This is one of the most absurd questions that we who leave the church get asked. You'd think the answer would be obvious. If they who ask this question simply asked it of themselves they'd come up with the right answer: It depends - on when you are being asked and what you are being asked about.
For example - I am not happy about the progress of my career and my financial situation. I had expected to be in a much better place by now on both counts. Then again, by another set of measures I'm actually doing quite well and have a great deal to be grateful for on both counts, considering that we are in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak (June 2020), and the fact that, unlike many other people, I still have a job in which I often get to do things I enjoy and one that doesn't pay too badly either. So, in light of those considerations, despite the points in which I am disappointed - I think many people would agree that at this moment I ought to be pretty happy with my career and financial situation, and - in light of those considersations - I am.
Most of my life is like that - a rollercoaster ride full of ups and downs. Part satisfaction, part disappointment, Just like everyone else's - drifting from happiness to sadness to anger, depending on the topic and current state of affairs.
Of course, what's behind this question is the myth spread within the church that "it's all down hill from here" for those who leave.
Here is one example of this message from a talk by N. Eldon Tanner:
“There is a sad ending to nearly every story I have heard about those who drift away from the straight and narrow path. Such a tragedy ended the life of the young man to whom I refer. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and motorcycling with his companions late one night, he plunged through the rails of a bridge over a murky river and was killed. In agreement with some facetious pact he had supposedly made with his friends, they, without consulting his parents, conducted his funeral service, cremated the body, and strewed the ashes over the spot where he died.
... Punishment and remorse, one way or another, will come to all who wander from the path of truth and righteousness, while obedience to God’s laws brings blessings and happiness. It is that simple: as we sow, so shall we reap. (See Gal. 6:7.)"(N. Eldon Tanner, "Why Is My Boy Wandering Tonight?", October 1974 General Conference)
That narrative - that those who leave the church are destined for calamity and misery of one kind or another - has been drilled into most member's heads from the time they were babes in arms. Consequently, when they encounter a person who has left the church, they often pull out this question - “are you happy?” - as though it were some silver-bullet way of revealing the apostates "true" state, even if, as in one case from my own life, they had just spent the day complaining to you about their life and the world while you were obviously feeling optimistic and hopeful. It would be just funny if it weren't so pernicious and annoying… no - that’s not strong enough - it would be just funny if our normal human emotions weren’t being hypocritically used as weapons with which to slander and discredit us.
Of course, this idea that apostate’s are unhappy, though severely misguided, isn't entirely baseless. The simplistic version of what many members of the church encounter in those who have left the church is a person who they formerly knew to be generally happy, seemingly out of the blue, becoming depressed and angry.
What they fail to grasp, of course, is just what the person leaving the church is actually going through. Namely, a complete upturning of their entire world view, coupled with the feeling that they've been lied to their entire lives, that sacrifices that they had made for their faith had all been for naught, and so much more. The feelings of betrayal and injustice that afflict the person who is in the midst of leaving the church, or has recently done so are quite sharp. They are exactly the sort of thing that would make anyone angry. And the believer's in their lives usually make things worse with their ignorance and insensitivity.
I wrote something that really speaks to this point in answering the question “Do ex Mormons ever feel guilty for leaving the church?” on Quora:
“The conversion from a Mormon to an ex-Mormon is a process that takes time. During that process, people typically experience a great deal of emotional and cognitive turmoil that can include anger, fear, sadness, regret, uncertainty and yes - guilt, which should come as no surprise if you honestly consider what they are actually going through.
A person who experiences a conversion from Mormonism to what you might call ex-Mormonism, has typically had their world-view turned upside down by some new information, and/or ways of looking at things. Consequently there is a period in which they are trying to figure out which way is up and one of the questions they have to contend with is whether - as they have typically been told their entire lives - their crisis of faith is a symptom of some failing of their own. At such times, many members will begin to scrutinize every little way in which they might fail to measure up to expectations, and wonder if it had either caused, or was a symptom of some other failing or flaw which caused them to be that much less receptive to the promptings of the Spirit, which would otherwise clear away all their doubts, or help them find the answers they need, or simply have strong enough faith in the face of all that presently assails their belief. At such times, a person can feel a great deal of guilt as they take upon themselves the assumption that it - their unbelief - is their fault.
