What is the difference between a positive emotional experience, and “feeling the Spirit?”

I have had many positive emotional experiences in both religious and secular contexts… I have also had a handful of experiences with religion that were qualitatively different from that. A few have felt like what I can only imagine must be similar to what rocker Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane described as “an LSD trip from the Lord, like a drug trip without the drugs.”

I have also received very distinct directions on a few major decisions in my life, as well as moments of peace and comfort that seemed to be from outside of me. Sometimes they involved words. I’ve never had a near-death experience, or a vision, so I cannot speak for those experiences.

In a recent Mormon Stories episode, Dr. David Christian shared a mission experience where the mission president tried to convince all the sister missionaries that polygamy was coming back, and they all were to be his plural wives. Something like 10 out of the 12 sisters claimed to receive a spiritual witness that this was true. I don’t know how they described their experiences.

What do we make of this?

  1. It seems pretty reasonable to not rely on the spiritual “experiences” of others for personal decisions.
  2. Is there any objectivity as to what constitutes an experience of revelation or one that confirms truth?
  3. Ever since I realized in high school that I felt positive experiences during John Travolta movies (seriously), I decided that feeling “good” about something must not necessarily be the Spirit. Warm fuzzies may be just that. It seems to reason that the experience of the Holy Ghost MUST be different.
  4. Objectivity or not, what do YOU consider to be the experience of the Holy Ghost? How do you know? If you don’t know, what makes you believe the experience is different from just another positive emotion, a voice in your head, or a parapsychotic symptom*?

*Visual, auditory, olfactory etc. hallucinations are sometimes conceptualized as “parapsychotic symptoms” in the mental health field. One may have these experiences (especially in times of extreme stress or grief) without actually having a mental illness such as schizophrenia.