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The difference between misery and sadness

July 28, 2010

My latest post @mormonmatters, Doubting My Doubts, is going swimmingly with plenty of comments. Some ideas that have been played with before are being played with again. (Do we choose to believe or doubt? Even if not, if we can choose actions like writing, speaking, or acting as if we have faith, then can we cultivate faith?) And common refrains from the past have continued to be common refrains in the present (“No answer” isn’t the same as a “no” from God, so we should endure to the end…right?)

So, I wanted to address some of these. And so I did. It was long-winded. Commenter Jen made a succinct and sharp response that I’ve been thinking about, with relationship to when and what I write:

I actually DO recognize that you have spent years acting faithful and being miserable because of it. The problem for me is you don’t really seem that happy now either. Are you?

Is sad and mopey Andrew S all that distinguishable from happy Andrew S? Apparently not…oops!

I felt there are two things to address, but I got long-winded there too. I’ll try to address them again here too.

The first, and the thing I’ve noticed with my writing, is that…it’s easy to write about bad stuff(TM), and forget to write about the good stuff(TM). Over the past four weeks, I’ve been taking a hyper-condensed speech class, and I’ve written pages over my anxieties before each speech. But when each speech has gone well, splendidly, or superbly, I’ve not written at all. Only a few days after each speech have I rethought and realized: hmm…I should write about the happy aftermaths as well!

I think ex-mormon blogging in some ways mimics this. I see a lot of blogs during the “angry and betrayed” stage…and the bloggers are quite prolific in this stage…but as things mellow out, the writing itself chills in frequency. And some people take a break or drop out. (And as chanson points out, this is natural and reasonable, given that we don’t consecrate 20 hours for meetings and callings each week.)

In this way, no news is good news. Even when it seems like the only record of a person is “bad news,” that doesn’t mean that bad news is all there is.

The second point I wanted to address — which is really just more my idiosyncratic use of words — is the difference between misery and sadness, joy or peace and happiness. When I talk about my experiences “striving” for faith, I think I’m careful not to say I was sad. I was often happy, instead. Instead, I want to paint an image of desolation and despair, a battlefield, of shocking and macabre violence. Because I’m not talking about sadness; I’m talking about misery. I’m talking about a misery that comes when you realize that you are killing yourself…when you are going against everything you are and believe because you are led to understand that it all is wrong, abominable, and worth annihilating.

I know it’s not the case for every church member (obviously), but that is what I try to convey. Misery. An incapacity for peace. Cacophony. Self-hatred.

This is not to say that life was all bad then…or that life is all good now. Happiness and sadness, ups and downs, bouts of depression (which, I also don’t think that the antonym of depression is happiness…I think it’s vitality…but that’s another post), I think these all persist regardless of the peace or chaos within oneself.

Instead, I will say this, I have a peace within myself and a security within myself. A self-esteem, if you will (but hopefully, not in the wishy washy junk sense of the term.)

These days, I’m more often grappling with my relationship with other people. My self with respect to other selves. I am not happy with my tenuous connection to various communities, but I am not miserable because of that.

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4 Comments
  1. Also worth noting that political ideology and religious affiliation (or lack thereof) isn’t really a good indicator of general happiness.

    Neither is general happiness a good indicator of whether a person is really living much of a life worth living.

  2. Indeed, on all accounts.

  3. Good news just isn’t as interesting. How much does the media focus on when things are going *right*? A school is no longer “failing”? Some college students spent their summer vacation helping Haiti?

    Glad to hear life is going well.

  4. I agree aerin. Maybe there’s a way to make good news exciting and awesome.

    We clearly need more extreme sports in our lives.
    :D

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