Don’t believe the (happiness) hype

Will Wilkinson, commenting on Catherine Rampell’s “The Happiest States of America” article on the NYTimes’ Economix blog, suspects “a skoche of culture-driven upward inflation” is at play in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which puts Utah at the top of states reporting a general sense of happiness (HT: Greg). More specifically, he states:

I’ll vouch for the fact that Utahns are exceptionally chipper. Though perhaps it should be noted that some Mormons are almost ideological about the idea that they ought to be happy.

Just some Mormons, Will? Happiness is inherent in our ideology.

At least canonically, that is. Clearly we place much stock in Lehi’s axiom, “Adam fell that man might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” Joseph Smith famously declared in a letter to Nancy Rigdon, “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.” There are other authoritative sources in LDS canon and apocrypha that indicate that we exist to be happy.

It is perhaps worth asking ourselves whether we believe this to be true. If we honestly believe that the reason we are here is to be happy, then the next level of inquiry is examining whether our religion as we live it, and our daily path as we walk it, is such as makes us happy and brings us joy. I should note that the happiness and joy spoken of in the scriptures is not a delayed celestial gratification, such as would opiate us to present experience. No, the real measure and test at hand, in my opinion, is whether we are happy being Mormons today, in addition to scriptural promises of heaven after death. This is a far higher bar than we would apply to many religions, I think.

I can understand Will Wilkinson’s skepticism that Utah happiness is real. I perhaps share in it a little. It will take more than repeated self-convincing to make us truly happy. I don’t know what to do with his stated view that “the expectations and pressures of Mormon culture lead large numbers of women (and men, but mostly women) to squander their potential and adjust themselves to diminished lives.” I disagree with the claim but lack the tools to disprove it; certainly I know plenty of people, yes mostly women, who would agree with Wilkinson out of their own experiences. The old saw about Utahn antidepressant use might be added fuel for this point of view. But I also know plenty of people, including many women, who have found in Mormonism new ways to tap their potential. I would consider arguing, perhaps, that what Wilkinson is describing is an outsider’s view of Utah culture in particular and not of all Mormonism. I don’t know if that argument is correct, but that distinction feels right to me.

Finally, I guess I have to wonder about the role of happiness in our religion. Why do we make personal happiness our stated goal? Consider as a contrast the purpose of Islam: complete submission to the will of Allah. Personal happiness, while a nice thing, is not the point – what is our contentment compared to the greatness of the Creator? Indeed, we are nothing in comparison, and because God asks us to follow His commandments, we do it, and any happiness is a blessing which He decides to give or not in His sole discretion. How would Mormons fare with such a perspective (or is our goal of happiness more properly perceived in this way)?

Just some thoughts. I’m happy (no, really!) to discuss.

Bookmark Don't Believe the (Happiness) Hype


  1. Do you think self-selection contributes to Utah’s higher rates of happiness? It’s easy to imagine people who find Mormon culture stultifying or disagreeable moving out of state in a hurry.

  2. :)

  3. Will, it’s hard to say for sure. I can also easily imagine that many of those who become disenchanted with Utah Mormon culture are unable to move out of state very quickly due to family circumstances, employment, logistics of moving, etc. So there might be a degree of self-selection at play but I don’t know how you would ever really know for sure or correct for such an effect.

  4. Natalie B. says:

    Really interesting questions. My initial response is that the eternal perspective that the gospel gives us provides me perspective that helps me to remain happy even through tough times. Perhaps for this reason, I do think that I am a fairly “happy” person. But, I respond more strongly to the parts of the gospel that stress our duties to other people, development, and progress. Since these desires for progress and becoming better motivate my life, I can’t allow myself to feel too happy or content, because then I’d worry that I wasn’t working hard enough. Maybe happiness is the end of all this progressing, but I can’t currently imagine a world that wasn’t in need of more progress.

