What do the countries of Bhutan,Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, India, and Venezuela all have in common? It’s not their climates, geographical features, or religion, although some may share some of those things. It’s something quite different. Something perhaps you never knew before. Each country has an appointed Minister of Happiness or some variation thereof. That’s right, each of these countries has a government department that was initiated solely for the purpose of assuring that its citizens are happy. Under that definition, we could add the United Kingdom which, in January 2018, appointed a Minister of Loneliness whose task is to alleviate loneliness and isolation in British society. Since loneliness makes people unhappy, this ministry falls into the same category.
I think this is a remarkable trend on three counts. First is the prospect that unhappiness in a given country isn’t contained to one segment of the population – the elderly or impoverished, for example – but across the entire society. The second is that unhappiness can grow to such a degree that it’s seen as a national problem. Third, something that should come naturally among the people becomes the responsibility of the state.
Just to be clear – I’m not criticizing these countries or their ministries. I think any country that seeks the well-being of its people in genuine benevolence deserves to be commended. In fact, the notion got me to thinking about our beloved United States of America and whether we, too, could benefit from such a ministry. If I had any criticism at all, it would be that there is no blatant mention of faith and trust in God as a premise of the ministry duties. Without God, there can be no real happiness and there certainly can’t be any joy.
Happiness, as most people perceive it, is being satisfied with what you have or what you do. But joy goes deeper. Joy is all-encompassing and lasting. It’s not subject to whims and moods swings, nor is it a response to stimuli (think of Snoopy’s “Happy Dance” when Charlie Brown bring him his dinner). Joy can be felt even in the toughest of times and under the worst conditions. Joy, according to Servant of God and Founder of the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt, Fr Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968), is “the resting of the appetites in a greater good.” What greater good is there than God himself?
Given that, try to imagine what our country might be like with a Ministry of Joy. Imagine the loneliness of an elderly person being broken by a visit from a cheerful representative of the Ministry of Joy. Picture an at-risk teen being invited into a work skills program or a single mom with small children receiving free babysitting services. Imagine someone passing you on the sidewalk with a smile on their face instead of a scowl. Imagine how the staff of the Ministry of Joy could change this land!
Our country has been going through some rough-and-tumble times (perhaps you’ve noticed the viciousness in the news as well as on social media) and I expect you’d agree that we could use a good, strong dose of joy. Is it time for the United States to have a Ministry of Joy? I think so. However, the Ministry of Joy I’m thinking of involves not just one Minister of Joy, but millions of them. We need you, me, and all of the individuals in the US to become self-appointed Ministers of Joy who commit themselves to reflecting the Light of Christ and bringing the joy of God to others. Joy is not only deep and lasting, but also it’s contagious, That would be a far more effective than any government agency.