The Science Behind the Joy of Sharing Joy
Article by Emma M. Seppälä (2013)
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What is the Science?

Have you ever been in the middle of a great experience and one bad moment seems to ruin it? You were on vacation and somebody cuts you off with their car; the movie was great, but you spilled your popcorn. Our negative bias, combined with a tendency to get used to positive experiences and level out emotionally, means we often focus on the negative, despite the many positive things that might be happening. Recent research into the science of joy suggests an important way to counteract this tendency: sharing our joy with others. Those who share their joy tend to have a greater sense of well-being, higher overall life satisfaction, and higher energy levels. In other words, as we share our joy, we tend to feel even more joyful. This is not only good news for us, but it is good news for our community: the well-being and joy one person experiences can positively influence others as far as three levels of separation away from us.

What is the Theology?

  • Negativity Bias: The tendency to emphasize the negative over the positive.
  • Hedonic Treadmill: The tendency over time to get used to the boosts of happiness received from new pleasurable experiences so that they no longer have the same uplifting effect.
“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” – Charlotte Brontë

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4 NRSV). Two thousand years ago Paul exhorted the church in Philippi with these words and Christians have struggled to embody them ever since. However, our fallen human nature often works against us. It is important to note that there is a time for lament, evidenced by the large number of Psalms under the lament category. Yet, our hope is in the the resurrection of the dead. We live a life full of joy not because all is right with the world, but because we know that there will be a new heaven and a new earth where “Death… mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev 21:4). We share our joy with others because we are bursting at the seams with “all joy and peace” and “abound[ing] in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). And when others around us receive joy in the Spirit, we experience even greater joy. So we share with others, knowing that death and despair have been overcome “by the blood of the Lamb  and by the word of [our] testimony” (Rev 12:11).

What to Consider

  • What tendencies have you noticed in your own life to focus on either positive or negative experiences? How does this tendency encourage or discourage feelings of joy?
  • How can you balance sharing joyful experiences in a community while also making space for sharing painful experiences.
  • How might the different ways we express joy differ from culture to culture? Might some cultures be more likely to share positive experiences than others? How will these differences impact your life and ministry?

How to go Deeper

  • Set aside a few weeks in the year to tell stories of gratitude in your worship services. Consider providing multiple opportunities for sharing. Make space for sharing during corporate worship and in small groups. You might even coordinate gatherings around dinner where participants can share experiences of joy with each other.
  • Hold a ministry fair and invite organizations in your community that are committed to human flourishing in your neighborhood. Follow up with stories about the positive experiences of God’s work through these partnerships.
  • Preach a sermon series about biblical characters who experienced joy despite experiencing hardships. Examples of this might include Joseph, Ruth, David, Paul, and of course, Jesus.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.

One Comment

  1. matt@ncstudycenter.org July 1, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    I’ve seen some churches that set aside time for ‘praises and thanksgivings’ during the service…this is one way of “sharing our joys”

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