They Just Look Happy …

When I was a small boy, we lived about half a block from a rather large park in Southern California. My mom would take us over there almost every afternoon in the summers after my youngest brother had his nap. But we never went on Sundays. Returning from church each Sabbath, we would see other kids playing happily on the playground equipment and wonder why we couldn’t play with them.

“We keep the Sabbath day holy,” my mom would say. “It’s a commandment from Heavenly Father.”

“But those kids are having so much fun. Why wouldn’t Heavenly Father want us to have fun, too?” we protested.

“Well, they’re not really having fun. They just look like they’re having fun,” she would say.

As I grew older, I heard variations of this thought: People outside the church may think they’re happy, but they aren’t really happy. Only church members can truly experience real joy. Everyone else just looks happy “on the outside.”

“Happiness is the object and design of our existence,” Joseph Smith wrote in a letter proposing plural marriage to Nancy Rigdon. And we spent an awful lot of time reminding ourselves of how much joy and happiness the gospel had brought us. Numberless testimonies were given of how the gospel had blessed people, and conversely, of how they would have wandered in dark paths had they not known the truth.

I thought I was happy. I had everything a Mormon boy is supposed to aspire to: a loving wife, lots of kids, a postgraduate education, a professional career, and leadership positions in the church.

But then my faith in Mormonism collapsed, and I saw it for the manmade organization it is. But that realization wasn’t nearly as devastating as the realization that I wasn’t really happy and hadn’t been for a very long time. I had accepted the church’s definition of happiness without ever considering whether that kind of life really meant happiness for me.

I had held suspicions that I was dealing with depression during my church years, but it wasn’t until I got out of the church that I began to deal with the problem. I remember filling out a questionnaire to determine the level of depression, and one of the questions was, “How long have you felt this way?” I could only check the answer, “I can’t remember when I didn’t feel this way.”

Of course, I’ve had some church members tell me the depression is a direct consequence of my apostasy, but that’s what I would expect them to say.

The church provides a framework for interpreting experience, and in many ways that rigid framework is comforting in giving us a consistent approach to life. However, I had to break out of that framework to figure out how to be happy. At 40 years old, I had for so long lived by what others had told me that I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. I didn’t know who I was.

And in the end, that’s the only way to be happy: to know who you are and know what you want out of life. I’m sure some people can find true happiness in Mormonism. I didn’t, but then I didn’t really understand what happiness was.

So, yes, I may look happy on the outside, and that’s probably because I am happy.


11 Responses to They Just Look Happy …

  1. Ray Agostini says:

    John, you might find this a bit on the humourous side, as I do now. I wrote this entry into a journal in 2003, Though I was still under great pressure working long hours and paying off “divorce debts”, I realized as early as 2001 that notwithstanding the thing I dreaded the most happening to me happened – divorce – I was actually a lot happier. I was, as C.S.Lewis phrased it, “surprised by joy”. The following also shows that happiness is relative. When you’ve seen the worst, you appreciate even the smallest things in life:

    “So here I am in my little one-bedroom flat, two years later. I still only have four single mattresses doubled up to make two beds…I have my weights bench, weights, quite a few boxes still from the move, three book shelves filled with my remaining books, the old lounge the ex left me, three plastic green outside chairs, one broken, the single wooden chair the ex left, and two cushioned chairs I got from “T”, now both broken but still usable to some extent. Then there’s my computer and computer desk, gathering heaps of dust, and more boxes filled with books to the left of the pc. Some old mats, one at the computer, the other in the bedroom, and one in the lounge. The bookshelf given to me by “S” two years ago, and my portable TV which I bought with what remained on my credit cards two years ago, and the old video we bought in the mid-’90s which the ex left behind, still going after a major repair job only months after it was bought. I thought it might never make it, but all these years later it still faithfully tapes my “Rage” every Saturday without a glitch . Then there’s the old fridge I bought for $225 at a secondhand store the day I moved here. It still had the price tag on until recently. It’s worked marvellously; keeps stuff so cold as long as it’s defrosted regularly… That’s about it, except for my folder stand next to the pc, and downstairs the washing machine I bought off “T” for $20 two years ago! Still going faithfully as strong as ever. They felt sorry for me washing by hand and offered it to me very cheaply. I’m so amazed that all of these appliances have held up so well. My car too, which is now only having its first major job at 257,000 kilometres! I have been so lucky and so blessed in this way. I just wonder how much longer all this can last. If there is a God in heaven, then I thank him/her/it for all of this.”