  5. Of course, the real reason they’re happier in Utah is because they purchase more online porn.

  6. Natalie B. says:

    Also, do you think Mormons see the pursuit of happiness as being about personal gratification or community happiness/well-being or both?

  7. DKL – it is the circle of life.

    Natalie, the elephant in the room when it comes to this discussion is defining happiness and situating its proper context. The Mormon view is fluid but IMO puts more emphasis on community than individual well-being. Also there is a heavy emphasis on obedience and conformity as a source of happiness. I don’t dispute those as being legitimate sources of happiness but I do wonder whether Lehi or Joseph Smith meant for that interpretation.

  8. I used to be annoyed by the obligation to happiness, but as I get older and realize how much it sucks to be around unhappy people, I’m coming around to the notion that we owe it to God to be happy. Even if we’re faking it. Faking is underrated, in my opinion.

  9. Three things may contribute to Mormons’ happiness (four, if you count online porn):

    1. Eternal perspective, as mentioned above. We can survive hard times by focusing on eternal goals, family, etc.

    2. A focus on gratitude. Gratitude for what we have, rather than always wanting something else, makes us happier. Since we teach gratitude often, it sinks in sometimes.

    3. Serving others. We focus on serving others, which means we suffer from less self-pity than the general population.

    None of these are exclusive to Mormondom, but my experience is that we focus on them more than other religions or the general population.

  10. The fact that they’re happiest in Utah is proof that bankruptcy laws are too lenient.

  11. How can 70 after-life virgins compete with lax bankruptcy laws and online porn?

    And, don’t tell me those lousy Canucks have managed to turn “opiate” into a verb. That definitely lowers my happiness quotient by 25 percentage points.

  12. Another perspective: Mormons believe, “Be good and you’ll be happy.” (Basically, “Follow the principles and you will be blessed.”) So when asked if they are happy, most say yes; otherwise the inference is, “You’re not being good” (not living the Gospel).

    That is perhaps an over-simplified argument, but I think it holds up. And there is another issue: The modern and post-modern culture assumes a certain cynicism, bitterness, and angst are unavoidable, given the circumstances of our world. “How can any intelligent person be really happy with all the misery and evil, etc.” In many circles (but not in Mormondom), it’s almost gauche to admit you’re happy.

    And finally, I once read this: “We often hear, ‘Be good and you’ll be happy.’ It is much more to the point, however, to say, ‘Be happy and you’ll be good.’ ” The longer I have thought about that claim, the more I believe it, and if that’s true, then we do indeed have a purpose in being happy, beyond personal gratification.

  13. cahkaylahlee says:

    I think that God wants us to obey Him not just to show him that we are in complete submission to His will, but because the consequence of obedience is happiness. Having us, as His children, know that what he ultimately desires is our happiness makes it easier for me to obey His commandments. Particularly as I gain a testimony and become converted to different aspects of the gospel and see that it brings me happiness, comfort, good health, etc.

    It also makes God seem a lot less tyrannical.
    A parent says “You need to do X because I am your parent and you should obey me.”
    A parent says “If you do X, we will go for ice cream afterwords, if you don’t do X, you will have punishment Y.” (i.e. If you do X, you will be happy, if you don’t, you won’t.)

  14. Will Wikinson–the self proclaimed discerner of smiles at Utah historic sites and career guidance guru for mormon women doesn’t merit our attention.

  15. Alma 41:10

    “Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness. ”

    That’s the scripture that came to mind when I first read the post. Most of the unhappiness we feel comes from a sense of unworthiness that most others would brush off in an instant. Jewish mothers have nothing on us in the guilt category; we do it to ourselves instead of having someone else pushing it on us.

    But then, I’ve been happier since I moved from Utah to Seattle, except for the 11 cloudy rainy months each year. Starbucks Suicide Inhibitor blend, anyone?

  16. clarkgoble says:

    Note in the graph that the interstate variation is actually fairly small. Less than 10% from max to min.

