Discerning between Pleasure and Joy (2 Nephi 28:7-8)

As I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon, I’ve been searching to see what I learn about happiness and joy. Of course, while studying this way, I can’t help but think about how we, in our current world/society, define happiness.

I’m an American. I live in the U.S. I’ve traveled outside of the U.S., but I haven’t lived abroad. I’ve lived in several states. I mention all of this to say that my idea of what is culturally being said about happiness is based on American Culture. I know that this varies from place to place. Some people think that shiny stuff will make you happy. Some people think that the key to happiness is Aloha.

I think that before we try to make ourselves happy, we have to come to understand what happiness actually is.

Of course, the idea of pleasure complicates things. While pleasurable things feel good in the moment, I’ve found that they usually don’t make me all that happy.

In 2 Nephi 28:7-8, we read:

“Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.

And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” – 2 Nephi 28:7-8

It sounds like chasing pleasure, rather than deep abiding happiness, has been a temptation for a long time.

Eat, drink, and be merry sounds like a joyful/happy sentiment, yet Nephi actually says that this sentiment isn’t good. In fact, he warns against it.

Why?

  • Don’t confuse pleasure with joy – I think that there is a time and a place for things that “feel good.” We have been blessed with our senses. We eat every day. We drink. Our senses can bring us some pleasure. I feel great pleasure when I look at a sky or when I eat a piece of chocolate.

    But this isn’t the same as happiness. I can be surrounded by lovely things and still be void of joy or happiness. Happiness and joy are more related to our spiritual state than experiencing physical pleasure.

  • Sometimes Joy comes from abstaining – I don’t think that “eating, drinking, and making merry” will give us lasting happiness.

    I have a problem, or have had a problem, with eating. Sure, I feel like I want a sweet or some rich food, and that it will make me happy. I eat the food and and am overcome with euphoric pleasure. Until I swallow the food, and then think about what I’ve done…

    Then, later on the evening, I feel bloated. I feel sluggish. I don’t feel happy. I feel frustrated with myself for being so irrational.

    ***
    On the other hand, there are times when I’m pretty good at limiting sugars and other unhealthy foods. I start to feel more in control of my appetite. Though the natural, healthy food might not be as hyper-palatable as junk food, the healthier I eat, soon the foods taste better and better. I don’t mind having a treat from time to time, but it is nice to know that I’m not controlled by them.

    I don’t feel bloated. I don’t feel sluggish. And most of all, I feel happy – happy to be the master of my own body, rather than controlled by a substance.

    ***
    Joy comes from self-mastery and agency. When we exercise our agency in such a way that our agency is protected, then we can feel purely and experience joy rather than feel the effects of a chemical/artificial high.

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