    I had, for a long time, been through “the dark night of the soul”, and often wondered then if I could keep going. I’m convinced that my hardships and extreme personal trials contributed significantly to the happiness I subsequently felt, so that I could appreciate even the smallest “blessings”. Most of all, I was finally free. Free from all the burdens you mentioned in your post.

    When I bought that little four cylinder car I prayed that it would “go the distance”. It’s still going, with 452,000 kilometres on the clock, though mechanics pronounced the engine “near dead” and in need of replacement in 2003.

    I never fail to enjoy what you write, because in many ways it resonates so much with my own experiences. If I don’t comment, it doesn’t mean I’m not reading.

  2. Seven says:

    Great post Runtu. I believed I was happy as a “Chapel Mormon” and in some ways I was. But there was always that “shelf” of doctrinal and historical problems that nagged and nagged at me. Once I let go of the beliefs that were illogical and immoral, I felt a new freedom and happiness I had never experienced. It was scary at first to take those steps, but once I did it was the most spiritual feelings and enlightment I have ever had.

    It’s been painful to have LDS family and friends unfairly judge me and the softy bigotry directed at me for losing the orthodox view of Mormonism. That’s the only unhappiness I have had to deal with since leaving Chapel Mormonism. (besides the inital shock and despair at discovering the unvarnished history)

    I think it’s interesting that Mormons believe they have real happiness, but reject the idea of progression between kingdoms and expect a higher reward than others in the afterlife.
    If they are truly happy living the gospel, why do they demand recompense for their life here on earth?

  3. Seven says:

    I wanted to add one more thought. My experience being raised in the church is very similar to yours. I was taught that only Mormon happiness was real and others was not.

    One of the main reasons I felt unhappiness in Mormonism is the focus on works over grace. We were taught that Christ’s atonement only covered us “after all we can do. ” What’s after all I can do actually mean? It implies that I have lived close to a perfect life and Christ will make up for the itty bitty sins. I personally had a very hard time believing God would forgive my sins because this doctrine was so ingrained in me. I was given the greater knowledge and He expected more from me. The Mormon doctrine of being eternally placed in one of the 3 kingdoms teaches that Christ’s atonement will only save the people who were not given the gospel.

    If you look at Mormon culture, there is a strong tendency to be overachievers and perfectionists.
    Kathleen Flake pointed this out at the Mormon politics conference at Princeton. (here is the link if you didn’t see it)

    One only needs to browse through the popular Mormon family blogs all over blogger to see this attitude of perfection and overachieving. If I read too many of those blogs, I start to feel like a loser.

    I was prone to depression as Mormon from being hard on myself if I didn’t do the best at something or made a mistake. I’m one of those who couldn’t forgive myself and would dwell and dwell on errors. As a child I would work obsessively on projects to make them perfect, to gain approval from my parents or others.

    The Mormon church creates parents who put unrealistic expectations on their children, doing damage to their self esteem. I had a mother who was obsessed with what other people thought of her kids and creating the impression of having the perfect family. We’ve all seen those families at church who looked like the Cleaver family, but you find out later that the mother or father was physically or verbally abusing them. I believe the abuse is common because of the pressure that Mormon culture creates to have the perfect TBM family. Until Mormons will admit they are sinners on the same level as non Mormons, this will never change.

  4. K*tty says:

    Wow, I love the simple way you put things, Runtu. I got a kick out of your mother saying they only looked happy. Good to hear from Ray again. Loved the comments by Seven and it reminded me of something I overheard the other day. Two sisters were painting ceramics and the older sister kept pestering the younger one to paint a little better. At one point the older sister said, “Come on, don’t you want it to be perfect?” I laughed out loud when the younger girl said. “I’m just a child. I don’t have to do it perfect.”