  17. Eric Russell says:

    When you look at the stats of the individual categories of the individual congressional districts, what stands out is that very few of the Utah districts are particularly high in any category. It’s just that they all lack low scores in any area. The lack of low scores in each district lead to generally high ranking districts and the composite lifts Utah to the top overall. It seems that what the poll is indicating here is simply that Utah had by far the fewest angry, pessimistic respondents. Instead of saying that Utah is the happiest state, the news headlines probably ought to read, “Utahns are least likely to be pissed off with life.”

  18. Elouise, I think you really nailed it. If we think happiness is the fruit of righteousness, then we’re less likely to admit it if we’re not happy.

    Steve, I know this is tangential to the point of your post, but I’m surprised this point had never occurred to me in this form. This is perhaps one reason we Mormons can be so militant about being happy. We don’t want to indirectly expose our sins by admitting that we’re not happy. And of course it’s all too easy to then point at one another and say “you must be sinning if you’re so unhappy.” I know this is the approach that the GAs have tried to respond to in recent years with talks and Ensign articles that acknowledge the fact that depression isn’t necessarily the result of sin, but I think it’s still a pretty common belief.

  19. All these conversations are good for is revealing our prejudices. Will Wilkinson already knows that Mormonism is an unhealthy belief system/culture and that it can’t lead to real happiness—only illusions of happiness in deluded sheep. So he finds a way to dismiss any evidence that Mormonism is a positive force for good. He’ll look for and emphasize any alternative explanation for data contrary to his prejudice.

    Likewise, we Mormons who believe that Mormonism is a force for good and a source of happiness look for and emphasize alternative explanations for data contrary to our pro-Mormon prejudices.

    Of course, nobody can prove that their view of Mormonism is the correct one. There isn’t, nor can there ever be, conclusive evidence that Mormonism as a culture or a belief system is “healthy” or “good” because what constitutes “healthy” or “good” is a matter of personal value judgments. Where Wilkinson or others see “squandered potential” and “diminished lives,” I may see people who don’t buy into the broader culture’s unhealthy and shallow value system. I’m not going to point to any sociological study, this one included, to prove that my view is right, not because I couldn’t find data to support my view, but because it’s pointless. All of these arguments about what such-and-such data prove or don’t prove about the goodness or badness of Mormonism are so tiresome, but inevitable, I suppose.

  20. I am struck by Joseph Smith’s ingredients for happiness: “virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”

    Nothing in there about “spirituality” or frequent bouts of self-affirmation (I know there have been discussions about this in the nacle already). It is righteousness that produces happiness. Hand everything over to the Lord, and you’ll find real contentment. Isn’t that the message?

  21. S.P. Bailey says:

    Like I always say: “Men are that they might report to Gallup pollsters that they are, on average, slightly happier than people from other congressional districts.”

  22. “God asks us to follow His commandments, we do it, and any happiness is a blessing which He decides to give or not in His sole discretion.”

    I don’t know. I don’t see God as an Italian mama in an upstairs window deciding whether to drop happiness kisses on our heads for good behavior. I think the point of the gospel is to inform us of the natural and inevitable consequences of our actions. Most of the commandments exist not at God’s whim (do we think he just makes up odd rules as he goes along, lke the missionary dept.?) but because following them leads to better lives which leads to happiness, whereas violating them leads to the opposite. Not because we feel guilty, but because the consequences of sin are generally bad and those bad things usually make us feel miserable.

  23. Ziff (#18), it’s not a tangential point at all, and I agree that Elouise nailed it.

  24. I think cahkaylahlee (#13) already said what I was trying to say in #22.

  25. This news article echoes many of the points made here and adds a few more from psychological research for defining happiness.

  26. All of which leads me to believe that, if people are reporting honestly, people in Utah are more happy than others because, on average, they are doing more things that tend to make them happy (and no, I don’t think online porn is one of those things).

