The monthly theme at my church for March is Joy. What to do with joy? With happiness? With Fun? There’s a lot to take into consideration when presenting joy as your spiritual theme, not the least of which is that depression is an epidemic in our society. Anything that encourages people to just look on the bright side, cheer up, change their attitude or other similar things won’t cut it. Beyond depression, the weakness of prosperity theology of any stripe needs to be avoided as does The Secret’s approach to the “power of intention.” There’s also the state of the world to consider with a lot of legitimate things to drag anyone down any given day such as racism in America fifty years past Selma, religious fundamentalists trying to legalize homophobia, the critical state of our environment, and the widening gap between the haves and the have nots. The list goes on and it’s oppressive. Our culture also seems to make an idol of happiness with “the pursuit of happiness” being so written upon our societal DNA that something’s wrong with you if you are not happy. So what did I come up with to introduce joy?
Silly String. Yup, Silly String…and the Muppets.
Maybe the first step toward joy is happiness. If joy is lasting and happiness is temporary, maybe we can start by revelling in moments of happiness. This is a challenge in and of itself. The reality of depression is that its presence is often a numbing neutrality that is neither happy nor sad. Those of us not living with depression still deal with the fact that our brains are hardwired for negativity. Evolution has equipped us with a negativity bias as a survival mechanism. As much as we are able, it actually does help to make note, however brief or fleeting, of the good, the grateful, the happy, and the joyful. Research backs it up according to Buddha’s Brain author Rick Hansen in his book “Hardwired for Happiness.” Hansen is not talking about the “look on the bright side” type of quick fix attitude adjustment, but rather the more difficult long-term practice of being in the moment and noticing whenever we can the good, the positive, the happy, and the content. We can, over-time, diminish if not eliminate our negativity bias. Being in the moment can actually rewire our brains.
So I began the monthly worship experience of joy by not only speaking about this, but by actually putting a bunch of moments to be happy into the service. This is where the silly string comes in.
The time for all ages involved calling people of ALL ages up to the chancel by their favorite color (OK, by their favorite color of the rainbow, if your favorite color was ivory or chartreuse you had go with something else). Each person was given a can of silly string in their favorite color of the rainbow and people were lined up in ROYGBIV order. I gave instructions on making sure to shake the can, remove the safety cap, and point the string towards the windows behind the chancel. Their goal was to make a silly string rainbow on the sanctuary windows. Then came the tricky part. The musicians played and sang Mahna Mahna. The goal was to dance to the music and shake up the string cans and then when the Mahna Mahna part of the song comes around, sing the Mahna Mahna part and spray the windows with string. The choreography was a little off, but the fun and the happy happened.
There are ways to help us notice and experience happiness. One is creativity and another is music. The more we sing, dance, play or listen to music and the more we create (write, draw, paint, sculpt, dance, sing, cook, garden, etc.) the more opportunities we have to be happy and notice happiness. Some of the other ways to help us note moments of happiness include smiling (children smile hundreds of times each day, but adults average little more than a dozen), being in the moment, helping others, spending time outdoors, and learning something new.
None of these things will make you happy, but the regular, intentional practice of noticing moments of happiness and creating opportunities for yourself to experience them will help. This isn’t a cure for depression. I have depression, so I know that none of these things can magically break anyone out of the numbness or sadness or grief, and yet I also know that I do have moments of happiness and I have experienced joy. I know all too well that happiness and joy are treasures and gifts beyond measure, so I am going to practice my happiness awareness as much as I can. I hope you do, too.