re-happying church

Is ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams the ultimate feelgood song? It first came to prominence in one of my favourite films: Despicable Me 2 and then seemed to be everywhere. I heard it again on the radio a bit earlier today. Here are the lyrics for the chorus:

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

As well as a really catchy tune that evokes a happy feeling the lyrics also tap into a universal yearning within humans – the desire to be happy. That drives so much of our behaviour. It probably explains some of the impulsive behaviour that gets people into trouble (the happiness impulse over-rides the part of the brain that is screaming ‘think about the consequences!’).

What does it mean to be happy? Is it simply a chemical reaction within our brain where endorphins and other chemicals induce a feeling of well-being? Is it something coded into our genes? Is it about cramming as many pleasurable experiences into our life so that they outweigh the unpleasant ones? Is it a psychological state of mind that can be achieved with the right counselling and therapy? If you search online your will find millions of different responses to the question: “How can I achieve happiness?”

In contemplating this the thought occurred to me that churches have an image problem, especially if the desire for happiness is such a strong instinct within us. Because of past (and sometimes present) attitudes that border on the puritanical I think we are still seen as places and people that say an enormous “NO!” to happiness. I wonder whether when people think of churches they primarily associate “Thou shalt not…” with us. In our zeal to live holy lives we may unconsciously have given the message that God does not want people to enjoy ourselves and that he is happiest when we are most miserable. This was verbalised wonderfully by a friend who was not allowed to do anything fun on a Sunday when he was growing up: he quipped, “We even used to take the swing out of the Budgie’s cage in case he enjoyed himself.”

Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not advocating a no holds barred hedonism. Nor am I saying that churches are actually unhappy, boring places. And I am not suggesting that if you come to church all of your problems will be solved and you will always be happy. No, no, no. (See how easily ‘no’ trips off my fingers and onto the screen!). But perhaps we need a touch of the advertising campaign a long time ago for the Yellow Pages directory: “Good old yellow pages, not just there for the nasty things in life.”

But instead of churches having a reputation to make you unhappy perhaps we need to re-happy church?

What if we started emphasising some of the more positive aspects of life and faith and debunk the myth that God wants us to be miserable? What if Jesus’ words “Life in all its fullness” became our strapline? What if we took time to notice all the times in the Bible that Jesus affirmed people rather than just the ones where he told people (mostly the religious ones) off? What if we took him seriously when he complained that people were criticising him for enjoying himself: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’? What if we did what the old hymn urged us to do and ‘Count your blessings, name them one by one’?laughing - permission given for blog

And what if we started singing this in church?!

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Be blessed, be a blessing

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One thought on “re-happying church

  1. Some ministers need no encouragement to use this song in worship! 🙂

    There’s a song by Rend Collective that embraces this theme, called ‘Joy’. It starts with ‘We’re choosing celebration’ and acknowledges that our Joy comes from God and is there through the times of pain and sorrows.

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