    Note that this is not exactly the same as saying that people in Utah are more righteous. But think how you feel when you attend church, read scriptures, have FHE (ok, maybe that’s a bad example sometimes), pray, perform service, teach a church class, bear your testimony, etc.

    Generally, those things give us feelings of happiness that last for a while. To the extent that there are a lot of people in Utah doing a lot of those things, it could account for an elevated feeling of happiness.

  27. Peter LLC says:

    To the extent that there are a lot of people in Utah doing a lot of those things, it could account for an elevated feeling of happiness.

    Let us not forget the other great things one can do in Utah that account, by my estimation, for 87% of the happiness natives report: buy, conceal and shoot guns pretty much anywhere except school parking lots, take motorized vehicles through pristine wilderness, smear chalk on and place pro in national monuments, camp on dinosaur fossils, pilot rockets across the salt flats, legally drive 80 mph past a town named after a noted Book of Mormon prophet, and so on. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

  28. Peter, it is a land of rich blessings.

  29. Cynthia L. says:

    #27 You can also visit a city that’s supposed to be up in space. So thats cool too.

  30. Peter, to be fair, only some of those things result in a feeling of happiness.

  31. S.P. Bailey says:

    I used to think smirking, effete, metrosexual bloggers were useless. Now, thanks to Peter LLC, me and my slack-jawed Utah redneck cousins have plans for the weekend. We will be “plac[ing] pro in national monuments.” I’m not sure how it is done, but it can’t be harder than shootin’ things, raping mother nature, and such.

  32. I think the American “purpose of life” is to “be happy.” That is apparently the goal of every American parent for their child. So, as Americans, Utah people, or American Mormons are supposed to seek happiness. They probably feel like if they are choosing the gospel, it is supposed to make them happy.
    I believe in the gospel. I try to live it. That is what I came to earth to do. Therefore, this is what will make me happy.
    I go right along with this but only to a point. I disbelieve the idea that the purpose of life is to be happy. I never say about my children “I just want her to be happy.” There are other more important things in life. (I also don’t say “I just want it to be healthy” since that is another pet peeve of mine).
    That said, the gospel and my testimony of the savior and prayer brings me peace and happiness.

  33. Aaron Brown says:

    Will Wilkinson’s blog is really cool, and everyone should read it religiously.


  34. My input from over on NCT:

    The funniest response to the depression study I’ve read was:

    “Utah is the most depressed state in the country because 30%-40% of the population has to live with so many Mormons.”

    In that light, I submit:

    “69% of Utahns are happy. Utah is 60%-70% Mormon. All Mormons are happy. Utah is the most depressed state in the country because 30%-40% of the population is surrounded by Pollyannas.”

  35. It is good to read a true, enlightened and righteous poll every once in a while that accurately reflects on Mormons. I hope that Preach My Gospel will be supplemented with this information in the near future. :)

  36. Peter LLC says:

    I used to think smirking, effete, metrosexual bloggers were useless. Now, thanks to Peter LLC, me and my slack-jawed Utah redneck cousins have plans for the weekend.

    Good, because with the exception of concealment (no permit) and the salt flats (no rocket), I happily engage in all these activities (sometimes even outside of Utah).

    And by “placing pro” I am referring to non-sport or “traditional” climbing in which bolts are eschewed in favor of other forms of “pro” or protection such as Black Diamond’s Camalots, forged right there in Salt Lake City.

    So take your accusations of metrosexualism elsewhere, Bubba. I like Utah, and I’ve got the farmer’s tan to prove it.

  37. Does this mean that the annual kerfuffle about Utahns using anti-depressants at a disproportionate rate is a load of hooey? Those prozac abusing head cases only think they are depressed, relative to their exceptionally happy neighbors?

    Maybe if they were to export all the Debbie Downers to places like Bayone or Bakersfield, where they could experience someplace really miserable, they would realize Happy Valley is actually happy.

  38. Peter LLC says:


    I recommend Barstow–it’s a good 1.5 hours closer by car and much, much more soul-numbing on a good day than Bakersfield will ever be.

