead directing that energy elsewhere? In my case the answer is clear. I am far better off, and so are the people I love the most. There may be a few cases in which the answer is less clear, and some in which it appears that a person is probably worse off outside of Mormonism than within it.

Some people need be stability of the Mormon environment much more than others. The same can be said with regard to the FLDS and other cults. Particularly once a person has been conditioned within that environment for a long time, in some cases it may cause more harm than good to remove them. The question then becomes whether the personal sacrifice of happiness in one generation is worth what it will produce in subsequent generations.

Before leaving Mormonism, I made the decision that if I needed to suffer a great deal in order to put my children in a position where they would live in an environment where they would probably be better off, I would do that. The same sort of decision has been made by countless immigrants drought human history. That is how we might think of ourselves – we are social immigrants.

Leave a Reply