I've been thinking about happiness recently... and trying to reconcile a few things that present some issues in my views. This is sort of long and rambling.... but I felt like it was useful.
Here are the pieces of the puzzle:
1. "Wickedness never was happiness" - this can safely be assumed to mean that disobedience to commandments will bring less happiness than the alternative.
2. "Ignorance is bliss" - this is the statement that made me want to write this post. But in the statement itself is irony; lacking knowledge can bring me greater happiness? What? There's also the statement that I cannot be saved in ignorance. More on that later.
3. "God has a Fulness of Joy" - this seems to be an expression of ultimate happiness.
4. "Men are that they might have joy" - so it looks like God wants me to be happy, but He uses the word joy... so He wants me to have the happiness that He has.
5. The Plan of Salvation/Happiness is a pathway that ultimately leads us to God... and I know that following God will always lead to greater happiness than any alternative.
The big issue at play here is this: I've known many people who claimed to be "completely happy" while doing wickedness. All sorts of wickedness - from mundane to esoteric. And the saying "Ignorance is bliss" really is somewhat true - I know my own perception of happiness has changed based on the knowledge that I've had. As a kid, I was blissfully unaware that I had no friends. And blissfully happy without that knowledge.
But as soon as I realized that I was missing something, and felt the need for friends, the bliss disappeared completely.
Just today I realized that, maybe, happiness has two different axes - just like humidity.
There are two types of humidity. Relative humidity is expressed in terms of % - with a maximum of 100%. Relative humidity is based on partial vapor pressure, temperature... but the simplest way to look at it is this: warm air holds more humidity.
Regardless of temperature, relative humidity has an impact. Heating up dry, cold air during the winter dramatically reduces its relative humidity, which can cause chapped lips, dry skin, and coughing. And once humidity reaches 100%, water begins to immediately condense on every available surface regardless of temperature. In warm temperatures, it's dew. In cold temperatures, it's frost.
Most of the time when I'm talking about humidity, I'm talking about relative humidity. "It's humid today," is assumed to be relative to yesterday, and the normal climate where I live. But when I talk with someone who has lived in an extremely warm, extremely humid environment, their definition of humidity will be dramatically different from mine... because they are working from a different scale, because they've experienced a higher absolute humidity. Maybe we're at 100% humidity. Maybe it's the most humid I have ever felt in my life. But there's always more humid to feel.
I feel like when I use the word happiness, I am usually referring to it in a relative sense. And that makes sense - the frowny-happy face scale that it used in psychological testing is the gold standard. I can only talk about how I feel, and how I feel I feel.
In this metaphor, "bliss" would be like the dewpoint - a relative maximum amount of happiness available at a given point.
But, just like the dewpoint, "bliss," while it may accurately describe relative happiness, it doesn't describe happiness in absolute terms. It could be 0 degrees outside, and the bliss is frost on the ground - not really much absolute humidity or happiness at all. Or it could be 100 degrees outside, and the bliss is like the heavy, warm dew of a tropical rainforest - huge amounts of absolute humidity and happiness.
So it looks like joy, then, would be an expression of an absolute maximum of happiness.
I think that makes sense. The scriptures teach that keeping the commandments - following truth - leads to greater happiness. So, as I learn about new truth, that knowledge enables me to gain greater happiness if I apply it. At the same time, not following that truth will lead to unhappiness. And maybe not even in terms of absolutes... maybe it would just be relative.
From that perspective, it would be interesting to rate the absolute and relative happiness of people across the globe. Or of me in different stages of my life.
When I knew very little about God and His commandments, and I was a generally good person, my life was close to bliss.
When I learned more about how to find greater happiness, the scale shifted. More happiness was available, but I wasn't there yet. So while I learned to apply the principles, I was growing in absolute happiness, but my relative happiness wasn't at a maximum. I didn't have bliss.
When I was able to effectively apply all the principles I had learned, bliss came again. This time, though, I had a greater version of happiness than before.
Then the pattern repeated.
An interesting caveat. If I want to be happier - to feel greater relative happiness (since I feel relative, and not absolute happiness) - there two ways to get there.
The first is to better apply the truth I already know - maximize what I have according to what I know. This takes a lot of work, effort, and is often a humbling experience. This is what God wants me to do, and how the Plan works.
The second is to try to forget the knowledge I've received. The thing is, just like lowering the temperature increases the relative humidity without changing the absolute measurement, lowering my maximum amount of happiness - based on the truth I understand - works in the same way. If I could deceive myself, or forget what I've learned that could make me happier, or find a way to convince myself that it's wrong, then my relative happiness would rise... even though my absolute happiness had stayed the same.
That's how, if I left the truth I've known and loved, and renounced the things I believe, I could actually feel greater relative happiness after the fact. If I find a way to forget, at least in the moment, that something better is out there... and am still a good person, the happiness I see could seem to be the maximum that life could offer. At least in the moments when I could make myself forget, or not believe.
But moving backwards to bliss - and trying to find happiness by changing my beliefs instead of my actions - sounds a lot like mortal damnation. God wants me to move forward, change, and grow in joy.
Men are not that they might have bliss. So I shouldn't follow it into places where I deceive myself. Men are that they might have joy - which means that, as I grow in knowledge and faith, happiness will be lasting, but bliss will only be momentary, on a few steps along the path.