  39. Steve, I have not read all the comments, so please excuse me if I am being redundant, but I personally think the emphasis on happiness has more to do with what we think we should be than what we actually are. It seems to me one of the main messages in the Sermon on the Mount is that we should try to be happy because many things are beyond our control and we should learn to submit our will to the Lord’s. That is how I read many conference talks as well. If you follow through on that and you read Steven Covey and other management gurus, they talk a lot about people conveying a certain attitude — even if you don’t have that attitude. If you can PRETEND to be happy and upbeat and optimistic you may actually BECOME more happy and upbeat and optimistic. I can attest that for non-Mormons I have worked with this kind of thought is revolutionary and crucial to changing their attitudes toward life and their management style. It’s basic common sense: if you spend all day complaining and moaning, you are more likely to be unhappy because THAT’s what your thinking about, the black clouds rather than the silver linings.

    So at least a portion of the Molly and Moe Mormon fake happiness is really just an attempt to change themselves, which I think is overall a good thing.

  40. When we lived in Wilmington, Delaware, I remember hearing about when their building was dedicated years before and the visiting general authority spoke on the subject of “Man is that we might have joy.” The news article about the building dedication was headlined something like “Mormon authority says purpose of life is to have fun.” The members there didn’t know if there were a lot of investigators as a result of the news coverage.

  41. re Elouise in # 12 and Ziff in # 18, I think that’s a strawman (the idea that no Mormon will say they’re unhappy because they think that will imply unrighteousness). I think that Tom in # 19 and MCQ in # 26 (and Geoff in # 39 to the extent that the Steven Covey caveat is backed out of his comment) have nailed it instead.

  42. Steve Evans says:

    John, I don’t know. I would hope you’re right, but I have personally known many people who are afraid of admitting that they are not happy with their lives, because it would reflect poorly on them as mormons/mothers/fathers/etc.

  43. I agree with you Steve. Aside from the fact that they purchase more online porn and disproportionately enjoy the fruits of lenient bankruptcy laws, Mormons are taught that happiness follows from following Christ’s teachings. Thus, to a Mormon, admitting that you’re unhappy is tacitly admitting to wickedness.

    So, john f, here is what I propose. Write a post that states, “Wake Up Mormons: Following Christ’s Teachings Will not Make You Happy!” and see if everyone chimes in and says, “Yeah. That’s what I found.”

  44. DKL, I don’t agree with that statement so why would I write such a post? My point was that I actually disagree with the last sentence of your first paragraph in # 43.

    If Mormons are not admitting when they are unhappy (if that is the case) then I think that Geoff’s explanation for it makes more sense. But I actually think that MCQ has provided a more accurate reason for why Mormons genuinely feel happy.

    Does the poll actually say much, if anything, about Mormons and happiness (unless it is stated that the respondents were Mormon)? It is possible that many of the respondents were Mormon considering that Mormons make up a little more than 50% of Salt Lake City’s population (is that still the case?), but you never know.

  45. Kristine says:

    john f,

    I’m also inclined to think that part of Utah’s anti-depressant use is a result of the cultural inability to admit that sadness can be a normal part of even a righteous life. If we can pathologize sadness, say “I need an SSRI the way diabetics need insulin” then there’s a way of eliciting some empathy from a community that might otherwise conclude that “unhappiness never was righteousness.”

    (NB–I am NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT saying that all antidepressant use is motivated by mistaking sadness for depression, or that no one should use antidepressants, or anything like that. They are lifesaving drugs and should be used when necessary!)

  46. Steve Evans says:

    John, fundamentally I don’t think the poll says much about Mormons and happiness. But that doesn’t stop the pundits, so why should it stop us?

    Kristine, sadness = depression. Everyone knows that.

  47. Mark Brown says:

    I have just a couple of things to contribute.

