I attended a local Tedx evening earlier this week. One talk critiqued the “cult of happiness” that is fostered by social media posts. Everyone posts the great or good things about their life, complete with carefully cropped photos (the trip to Italy, the great new job, lost 10 pounds) but almost everyone conveniently edits out the bad things (can’t pay the bills, relationship problems, actually gained 15 pounds). So most readers think everyone else is doing great and they, knowing all their own bad stuff even if they don’t post it, feel like a loser. The suggestion seems to be that if you avoid social media, you’ll be happier. If only it were so simple.
The problem is that social media may exaggerate the phenomenon, but most of us hide or at least downplay the bad stuff while putting the good stuff on display in all social environments, whether online or in real life. It’s just human nature. Here’s what struck me as I reflected on the idea. Like social media, the Church and Mormon culture also seem to exaggerate this aspect of our natural social behavior. There is a Mormon Cult of Happiness. We even rebranded the Plan of Salvation as “the Plan of Happiness.”
I will leave it up to readers to agree or disagree about the extent to which the Church and Mormon culture unintentionally encourage this mental trap. Here is what is surprising: the Church also seems to provide some features that counteract this problem.
- Exhibit 1: Testimony meeting once a month, in which several ward members rip off the happiness mask and share some of their bad stuff.
- Exhibit 2: Free counseling with the bishop. I’m thinking most bishops tell those sharing bad stuff that they are not alone, that many members have bad stuff too, and that they can get through this.
- Exhibit 3: General Conference talks that encourage an alternative view: that we are all human, we all have problems, we should support each other through fellowship and encouragement, and repentance can be a positive force to combat sin and feelings of self worthlessness.
I’m not entirely convinced. I’m not sure how much Mormon culture actually emphasizes or exaggerates the Cult of Happiness problem compared to other religious cultures or other social environments (your job, your school, your neighbors, your family). And I’m not sure how effective the countermeasures noted above are for those Mormons who are particularly susceptible to the negative effect of the Cult of Happiness. But at least we have a partial solution to the problem. Think about this the next time you sit through testimony meeting or the next time you stand and share some of the bad stuff.
I kind of like my earlier summary of an alternative to the Cult of Happiness. I’m going to rebrand it The Cult of Reality and restate it for emphasis. We are all human and we all have problems. We should support each other through fellowship and encouragement. Repentance can be a positive force to combat sin and feelings of self worthlessness.