    I’m sure we all feel like Seven when we recall our struggle to perfection in the Mormon church, knowing we could never achieve it. I am a kinder more forgiving soul after leaving. And I sure am more open minded and less critical and judgmental. That even extends to my Mormon family and friends, if they just let me be. I am okay that they think I am a poor lost soul, because in truth, that is what I think of them.

  5. Seven says:

    Thanks K*tty and I feel just like you. I am much more Christian now-
    more forgiving, open minded, less critical and not judgemental since losing Mormonism.

    One thing I forgot to mention is the number of LDS women who are on anti depressants or anxiety medication. This is rampant in the church. Some may say it’s because non Mormons use other substances to battle with depression (e.g. liquor, food, hard drugs), but I don’t have any non Mormon friends who drink their depression away. Those who do would be considered addicts.

    I used to suffer with panic attacks and sleep paralyzation since age 16. I chose to not use medication in dealing with it because I had the side effects of meds. Although I have never had true depression, it is connected. I felt so much burden and worry about losing my eternal family and never doing enough to make it to the Celestial Kingdom.
    I was terrified of burning at the second coming.

    Since losing my religion, I have never had those episodes of night terrors or paralyzed sleep. My panic attacks are very rare now.
    I have MANY LDS friends and family who currently suffer with anxiety and depression.

    In fact, almost every TBM sister in law of mine is on Zoloft and or xanax.

  6. catzgalore says:

    K*tty, I loved the story about the little girls! If that little girl was me, I would have cried and tried harder and harder to be better. I’m glad she’s strong so young, it will save her lots of heartache. And when I have someone in my life that wants me to be more perfect, I will think of that little girl, and say, I don’t have to be perfect. Even though I was never Mormon, my family expected perfection that I couldn’t produce as well. I think that’s why my Mormon daughter in law pushes those same buttons.
    I deal with them trying to appear perfect– and feeling excluded because I am NOT Mormon. So I am trying to understand.

  7. Bertram000 says:

    I haven’t ‘resigned’ from the Church. I’ve deleted the five paragraph mini-epistle I wrote explaining it… One important admission: I’m an “up” person, always happy; I’d be happy in or out of the Church.

    Long story short: Raised in the Church, Mission, BYU, Temple, Callings… All the time never having a Testimony, simply relying on the Testimonies of people I admired. I didn’t know the Church was true, but I didn’t know it wasn’t… Which was kind of a pleasant never-never land to inhabit. And then I finally got the gumption to see if there was any evidence that the Church wasn’t true. Wow, who knew!!

    I understand why most TBM refuse to see… and I don’t blame them. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know, right?

    There’s a freedom believing what I want to believe, not what I’m told to believe, but there’s no denying that being an unquestioning sheep has its allures, especially when the company is pleasant and the food plentiful. (Getting ‘shorn’ fits with the analogy, but I’ll leave that alone…)

  8. Reed Manson says:

    Great article and Excellent comments. Thanks.

    I remember once, on a Sunday, driving by a resevoir with my Dad. Numerous people were boating and playing. I remarked how fun it looked and he mocked them, in response, as frivolous fun seekers. I realized my Dad had a religious bias against the very pursuit of fun. Life to him was a deeper pursuit of true happiness and fun was it’s shallow counterfiet. It took many years before I realized my Dad is not a happy person at all. He would tell you he is happy and content with life but I now see him as borderline depressed.
    I have learned that the happiest people are those that know how to have fun. The most religiously devout ones I know don’t really seem all that in to living.
    Just my observation.

  9. drgroovy says:

    Wow. How I wish this forum had been available to me when I recovered my mind from the effects of the brainwashing that began as an infant, while growing up in the LDS church. Please note, I no longer call the LDS church “the Church”. I call it by its only true name, “the LDS church”, small “c” on the word “church”.

    When I was 28, back in 1996, I had one of many revelations from “God” that I have received throughout my lifetime. The only precept left over from Mormonism that I still firmly believe, is the concept of “personal revelation.” By the way, I rarely ever write anything with quotes, but for some reason, this little diatribe is full of them. I apologize!

    When I have received the 5 or so personal revelations throughout my lifetime, they have always come as a sort of download from heaven. Like, one moment, I am thinking about what to eat, and then in an instant, “WHAM!”, I have a complete thought process and conceptualized knowledge inserted into my brain. It is quite remarkable, and, in light of my current system of beliefs, I have no clue where this crap comes from, but I am open to the idea that the visions that are implanted into my brain come from an other-worldly source. (?)