    A few years ago in conference, Elder Eyring said that it is a good policy, when meeting someone for the first time, to assume that your new acquaintance is dealing with a big problem he doesn’t know how to handle. He said that he has found that his assumption is true more than 50% of the time. FWIW, that is my experience, too. Mormons are wonderful people, but, like everyone else, we often have our backs right up against the wall much of the time.

    In regards to the use of anti-depressants in Utah, has anybody ever factored in Utah’s high fertility rate? Babies bring lots of joy, but they cause havoc with their mother’s hormones and body chemistry, sometimes even a year or more after childbirth. We can call it post-partum depression or the baby blues or anything else we want to, but UT’s fertility rate is in the 90s and most other states are in the 50s and 60s. I think out practice of having lots of children causes more PPD and therefore has some bearing on our use of SSRIs. Since that means women are getting the help they need, that is a good thing, and nothing we should need to defend, or be embarrassed about.

  48. I actually like Ray’s explanation for the happy/antidepressant divide in # 34.

    But more seriously, maybe Mormons are just more realistic and seek out help more readily when they are feeling depressed, having been taught that “man [and woman] is that [he] [or she] might have joy” and recognizing that a clinical condition, which often is genetic, might be precluding the potential to experience joy. Of course, joy is not the same as happiness, in some respects, at least with regard to materialistic data points.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    John, what’s the difference, in your view, between joy and happiness?

  50. I think that’s a very difficult question to answer. Thinking off the cuff, someone who is having myriad temporal problems that are a serious detriment to short-term happiness may nevertheless have an undercurrent of spiritual joy in his or her life — based on the things MCQ mentioned (among others) in # 26.

    Also, an argument might be viable that riches bring happiness but possibly a hollow happiness that can fade away without the solid foundation built on MCQ’s list that form the basis of the type of joy that is our destiny.

  51. Steve Evans says:

    John, I don’t think the scriptures make the distinction you are getting at. Maybe if we are contrasting contemporary definitions you’re on to something, but again the real problem is more rooted in how problematic our society’s definition of “happiness” is.

  52. I wrote a humorous comment earlier. Here is my serious contribution:

    #45 – “If we can pathologize sadness, say ‘I need an SSRI the way diabetics need insulin’ then there’s a way of eliciting some empathy from a community that might otherwise conclude that ‘unhappiness never was righteousness.'”

    #48 – “recognizing that a clinical condition, which often is genetic, might be precluding the potential to experience joy”

    Fwiw, the very first thought I had when I read the study about anti-depressant use in Utah was, literally, “Good. I hope Mormons use anti-depressants more than anyone else, given our doctrinal understanding of the Fall and the Atonement.”

    My second son has diabetes. To function well (and truly to live a normal, productive life) he simply MUST take insulin regularly – and the dosage HAS to be regulated according to his own needs.

    My mother has a rare form of schizophrenia. To function well (and truly to live a normal, productive life) she simply MUST take “sleeping pills” regularly and avoid stress generally – and her medicine HAS to be regulated according to her own needs.

    Many people suffer from various levels of depression. To function well (and truly to live normal, productive lives) they simply MUST take anti-depressants – and their medicine HAS to be regulated according to their own needs.

    Finally, every single one of the conditions I just described can be seen as a “weakness” that is the fault of the individual or, in religious terms, a natural result of the stuff we inherit as a result of The Fall. We aren’t held accountable for those natural results, since we didn’t choose them in the same way we choose to sin, but we are required to try to overcome our natural (wo)man and become more perfect (“complete, whole, fully developed”).

    God help us all if we criticize others for using medicine that we are fortunate to have in order to mitigate the effects of The Fall in their own lives and, in a very real way change themselves from their natural (wo)man and become more like what we all want to be – in this case, truly happier and able to have joy.