Even after a person has intellectually accepted that the church is not True, stopped attending and so forth, some may find that the reflexive responses which have been ingrained in them via the church program continue to affect them, perhaps occasionally showing up as brief spikes of guilt or panic, or a feeling that someone is watching them, say when they drink their first cup of coffee, or shop on a Sunday, or are reprimanded for letting down their family by a supposedly well-meaning person.
Again, it shouldn't take much insight into the nature of the human mind to understand these sort of responses without resort to explanations such as that they are experiencing an actual prompting from the Spirit of God (After-all, you will find that people experience these things no matter what religion they leave behind). To suggest otherwise should be viewed as on par with explaining mental illnesses and physical ailments as the workings of disembodied evil spirits that are attacking or have taken possession of the person in question.
I have gone through that period of turmoil. But since then, while I have frequently found myself confronted with cause to feel anger and frustration toward the church and its membership (for reasons I wont outline here), I have never once felt guilt. Instead, when I am asked to consider whether my change of belief was right, I feel a warm glow inside me - a sense of peace and certainty that it was.”
In time, most people who leave the church do begin to heal and find peace again. To expound on that point more fully I will end with part of my answer to another question on Quora - "How has stopping being a Mormon bettered your life (for ex-Mormons)?"
"I now continue to face challenges on account of unbroken ties to the church through friends and family, but when I'm able to just be by myself with my new set of beliefs, if I reflect on that change, the predominant feeling is one of RELIEF. For me, the primary benefit of leaving the church has been a general rolling away of tensions that have bound me up for most of my life. This, combined with the sort of spiritual-like science-oriented view of the universe - its grandeur and immensity, my actual, much more humble, place within it, the precious gift that my fleeting life is, my view of the road before me on my "spiritual" journey, and the simple fact that I am now FREE to be HONEST - with myself most of all - about what really makes sense to me - all of this settles on my mind and heart like the gentle rays of a setting sun, imbuing me with a feeling of real peace and happiness.
Like many others, I am so excited to be able to learn new things without having to engage in the mental gymnastics that are so often necessary to fit new information into the little box of ideas, trains of thought, and conclusions that do not pose a threat to the church's claims to authority. The freedom to just follow a line of inquiry to its natural conclusion, to accept or reject ideas purely on the basis of their merits as I personally see them, is a balm to my soul.
I have also felt much more free to be myself socially. This has especially benefited my ability to engage with non-Mormon's (it might be worth pointing out that I still don't drink alcohol, so this difference is not due to such things), but not only with non-Mormons - with active Mormon's too I am, in many ways, more authentic and at ease. Though there are the new tensions related to my apostate status that sometimes get in the way, when those aren't in play I now feel better equipped to build genuine relationships, because I am being the more genuine me."
Yes. After Mormonism I am able to own my own self. That includes wearing underwear not issued by the church, having permission to think independently, and let go of shame I usually had in day-to-day. Been able to experience life more realistically, I have more motivation and my marriage relationship is better.
I’m happier and more at peace now than I have been in years. I feel more authentic and true to myself. Living my life outside of the church didn’t bring any of the unhappiness I was taught or feared it would.
Oh my gods, YES..!!! I'm away from the "worthiness culture" of the Mormon (victory for Satan) Church. "I" am responsible for my own actions and, when necessary, to correct things I may have royally messed up and may have hurt people in the process. I was responsible for that behavior, not by the influence of some demon or devil.
The freedom to think, to ruminate, and live on this amazing planet is truly a gift. To remember that I made myself miserable only to have hope that the misery would turn to miraculous in the after-life makes me ill to think about. Do we have another life after this one? I don't honestly know. I believe there is something, but I am going to be the best damn human being I can in the short time I'll be walking on the planet.
Oh, one of the best parts (aside from discovering coffee, wine, and spirits) is that Hanes underwear actually fits! No more "garmies" for me! :-)
No, feel lost now!
Very! The happiest I've been in a long time. I am no longer pressured to keep a persona that isn't me. I can do what I need to do to be the best version of myself without guilt. I am away from a man who would bring the worst out in me. Im raising my child free from unnecessary guilt and sin and that makes me happiest of all!
I've never been happier. I have struggled with suicidal ideation since I was 9, and even though I still have my issues and my struggles, I have not had one serious incident since the day I sent my resignation in. I feel free of the pressure and people-pleasing that comes with Church culture, and I feel I am able to truly enjoy people without judgement.
Yes! Everything good from before is still good. I've just removed some things that were making me unhappy.