Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I recently watched this documentary.  You can see the trailer here, the entire thing if you get netflix.

In this documentary called Happy, researchers make a case that you can, in fact, measure happiness much like you can diagnose depression.  The movie follows people from around the world and touches on a few main factors for "happiness".

Being that I'm in a job where I run into people all the time who are experiencing the happiest of happy days- like weddings- or, the saddest of sad days- like funerals- I was interested in what this filmmaker had to say.

The most fascinating things about the findings were probably the simplest, too.  Happy people practice what this researcher calls "flow".  Flow is usually exercise or something you do where you get in the grove and derive energy and satisfaction that is felt deeply.  It can probably be compared to a runner's high, or the peace one feels after practicing yoga.  I think it's also possible to achieve it from making art or writing- if that's what you love.  The movie makers spoke with a surfer, who had basically lived a very simple life in order to be able to surf everyday.  He loved it, and felt totally fulfilled.

Another thing the documentary described was proximity to family and/or close friends.  Those who had people around them who they trusted, and loved, were ultimately more happy.  I'm sorry to say that I live far away from family, and it does get to me sometimes- probably when I don't even realize it.  However, I think the researchers also described the importance of deep and meaningful relationships, which I believe I get to have in my job.  One woman, in particular, a Danish woman, who was recently divorced, moved herself and her children into a community living situation.  She described it as the best thing she had ever done- to live and commune, cook and share with a closely-knit network of people.

One more thing the movie said.  Happy people tend to love what they do, but they don't do it too much.    Hah.  I think this is probably the thing Americans get after the most- people in the United States confuse vocation with money and success, and it does not make them happy.  The documentary "confirmed" that this was the case, as well.  And, apparently, it's true in Japan, too.  They even have a word for it over there- karoushi- and it alludes to the idea of working so much for something you think you want, and it ultimately leads to death.  Yikes.

I suppose I knew most of this stuff already.  But, it was neat to see it from a worldwide perspective. People living in what we would consider to be absolute poverty, loving their lives more than I probably do on a daily basis.  But, it wasn't just this idea that material wealth does not bring happiness.  The movie focused on relationships- real, lasting, honest, authentic relationships.  And, I wonder if this is where I (or, the church?) can step into this world of UNhappiness.

On Sundays, all I have to do is look around at the children playing freely in classrooms, singing songs and being loved on by their teachers.  Children understand that at church relationships exists without boundaries- between them and everyone they encounter, young and old.  They get that, at church, they are free to be themselves, that it doesn't matter how big their house is, or how cool their backpack is.  At church, they know it doesn't matter what their parents do for a living- in fact, they enjoy sitting next to them in worship, and being around them during coffee hour.  Children also get to see happiness that is created by real things, filled with grace and truth- baptisms of babies, singing that is not performance-oriented, hugs between friends in the hallway, money being freely shared for mission.  And, our children sense the Spirit, they pick up on it, I know they do!  They pay attention and believe.

All this to say, I'm not sure the church is a place where happiness springs forth.  In fact, I've always been taught that happiness really isn't the goal- if there is a "goal" in this life, to speak of.  What we find in the community of faith, in the body of Christ, is joy.  We do joy around here.  Joy isn't happiness, friends.  Joy can be experienced in good times and in bad.  Joy comes from finding the peace of Christ that passes all understanding in the midst real of life- it's about noticing and sensing and feeling God's presence with you in gratitude, in thanksgiving, in sorrow, in fear, in anxiety, in... whatever.  Joy is deep, profound trust that God does not let us go, wherever we are, whatever we are doing.  And joy is knowing that there is a future for us- all of us.

Colossians 1:11-12

"We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul - not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us."

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