  53. Ray, I think you meant “not the fault of the individual”.

  54. Thomas Parkin says:

    The happiest day of my life was the day my first stock options vested. Measured in the sheer unmixed ecstasy I felt. I called and sold a fraction of them, and walked back to work with a check for over 20K … more money than I’d ever had at one time. And it was only a small part of what I was suddenly worth. I was walking on air. For almost two years we did whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. It was a happy time.

    I thought I’d never have to worry about money, again. But it didn’t last, and boy did it not last.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “eternal” over the last few weeks. That happiness is the “end” of our course isn’t in question. But eternal happiness doesn’t mean constant happiness, unmitigated, through all time. It means happiness grounded in things that do last for all time. Hence the opposite of eternal isn’t time framed but _fashion._

    “19 ¶ Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, and economic collapses deprive:
    20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
    21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” ~

  55. StillConfused says:

    I know many LDS in Utah and few of them would I classify as happy. However, Utah has a number of outdoor enthusiasts and other types whom I would classify as very happy.

    As far as self selection goes, I have had multiple complain vehemently about their marriage / life / children / religion, etc. When I suggest that they make changes so that they can be happy, they say “but I am happy.” I guess they just define it differently.

  56. #53 – “I think you meant ‘not the fault of the individual’.”

    john, ultimately that’s what I believe, but in the context of the comment I meant that some people see each example I listed as the fault of the individual – that they “can” (are able to) see it that way. Obviously, I don’t – at least not universally. That’s why I said “can” rather than “should”.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone who thinks that all diabetics “got diabetes” because of bad habits (eating the wrong things, being lazy and not exercising, etc.) – or that my mom’s condition isn’t “really” schizophrenia – or that people who are suffering from depression just don’t read the scriptures enough or just don’t pray hard enough or just aren’t close enough to the Spirit – etc.

    I believe there certainly are cases where diabetes is caused by neglect and abuse of one’s body, and I believe there probably are cases where depression has causes related to one’s actions. I think these things “can” be seen as either the responsibility of the individual or as a natural result of the Fall, sometimes legitimately and sometimes incorrectly. I just think in the case of depression the vast majority of cases are NOT the fault of the individual, but rather have causes that are hidden to some degree from others – and often from the depressed themselves.

    Iow, I believe many people who appear to other people to “cause their depression by their actions” actually are trying to address their underlying depression by their actions – that the depression is the underlying reason for their actions, not vice-versa.

  57. S.P. Bailey says:

    Peter LLC (no. 36): I know what pro is. And of course I know nothing about you. I will concede your ability to out-redneck my cousin Cletis. I was commenting on your tone, which eerily matched Will Wilkinson’s.

  58. I can vouch for Peter’s rugged cred.

  59. Kristine says:

    Ray, I hope you weren’t taking my comment as a criticism of individuals who take antidepressants–I tried to make it clear that I wholeheartedly approve of their use (which is good, because I am one of those people afflicted with nasty Swedish brain soup that makes it very important for me to take them!)

    I do think we, both in Mormon culture and American culture more generally, may pathologize unhappiness in unhelpful ways–it’s now reasonably well-established that people have a set baseline of happiness that is related to temperament and personality and does not vary much in response to life circumstances (including, presumably, marginally increased or decreased righteousness). To the extent that we hold up a certain type of disposition as the “righteous” model, and undervalue the gifts that come with more contemplative or even melancholy temperaments, we may actually make it more difficult for people with those sorts of temperaments to enjoy the benefits of Mormon community and impose an unrealistic expectation of cheerfulness that makes their disposition and personality seem “wrong.”

    It seems to me that both “righteousness makes people happy” (with the pernicious inverse corollary that unhappiness is evidence of sin) and “all sadness is pathological” are too simplistic to encompass the complicated nexus of personality, spirit, biology, and will that generates happiness, sadness, and sometimes depression or mania.

  60. Yeah, probably “righteousness” is too nebulous a term, as is “happy.” What about this: “engaging in spiritually-oriented activities makes people happier than they were before.” Does that have any pernicious inverse corollaries?

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