This week, we hear from Elena Larssen!
Rev. Larssen is a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry at Pacific School of Religion and serves as Minister of Volunteer Engagement on the National Staff of the United Church of Christ. A noted preacher and executive leader, she is the current Chair of the United Church Board for Ministerial Assistance and co-chaired the establishment of the 2030 Clergy Network in 2006.
Disneyland may own the slogan “Happiest Place on Earth,” but new data says that “worship” is most Americans ‘happy place’-The Rev. Elena Larssen
New research shows that the happiest place for Americans is the house of worship, followed closely by nature, and visiting someone else’s home.
This compares with ‘happiest activities’ that place worship at the top of the list, followed closely by sports and helping non-family members. (It appears we value friendship, even when we struggle to spend enough time with friends.) Where are people the happiest? With apologies to Mickey and Minnie, it might be the church!
Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Home from Work We Go
The American Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly polls the American people about how they spend their days – particularly their work days – with the American Time Use Survey.
“The time-use survey typically asks people to record what they were doing at any given time during the day. But in four recent surveys, between 2010 and 2021, they also asked a subset of those people how meaningful those activities were, or how happy, sad, stressed, pained and tired they felt on a six-point scale.”
This regular survey includes work time, social time, caregiving, volunteering…many of the things your average church member might do in a given week.
Year after year, work with “high happiness and low stress” wins as the happiest work. Work that takes place outdoors – farming, forestry – gives the profound advantage of putting people in nature, which is the second happiest place to spend one’s time, according to the data.
What about our free time? Again, the outdoors and being out to be social are big winners.
But this year the BLS discovered something important: worship is America’s happy place.
Three is a Magic Number: Meaning and Happiness and Low Stress
With a combined three factors of low stress, high meaning, and high happiness, worship is a valued, ‘top of the list’ activity for Americans’ non-work time. More so than any for-profit activity (like shopping, dining out, or riding the teacups at an amusement park) worship time is a true Sabbath for parishioners.
Who should take heart from this data?
Any pastor who is racing to find the “Silent Night” candles on Christmas Eve would laugh at the idea of worship being ‘low stress,’ but that is where this data becomes fascinating and encouraging. And indeed, when the Washington Post published its analysis on Epiphany this year, the conversation yielded great conversation on the UCC socials. The Sunday after publication, pastors across denominations published sermons about this delightful fact: people do in fact love their religious and spiritual activities and being in worship.
For today’s clergy, this is important information. With shifting landscapes that challenge church wellness, many pastors are facing great distress in their workplace. Clergy may receive a well-deserved uplift from knowing how greatly the worship experience is valued.
It’s a World of Laughter, A World of Tears
The joy of worship itself is perhaps an old-fashioned thing to celebrate. But the data shows that one hour of meaningful reflection brings great happiness. So, how could we highlight the treasure of time in worship together?
Preachers: if you haven’t already, share this new data with your church. Remind them what a joy it is to be in worship – we all still remember when gathering online was unheard of and when gathering in person was risking a super-spreader event. Whether you preach via a screen or in person, this is good news to share.
Worship-planners: this data is permission to put love, money, time, creativity, and talent into planning the most meaningful services possible. Take the time to create art for Lent or incorporate guest musicians into the service – whatever your church finds deeply meaningful is worth the time and effort because worship matters.
Lay leaders: encourage your pastor to keep worship a priority and encourage your friends to come to worship. Remind people that worship is special and meaningful via phone calls, posts, or newsletter notes. Don’t use guilt, because that is stress – remind people how church is a place where meaning and happiness come together.
Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, remarked, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.”
This new data points to a joyful message: while most of our hours may be work, worship is the defining hour of the week that brings happiness.
The happiest, least stressful, most meaningful jobs in America – The Washington Post
ATUS home: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov)
Statistics and Reports – United Church of Christ (ucc.org)
Why Pastors Are Joining the Great Resignation | Sojourners
Your pastor isn’t as unhealthy as you might think | The Christian Century (Please note this is pre-Covid data.)
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