Should a psychologically healthy person be happy, cheerful, carefree? If you are not cheerful is there something wrong with you? Let’s see what Mormon scripture has to say.
America is the land of opportunity, where everything is possible, right? So if you aren’t satisfied with how your life is going, there’s only one person to blame. America is a country founded on the pursuit of happiness, and a lot of people in America, including Russell Goldman, seem to think that being depressed is some kind of sin. If someone who thinks people are supposed to be perpetually cheerful made up a conception of ultimate personal existence, maybe it would look something like the traditional theist conception of God. God lives in a constant state of perfect bliss, because he can do anything and needs nothing. That’s just what it means to be an American, right? Or at least what we’re all shooting for. Well, Mormon scripture teaches that this conception of God is a false notion, and this aspiration for human life is also a false one. Nietzsche said it represents a fantasy of denial of life, and that sounds about right to me. Theist or no, anyone who thinks being unhappy, frustrated, or otherwise psychologically distressed from time to time is unhealthy has a bizarre notion of mental health.
Bombs are falling in Darfur again today. The stock market took another dive. The war in Afghanistan has gotten worse. Congress has gotten almost nothing done for over a year. One in one hundred American men is in jail. A few weeks ago a colleague of mine died of brain cancer. Another colleague and friend is in the midst of a divorce. Luckily, it’s not me for the moment. Keeping food on the table and gas in the car is hard work for almost all of us. Another year there would be different problems, but plenty of them. We should enjoy the good as well, but anyone who doesn’t spend quite a few days each year upset or stressed or gloomy has checked out.
I’ve heard studies going this way and that way, and speculations about how many people are diagnosed and how many self-medicate, but suppose it were true that Mormons are depressed more often than others, and this contributes to higher rates of depression in Utah. Is this a sign of something wrong, or something right? Well, that depends on how often a psychologically healthy person should be depressed.
I suppose if anyone is psychologically healthy, God ought to be. How is God’s outlook? Moses 7 describes a vision Enoch has, and one of the things he sees is that the righteous city Zion is caught up into heaven. This is something to rejoice over. But then: “it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people [who were not caught up into heaven], and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?” (Moses 7:28-9)
Enoch doesn’t understand, so God shows him why: “And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch, and told Enoch all the doings of the children of men; wherefore Enoch knew, and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook.” (verse 41)
When Enoch sees things from God’s perspective, he doesn’t become blissful. Rather, his heart expands, and he feels sorrow and yearning more than he had ever felt before.
Later in the vision, Enoch also feels a fulness of joy: “the Lord showed Enoch all things, even unto the end of the world; and he saw the day of the righteous, the hour of their redemption, and received a fulness of joy” (verse 67). God’s plan has a happy ending. Does this do away with sorrow? No. God knows the end from the beginning, but when he looked upon the people who were not righteous, he wept.
Are there elements in Mormon culture that are psychologically unhealthy? I’m sure there are, just like there are in media culture, university culture, political culture . . . one wrong idea that appears in Mormon culture is the idea that we should be happy all the time. Mormons have their own reasons for deluding themselves that they should always be happy, no matter how many things go wrong or just plain are wrong, and this idea itself causes a fair bit of distress and psychological dysfunction. But another element of Mormon culture is that Mormons care deeply about a lot of things. Their hearts are expanded by this engagement with the people and events around them. Their capacity for joy is expanded, and so is their capacity for sorrow. God is perfect in his mind and his heart. He knows the end from the beginning. Does this mean he is not depressed at how much goes wrong here on Earth? No. Jesus was so distressed by the state of humanity that he bled from every pore. If Mormons are upset or depressed more often than average, maybe that is a sign of something right.