More of Mill on Living Well

From chapter 5 of the autobiography…

On happiness through ignoring yourself:

The enjoyments of life (such was now my theory) are sufficient to make it a pleasant thing, when they are taken en passant, without being made a principal object. Once make them so, and they are immediately felt to be insufficient. They will not bear a scrutinizing examination. Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life. Let your self-consciousness, your scrutiny, your self-interrogation, exhaust themselves on that; and if otherwise fortunately circumstanced you will inhale happiness with the air you breathe, without dwelling on it or thinking about it, without either forestalling it in imagination, or putting it to flight by fatal questioning. This theory now became the basis of my philosophy of life. And I still hold to it as the best theory for all those who have but a moderate degree of sensibility and of capacity for enjoyment, that is, for the great majority of mankind.


On music:

The only one of the imaginative arts in which I had from childhood taken great pleasure, was music; the best effect of which (and in this it surpasses perhaps every other art) consists in exciting enthusiasm; in winding up to a high pitch those feelings of an elevated kind which are already in the character, but to which this excitement gives a glow and a fervour, which, though transitory at its utmost height, is precious for sustaining them at other times. This effect of music I had often experienced; but like all my pleasurable susceptibilities it was suspended during the gloomy period. I had sought relief again and again from this quarter, but found none. After the tide had turned, and I was in process of recovery, I had been helped forward by music, but in a much less elevated manner. I at this time first became acquainted with Weber’s Oberon, and the extreme pleasure which I drew from its delicious melodies did me good, by showing me a source of pleasure to which I was as susceptible as ever.


On finding enjoyment in simple things:

Relieved from my ever present sense of irremediable wretchedness, I gradually found that the ordinary incidents of life could again give me some pleasure; that I could again find enjoyment, not intense, but sufficient for cheerfulness, in sunshine and sky, in books, in conversation, in public affairs; and that there was, once more, excitement, though of a moderate kind, in exerting myself for my opinions, and for the public good.


On poetry (and mountains):

This state of my thoughts and feelings made the fact of my reading Wordsworth for the first time (in the autumn of 1828), an important event in my life….   
  In the first place, these poems addressed themselves powerfully to one of the strongest of my pleasurable susceptibilities, the love of rural objects and natural scenery; to which I had been indebted not only for much of the pleasure of my life, but quite recently for relief from one of my longest relapses into depression. In this power of rural beauty over me, there was a foundation laid for taking pleasure in Wordsworth’s, poetry. the more so, as his scenery lies mostly among mountains, which, owing to my early Pyrenean excursion, were my ideal of natural beauty. But Wordsworth would never have had any great effect on me, if he had merely placed before me beautiful pictures of natural scenery. Scott does this still better than Wordsworth, and a very second-rate landscape does it more effectually than any poet. What made Wordsworth’s poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a Source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connexion with struggle of imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence. There have certainly been, even in our own age, greater poets than Wordsworth; but poetry of deeper and loftier feeling could not have done for me at that time what his did. I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with a greatly increased interest in the common feelings and common destiny of human beings. And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis.

Satisfaction Is Better Than Happiness

The point is made in an Atlantic article:

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

Continue reading

The Happiness Conspiracy

“The old conspiracy to make me happy!  Everybody seemed to be in it!”

–Charles Dickens, Bleak House, chapter 35. 

I’m finally finishing this great novel that I’ve only picked at before, and of the many wonderful lines that I’ve loved until this point, this might be my favorite.

King Benjamin On Happiness

Surely most Latter-day Saints are familiar with the powerfully rich sermon in Mosiah chapters 2-5 given by a prophet and king named Benjamin.  Not only is it a source of some of the Book of Mormon’s most quotable insights, it’s possibly the single best resource for instructions on serving God (the inimitable Neal A. Maxwell referred to it as a “manual for discipleship“).  I’ve gone through these chapters before and marked each thing we’re told to do or become in our quest to follow God.  My list, incidentally, came to 13 items.

However, the most recent time I studied this text, I noticed something that, in an important way, is just as profound.  I had never noticed until then just how much Benjamin stresses that living the gospel–I mean really striving to follow in the footsteps of Christ and center our lives on his pattern for discipleship–makes us happy.

Consider these excerpts from Benjamin’s address, with admonitions to faith and righteousness italicized, and promises of hapiness in bold:

Mosiah 2:41, “…consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.” 

Mosiah 3:13, “…whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy…”

Mosiah 4:11, “…as ye have…received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God…”

Mosiah 4:12, “…if ye shall do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins…”

Mosiah 4:20, “…ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins…he has poured out his spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.”

These five explicit references to Benjamin’s “formula,” as it were (faithfulness brings blessings of joy), is mirrored by a statement attributed to his audience for this sermon:

Mosiah 5:4, “…the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.” 

Mormon, editing this account, also clearly sees Benjamin’s formula at work in this special conference, describing one moment like this:

Mosiah 4:3, “…after they had spoken these words [the congregation praying for the Atonement to purify them], the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come…”

In fact Mormon makes another reference to this formula in his exposition leading up to his transcript of Benjamin’s sermon, where he tells us of the people coming up to the area for the conference as doing so “that they might give thanks to the Lord their God who had [done several major things for their good throughout history, and] had taught them to keep the commandments of God, that they might rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men” (Mosiah 2:4).

This is a part of my own testimony that I never tire of reiterating: yes, the church is true, but that, in theory, doesn’t guarantee happiness.  Hypothetically, the plan of salvation could be real, but also a grinding, depressing chore.  It’s only through the infinite love, mercy, and kindness of a generous Father in Heaven that His plan for us to to be redeemed and return to Him also creates joy, happiness, peace, and rest.  So when I testify of the gospel, I testify that the gospel is true…and good, and powerful, and wonderful. 

Perhaps Jacob, that most sensitive of Book of Mormon prophets, felt the same thing when he was moved upon to exclaim these six superlative phrases of praise in one of his sermons:

“O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace!”  2 Nephi 9:8

“O how great the goodness of our God…” 2 Nephi 9:10

“O how great the plan of our God!”  2 Nephi 9:13

“O the greatness and the justice of our God!”  2 Nephi 9:17

“O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel!”  2 Nephi 9:19

“O how great the holiness of our God!”  2 Nephi 9:20