    In my revelation, I instantaneously realized that Satan is the equivalent of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and/or the Tooth Fairy. I suddenly realized that Satan is pure fiction and mythology. Given the fact that I was in the process of completing chiropractic school, I had learned that the brain is comprised of multiple, concentric layers of brain tissue, with the deepest layers being the most primitive layers our brains that we humans once inherited from our more primitive ancestors, and that the outer layers were the more advanced portions of our brains, with our highest brain being the outermost layer. The more primitive parts of our brains, when in control, were the parts responsible for making us lose our inhibitions, and allowed for the bypass of our moral filters.

    As I contemplated this vision, I thought about dogs. I thought, “Hmmmm. I have seen dogs steal other dogs’ bones. Dogs are thieves. And I have seen dogs have sex with other dogs’ bitches. Dogs are adulterers. I have seen dogs hump my leg. Dogs masturbate. I have seen dogs try to kill each other. Dogs are murderers. I have seen dogs stare at other dogs’ bones, just waiting for an opportunity to move in and grab it. Dogs covet. I have seen dogs whine and cry until they get what they want. Dogs are manipulative. I have seen dogs refuse to obey when told to stay, and instead, they have run off and stayed gone for 3 days. Dogs do not honor the Lords their Gods – you know, their OWNERS. I have seen dogs bite and fight with their own mothers. Dogs don’t honor their parents. I have seen male dogs knock up a bitch and leave her with her litter, and not do a damn thing to support her or her pups. Dogs abandon their children.

    So, here is my question for those of you who still believe in the Devil: Is there a dog devil that tempts those dogs sin like that? Or are the dogs simply responding to their primitive brain’s survival instincts, since they lack a well-developed higher brain, like the higher brain that human beings possess? This is an intriguing question, is it not? This analogy helped put the whole Satan question into a much better perspective for me.

    Once I had concluded that Satan and Santa Claus came from the same source, I was finally able to open my mind enough to overcome the extreme conditioning that I had been exposed to my entire life, and I was finally able to examine the beliefs of the LDS church from a completely objective perspective. I had already been very, very well-versed in anti-Mormon literature for most of my teenage and adult life, and I had become a BRILLIANT defender and apologist for the LDS church’s doctrine, in spite of all of the obvious proof clearly demonstrating the fraud of the teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Once my mind was fully opened, yes, I agree with others who have posted here, that seeing the truth for what it really was, was quite an incredible thing. Finally being able to put LDS beliefs into their proper perspective was incredibly liberating and spiritually rewarding.

    Since my epiphany, my cousin and my younger half-sister have both become fully converted and/or committed to the LDS church. It hurts me to see their young, previously healthy minds becoming the demented brainwashed mush that my mind once was. My poor uncle is a brilliant, world-renowned and world-famous scientist, and is patently anti-Mormon, in spite of the fact that he lives in SLC. Now his only son (who was never raised Mormon) has been captured by the Mormons and has had his brain washed. My cousin is like 34 years old. How the hell did THAT happen? So sad.

    My little sister has had a rough life. She’s 24, got knocked up two different times from two different guys. Married them both and is now divorced with two boys with two different fathers. I think she is getting active in the LDS church for the first time in her adult life because she lives in Utah, and it is the best social network where she can find a respectable guy, instead of a guy like her two ex-husbands, who were into drugs, tattoos, and lazier than lazy. Nevertheless, she is definitely trying to live her life according to the moral code of the Mormons. The pitfall that she does not yet see, is the fact that she is probably not really a TBM, and probably never will be, but if she happens to end up marrying such a TBM guy, and later wants to back out of the LDS church (because she talked to me about it), that could really, really, really screw up her marriage, big time. We have all seen families torn apart after one spouse loses faith while the other is a fully-committed TBM.

