Elders and Governing Body

What Is It Like to Be a “Zealous” Jehovah’s Witness? A Former Elder Tells His Side of the Story

What is it like to be a zealous Jehovah’s Witness? The Watchtower teaches that when you are immersed in service to Jehovah as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you will live the most happy, fulfilling life possible.

This claim is backed up by the many pioneers (individuals who have “volunteered” to spend 70 hours per month preaching Watchtower doctrine) that are always smiling and talking about how much they enjoy their life and ministry. Friendly elders and ministerial servants will always talk about how much joy their “privileges of service” bring to them. Circuit overseers talk about how much they enjoy their full-time service to Jehovah. The same goes for others involved in full-time service to Jehovah.

But, have you ever asked yourself, what it is like to actually live in their shoes and do what they are doing? You may think that this appearance of happiness they present to you is genuine, but can you really know for sure?

There could very well be some individuals that are indeed as happy as they appear to be in their service to Jehovah, but there is something that the average Jehovah’s Witness does not know about these people.

Told to Be Happy, or At Least Look Happy

The Watchtower organization provides additional instruction to any individual that serves them in a greater capacity than the average publisher. That additional information includes repeated instruction to act like you are happy even when you are not, so as to encourage others to engage in some sort of full time service.

“What effect would complaining about our lot in life as a pioneer have on others? When things get hard for us what should we do rather than express anxiety or complain to others?”
– Shining as Illuminators in the World (2004), page 127

Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like; these individuals are repeatedly reminded that they need to look joyful in their service to recruit others to similar service. I served as a pioneer at one time, and later as an elder. In both roles, the additional instruction I received from the Watchtower included instructions/reminders/commands, whatever you want to call it, to look like you are joyful and enjoy the service.

I followed that advice, and avidly encouraged others to pursue some sort of full-time service. Does that mean that I was actually as happy as I looked? No. Not by any means. I probably should have won an award for acting, if indeed I did come across as enjoying my job as an elder, or any facet of service to “Jehovah,” which in reality I learned was service to the Watchtower organization.



The reality of my service to the Watchtower is that I was always extremely frustrated, and often times angry. To the best of my ability, I followed organizational mandates, and did what I was told to do.

Despite this fact, or more appropriately, because of this fact, my life seldom worked out in a way that made me truly happy. I felt as if my life did not belong to me. There was always some other responsibility I was supposed to take care of for the organization, and I had precious little time I had to do anything I actually wanted to do. I put off my interests and any pursuit of things I wanted to do, believing that I would have time for that when paradise/the “new system” came.¹

When I pioneered, I came to realize that most of the pioneers actually were not as happy as they appeared to be. There were oftentimes disagreements among the pioneers, pettiness, and for some, an air of entitlement. The real pioneers I knew, for the most part, were not happy people. Some were, but most that I knew were not.

The same can be said of many elders.  They were often good at putting on the front, but many times were also not truly happy in any sense.

The Truly Happy Ones

As these realizations dawned on me, I also realized that the happiest Jehovah’s Witnesses I knew were the ones who existed on the fringes, and were not very zealous. Their lives always seemed to lead to more true happiness.

Realizing this, at the time, only frustrated me more. How is it that I’m not getting Jehovah’s blessing for all my work, when these people seemingly are, but for considerably less effort? I never fully came to peace with that situation until after I “woke up.”

35043de32dbe74012ea3b125c015d878After I realized what the Watchtower was, I was finally able to understand my life experience. My decades of shutting my mind off had come to an end, and I was finally free to see what had always been right in front of my face. Once I started living in this place called reality, all illusions dropped away.

Ironically, at the time I sort of felt like Saul of Tarsus must have felt when the scales fell from his eyes. Beholding this strange new thing called reality, where I was actually allowed to think and form my own opinions, was new and wonderful. It was almost intoxicating at first, and overwhelming at the same time. I was now free to apply the logic I used for designing things and solving problems, to the realities of life.

With both the freedom, and finally my own personal permission to think freely, I completely understood. The Watchtower formula for service to the Watchtower does not make anyone happy. It actually serves to enslave them mentally, and to steal their very life, which is then poured out for the benefit of a publishing corporation.

This had happened to me, and happens to some extent to all of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I had been so frustrated and oftentimes angry because I was participating in having my own life stolen from me! Discovering that you have been complicit in your own mental slavery is a harrowing discovery, but indeed a formative one.

Processing Real Emotions

Many people react with anger to this discovery, as did I. After all, how could you possibly not be angry when you learn that everything you view as reality is nothing more than a lie, and consequently you have been tricked into living in a way that you may not have chosen?

There was anger, deep hurt, a sense of great loss, and more anger. Processing such massive emotions after being forced to suppress them for your entire life is no small task. The realization that you must now leave everyone that you have ever known behind if you are to have any chance of happiness is a scary prospect, and considerably disorienting, especially when you have been taught for your entire life to use methods of socializing which are destructive to relationships with normal people.

Having weathered the storm of waking up from my long Watchtower-induced coma-like existence, and having processed it, and continually processing it, allows me to understand what Watchtower happiness really is.

It is an act.

The act is forced upon those who serve the Watchtower at the cost of their actual happiness, their dreams, goals, desires, their very being. The corporation coldly and mercilessly extracts their toll from individuals, masquerading as an organization that is used by God. Watchtower happiness is the purest form of misery, pretending to be joy.

Such a harsh statement may not be true of all who serve in full-time service to the corporation. Many of those individuals truly and deeply believe they are serving the most-high God, Jehovah. For them, there probably is some sense of fulfillment and happiness.

As to how many that is, I can’t even guess. But in my experience, those who are serving full time tend to be more likely to be miserable, but better at pretending to be happy.

Finding true happiness is not accomplished by serving a corporation claiming to be something that it blatantly is not. True happiness is defined by each individual, by their true self, their dreams, their goals.

When one has the freedom to know who they are, and to pursue their interests, then they are free to pursue their happiness. A realistic view of the world and the problems that we all inevitably face allows us to approach life in a realistic way.  Waiting in vain for your own pet panda bear¹ while doing things you most likely hate doing will never lead to happiness.  I speak from over three decades of experience.

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¹The “new system” refers to the belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the earth will be turned into a paradise after Armageddon, when they expect everyone who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses will be destroyed. Pictures of this “new system” in Watchtower literature often depicts children playing with exotic pets at that time, including panda bears.

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“Spike Raynor” is the pen name of a former elder of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Visit his own YouTube page here for more insights on the Watchtower practices and policies.

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