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27 March 2015

The pursuit of happiness

The pursuit of happiness

Last Friday was International Happiness Day as declared by the United Nations. This year Pharrell Williams, the singer of the popular song Happy, partnered with the UN to promote happiness. So indeed, we were encouraged to “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof”.

With so much tragedy and negativity in the news, it can appear that happiness is in short supply. It’s depressing stuff. Reports this week in a number of papers told of research that found loneliness to be twice as dangerous as obesity and that on average, loneliness and isolation can increase risk of premature death. Unemployment, debt, stress, family breakdown, anxiety and other factors steal happiness so swiftly and we seem to be facing this loneliness epidemic too. No wonder the quest for happiness is growing ever more intense.

To address this issue and the fact that only 30 per cent of Londoners rated themselves as ‘happy’, The Happy Cafe in London not only serves coffee but provides conversation, massage and laughter therapy. Livability have introduced The Happiness Course as another means of addressing issues relating to happiness.

This week was  also the first day of spring.  Longer, lighter days make everyone feel happier. But while these things are helpful for happiness, it takes more than sunshine and blue skies, massage and  laughter to bring inner joy.

Many would agree that there is a difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is very dependent upon ‘happenings’, our surroundings or circumstances.  It is transitory.  Whereas joy is something deep within us, something that we ultimately find through knowing God. Therefore Christians can experience inner joy even in the most difficult of circumstances, but they may not always feel happy.

Through  running a Wellsprings course for women at my local gym, I have encountered a strong feeling of loneliness coming from the ladies that attend. We discuss issues such as beauty, self-image, worry and anxiety as well as healing and forgiveness. Even those women whom, on the surface, appear to have it all together, have a deep desire for friendship and authenticity: something that society seems to have squeezed out of our frenetic lifestyles. The impact of this affects all generations. Many of the young people that our Club Angels teams work and chat with in nightclubs regularly wrestle with dissatisfaction, insecurities and a growing sense of hopelessness. Not only is happiness that  a rare commodity, but at a deeper level it is hope that is missing.  We have that hope to offer, we can point people towards the author of joy. This starts with valuing people, giving them time and demonstrating love.

My church uses the model of missional communities. These are creative expressions of church that serve in the community most Sundays, meeting people where they are.  One of these communities meets in a local cafe, serving free tea and coffee, offering friendship, conversation and prayer to all those in our locality who are looking for community.  This isn’t a Happy cafe.  This community is called ‘Hope’.  Slowly but surely people are beginning to discover that real hope does exist.

We will not always be happy, but we can always know joy.  Feelings fluctuate and difficulties descend, but hope and joy are eternal.   As Palm Sunday approaches, it is a reminder to hold on to the eternal perspective. “For the joy that was set before him, he (Jesus) endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Carolyn Skinner is CEO of Third Space Ministries and a member of Morden Baptist Church.