    Anyway, my observation of the whole situation of leaving the LDS church, is that, after being so brainwashed for so long, it is EXTREMELY difficult to fully release your brain from those beliefs. You can easily tell your conscious mind that you no longer believe in all the crap you were fed by the LDS church. But SUBCONSCIOUSLY, you will still catch yourself subconsciously reacting to certain situations or conversations, because the LDS portion of your mind that never really quite goes away, tries to do some of the filtering and thinking for you, even though you did NOT ask it to. In those moments, you almost make a value judgement about something, with Mormonism as the standard against which you measure that judgement, and then, in an instant you have to manually turn off that part of your brain, and start the thought process all over again. You will also feel the discomfort of having those old thoughts and feelings occupying your brain. I am now 13 years post-Mormon, and I can tell you that I STILL have moments of mind lapse like that. It is painful and embarrassing, even to my own self. That brainwashing is really a lot more difficult to erase than most people realize, including those who have lost their religion completely and think that they have shaken their own Mormon thought habits. It ain’t as easy as it seems that it SHOULD be. Not at all.

    I also experienced the loss of many, many friends and people I grew up with in the LDS church. Once you leave, they don’t care what the reason is. The only important fact is the fact that you left. You are instantly labeled a persona non grata, and your inferior morality and disloyalty to the TRUE CHURCH are assumed by all who you know, or have known even people you thought you were close to for most or all of your life. I was amazed at how I was treated with such a fake friendliness by so many members. Everyone still said “hi”, but NONE OF THEM WOULD EVER DARE ENGAGE ME IN ANY KIND OF CONVERSATION, PRESUMABLY FOR FEAR THAT I MIGHT ALSO INFECT THEM WITH IDEAS OR INFORMATION THAT MIGHT LEAD THEM DOWN THE SAME PATH TO DESTRUCTION THAT I HAD FOLLOWED. LIKE DOING SUCH A THING WAS BAD, OR WRONG!


    I will say this to all of you Mormons who are close to leaving: You will NEVER know who your REAL friends are until you leave the LDS church. Then, you will be amazed at how few friends – REAL friends – you actually have. BUT AT LEAST YOU WILL KNOW THE DIFFERENCE.

    Freeing my mind was the most important thing that has ever happened to me as a human being. Thank god I was still relatively young when I finally did. When I see my dad still clinging onto his beliefs and still ignoring the needs of his family and children in the name of being “active” in the Mormon church, at the exclusion to nearly everything else in his life, and when I see the strain or destruction of all of the REAL relationships of his life, while he scrambles to impress his fellow LDS members so that he is considered to be in good standing with his other fellow cult members, all I see is the completely wasted life of what would have been an otherwise brilliant 68 year-old, and I am SO GRATEFUL that such a brain-washed patsy was NOT ultimately ME.

    Long live the truth! Long live reason! Long live intellectual honesty!

    No go forth ye post-Mormon thinkers, and multiply and replenish the earth with other such intelligent thinkers, for the Glory of God is Intelligence!!

    (unless that intelligence interferes with the false doctrines of the Mormon church, in which case, such intelligence is directly of the Devil, who will try to deceive even the most elect among you)

  10. beastie says:

    I actually knew I wasn’t happy when I was LDS, and I struggled with that. I kept remembering the promise that if we were faithful we would have the “peace of Christ”, and while that may not interpret exactly as “happiness”, it seems like it should be fairly close. Whatever it was, I knew I didn’t have it as a Mormon, despite my best efforts. Like some posters above, I was very hard on myself, and always felt anxious about not being “good enough” for God. We always were being reminded about the various duties we were supposed to be performing, along with our family duties. I had three young children, a bad marriage, and church callings, and I was still supposed to be doing other things, like missionary work. I felt constantly guilty over the things I wasn’t doing. It was a very stressful way to live. Although I did struggle with grief and fear when I left the church, once I felt more in control of my own life, versus always trying to figure out what God wanted me to do, I was proactive and began to form my own happiness. Of course, raising three children as a single parent, after ending my bad marriage, is never easy, and my children have all suffered from various health problems. Yet I have felt much more peace and happiness since leaving the church than I felt during my entire time as a believer. It’s been a relief. I’m so glad I didn’t spend my entire life in a state of anxiety about measuring up.

  11. Simplysarah says:

    Stumbled across your blog today. Look forward to reading more. I was also shocked a couple months ago when I finally began to see my depression for what it was – depression – rather than selfishness and pride.

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