I am teaching a Book of Mormon class right now and am in Mormon this week. A few years ago I was listening to a book by Tal Ben-Shahar called “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment” and I was amazed at the parallels between the human behavior that Tal illustrates in his book and that of the Nephites of old. It was such an experience for me that I came home from the run and compared his words with those of Mormon and so many thoughts flowed! Tal and Mormon arrive at many of the same conclusions: both authors see Hedonism, Nihilism, Rat Racers as after the same thing: happiness. I believe C.S. Lewis put it well when he said, “Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way.” 1
I have seen the principles taught by Mormon in Mormon 1-7 to be relevant to all of us today. We all want happiness, Mormon gives us timely instruction!
Tal Ben-Shahar, in his book entitled, “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment” discusses what it means to be truly happy. I remember the first time I read his book I was reading Mormon in the Book of Mormon for my personal study. I was amazed at the parallels between how people today pursue false happiness and how the Nephites of old were struggling with many of the same issues.
In his book, Tal uses the following graph to illustrate how people can “miss the happiness mark” and find themselves unfulfilled:
Tal uses the idea of a burger to illustrate happiness. I know this sounds a little bit different, but I like his analogy, and I will explain this graph as we go along adding what I see in Mormon’s commentary to show the parallels with Tal’s observations of human behavior:
1. Rat race: This is the veggie burger analogy – we eat a veggie burger because we want to have future fulfillment, but it tastes horrible. We all want to be happy but sometimes we skip the now for the later. I know a person who lived in his own basement and rented out the upper level of his home so that one day he would have money. This type of attitude is illustrated with the student who thinks as soon as school gets out he will be happy, only to realize that about a week into summer vacation he is bored stiff. We all need work to keep us motivated, the process is what matters. I teach high school students who think Mondays are the worst and that Fridays are awesome- this is the quintessential rat racer.
The Nephites illustrate this principle by always trying to get ahead of everyone else (4 Nephi 1:24-26) by hoarding their wealth. They want more pearls, more gold and silver than the next guy. “They were lifted up in pride… and they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.” The Nephite motto is, “If I get a cooler yacht than you, then I have achieved happiness!”
2. Hedonism: This is the greasiest best tasting burger of all time, loaded with 1,000 calories. A Hedonist is all about pure pleasure seeking- this represents those who seek only the pleasure of the moment. The Hedonist is illustrated with the Nephites seeking constant revenge without any thought to the future. How are my actions going to influence my children? My nation? They (the Nephites) gave no thought of this. This is the junk-food burger that tastes good the moment you eat it, but you feel horrible later on.
Hedonists forget the Lord, they do not have gratitude or even reverence for the Lord or his servants (see Mormon 3:8-11). Here in Mormon chapter 3 the Nephites have forgotten the Lord, and are seeking what they want right now- revenge! The Hedonist can be seen today as well. On one extreme, a Hedonist’s approach to church is to never attend, where on the other end of the spectrum, they will attend if it is fun or beneficial to them. I believe we all have a bit of the Hedonist in all of us.
3. Nihilism– this is a person with no hope. This is the awful tasting burger! Nihilists are paralyzed by their past and feel no hope for the future. A Nihilist reminds me of Eeyore from Disney’s Winnie the Pooh– he is always seeing the sad part of life. Another example of the Nihilist is Seligman and Maier’s “group 3 dogs” and the shock therapy they received. These dogs were used to illustrate the concept that helpless can be a learned condition. The dogs in Seligman and Maier’s experiments were conditioned to experience a loss of hope to control their situation, and this in turn affected their mood and overall health.
Even Mormon falls into this state of mind briefly for a time (see Mormon 5:2). The Nephites demonstrated this trait when they wanted to curse God and die (see Mormon 2:10-14). Mormon later gains hope when he sees that many of the Gentiles will have a hope in Christ and find true happiness (see Mormon 7). Mormon 7 is the end of Mormon’s writings, with his son Moroni taking over from this point on.
4. The Happiness model– Mormon 7 is an example of how to be happy. Mormon outlines this (verses 1-9) as follows:
Know who you are! – “Know that ye are of the house of Israel” – understanding this and knowing who we are is vital if we are ever to be really happy.
Repent! – “Ye must come unto repentance, or ye cannot be saved” – this word comes to us from the Greek: meta-noia – literally to “change your mind”. Mormon invites us to change our mind about ourselves, others, and how we see God.
Lay down whatever is holding you back from being truly happy. For the Nephites, it was their weapons of rebellion, “Ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in shedding of blood…” How can we ever be happy if we keep back part of ourselves? How can we be honest with our spouse if we are holding “weapons of rebellion” or holding back? Mormon invites us to let go of ourselves to truly find ourselves.
Believe in Jesus Christ. I like how he adds, “he hath gained the victory over the grave; and also in him is the sting of death swallowed up.” I am sure Mormon saw his share of death! Believing in Christ is essential to our happiness in this world of sin and sorrow.
Read your scriptures! Mormon says, “This is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also.” This and that are important words for us to understand! This= the Book of Mormon, and that= the record of the Jews, or in other words, The Bible. Mormon knows that reading these words of life are important for us to be happy, but he is also issuing a challenge. This challenge is the same challenge that Nephi offered in the end of his record in the Small Plates- that if we really believe the Bible, we will believe the words in the Book of Mormon. I know this to be true, for I have tested this book as prescribed in Moroni 10:3-5 and I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book II, Ch. 2, Para. 9, p. 49.