Monday, September 21, 2015

James E. Talmage on a comparison of happiness and pleasure

Elder James E. Talmage was born in England on September 21, 1862 – 153 years ago today. He was a brilliant scholar, trained as a geologist and mathematician. But he's perhaps best known today among Church members for his classic writings, including "Jesus the Christ," "The Articles of Faith," and "The Holy Temple." He was called as an apostle in 1911 and served until his death in 1933 at age 70.
"Happiness is genuine gold, pleasure but gilded brass, which corrodes in the hand, and is soon converted into poisonous verdigris. Happiness is as the genuine diamond, which, rough or polished, shines with its own inimitable luster; pleasure is as the paste imitation that glows only when artificially embellished. Happiness is as the ruby, red as the heart's blood, hard and enduring; pleasure, as stained glass, soft, brittle, and of but transitory beauty.
"Happiness is true food, wholesome, nutritious and sweet; it builds up the body and generates energy for action, physical, mental and spiritual; pleasure is but a deceiving stimulant which, like spirituous drink, makes one think he is strong when in reality enfeebled; makes him fancy he is well when in fact stricken with deadly malady.
"Happiness leaves no bad after-taste, it is followed by no depressing reaction; it calls for no repentance, brings no regret, entails no remorse; pleasure too often makes necessary repentance, contrition, and suffering; and, if indulged to the extreme, it brings degradation and destruction.
"True happiness is lived over and over again in memory, always with a renewal of the original good; a moment of unholy pleasure may leave a barbed sting, which, like a thorn in the flesh, is an ever-present source of anguish.
"Happiness is not akin with levity, nor is it one with light-minded mirth. It springs from the deeper fountains of the soul, and is not infrequently accompanied by tears. Have you never been so happy that you have to weep? I have."
- James E. Talmage, "A Greeting to the Missionaries," Improvement Era, December 1913, pp. 172-174
Click here to read the full article

Terms like "happiness" and "pleasure" can have various definitions and applications, and often depend on context. But Elder Talmage makes a clear and definite distinction between the concept of a deep, true, lasting happiness and the superficial, fleeting pleasure. I love his analogies and comparisons, each of which teaches an aspect of true happiness. He was a gifted author, and this is an example of his ability to express a concept clearly and powerfully.

Genuine, lasting goldGilded brass, easily corroded
Diamond shining with lusterPaste imitation with no inherent beauty
Red ruby, hard and enduringStained glass, soft and brittle
Wholesome nutritious foodDeceiving stimulant
No bad aftertasteRegret, remorse, anguish
Springs from deep in the soul    Shallow and superficial

The final point about expressing emotion also rang true to me. Many times in life we are driven to shed tears of sadness, frustration, disappointment, or anguish; but tears of joy are also very real and are perhaps an outward expression of the deepest happiness:

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