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Music & the Spoken Word: Our search for soul-satisfying happiness

Jesus Christ taught that true happiness is not found in pursuing pleasure but rather by doing something worthwhile for someone else, Lloyd Newell shares in this week’s ‘Music & the Spoken Word’

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This will be given Sunday, April 14, 2024.

In our modern world, it’s so easy to indulge in pleasure. Our great-grandparents had to spend most waking moments with countless backbreaking chores just to survive, but today many of those tasks don’t burden us anymore. We are more free than ever before to seek entertainment, to do what we want to do, go where we want to go and eat what we want to eat, all without a lot of effort.

You might think we would be happier than previous generations. Then why aren’t we?

Stanford psychiatrist Anna Lembke explains that our brains are constantly seeking to balance pleasure and discomfort. When it takes hard work to achieve pleasure, everything stays in balance. But when pleasure comes too easily, “our [brain] will work very hard to restore a level balance. … In our brain’s effort to compensate for too much pleasure,” it stops producing pleasure hormones. (See Anna Lembke, in Shankar Vedantam, “The Paradox of Pleasure,” Hidden Brain podcast, hiddenbrain.org/podcast/the-paradox-of-pleasure.) In other words, when we chase pleasure too much, without purpose, without effort, without meaningful work, we end up feeling empty and unhappy.

In contrast, when we engage in more difficult but purposeful activities, we balance our brain’s chemistry. This is why we feel better after the strain of exercising a bit, solving a difficult puzzle or talking with someone we don’t know. That kind of satisfying happiness often comes after we’ve paid the price of effort, concentration and sacrifice.

One woman who went through a painful divorce felt so much heartache that she didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. But she had two toddlers who needed her, so she forced herself to do what she didn’t feel like doing. As she helped her children get dressed, eat breakfast and get ready for the day, she almost always felt better. With purpose and effort, she found healing — even joy — in her daily work.

Jesus, left, speaks with his apostles as they walk outside.
Actors portraying Jesus Christ and the apostles walk as Jesus, left, teaches them in this scene from the Bible Videos depicting Matthew 16.

This actually isn’t a new concept. More than 2,000 years ago, the Lord Jesus Christ similarly taught that true happiness is not found in pursuing pleasure but rather by doing something worthwhile for someone else. He said, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (see Matthew 16:25). Pleasure and work, joy and sacrifice are not enemies but companions in our search for soul-satisfying happiness.

Tuning in …

The “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL News Radio 1160AM/102.7FM, KSL.com, BYUtv, BYUradio, Dish and DirecTV, SiriusXM (Ch. 143), tabernaclechoir.org, youtube.com/TheTabernacleChoir and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. Mountain Time on these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.com/viewers-listeners/airing-schedules.

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