Jan. 4, 2018

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Allow me to state the obvious. It’s cold.

I’ve broken out parts of my wardrobe I haven’t had to wear since my years in Iowa. Many of us have been busy covering our plants, burning our fire logs, and putting on layers of clothing. Some of us love this weather, others don’t. But we are feeling it together.


The weather reminds me of a study not long ago by a Dutch researcher named Ruut Veenhoven. He has been studying the connection between geography and happiness: does one’s place of residence have a direct correlation to one’s level of happiness? His work has produced the World Database of Happiness, which ranks countries according to how happy its citizens are. [1] Here’s the surprising discovery. Ranking consistently among the world’s happiest nations (and even number one in a few surveys) is – are you ready for this? – Iceland

Iceland? Really?

I found out about the Database when I read a book by Eric Weiner, provocatively titled The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World. Among his journeys was a visit to Iceland, to see what made its citizens so happy. Here’s what he found:

      When I first saw the data, I had the same reaction you’re probably having now. Iceland? As in land of ice? As in cold and dark and teetering on the edge of the map as if it might fall off at any moment? Yes, that Iceland. As for the winter part, I figured anyone could be happy during the Icelandic summers, when the sun shines at midnight and the weather turns “pleasantly not cold,” as one Icelander put it. But the winter, yes, the cold, dark winter, that was the real test of Icelandic happiness.

      But the number crunchers at the World Database of Happiness say that, once again, we’ve got it wrong. Climate matters, but not the way we think. All things considered, colder is happier. Theories abound as to why cold or temperate climes produce happier people than warm, tropical ones. My favorite theory is one I call the Get-Along-or-Die Theory. In warm places, this theory states, life is too easy; your next meal simply falls from a coconut tree. Cooperation with others is optional. In colder places, though, cooperation is mandatory. Everyone must work together to ensure a good harvest or a hearty haul of cod. Or everyone dies. Together.

      Necessity may be the mother of invention, but interdependence is the mother of affection. We humans need one another, so we cooperate – for purely selfish reasons at first. At some point, though, the needing fades and all that remains is the cooperation. We help other people because we can, or because it makes us feel good, not because we’re counting on some future payback. There is a word for this: love. [2]


As I’ve thought more about it, I don’t think it’s the weather that dictates happiness as much as it is a sense of community. It’s that “interdependence” that is the “mother of affection.” It’s expressed when we celebrate each other’s joys, share each other’s burdens, and remember that, in the end, we are all in this together. (Remember how, during Hurricane Irma, many of us learned to depend on each other a lot more? And how novel that felt?)

And if happiness is ultimately determined by a sense of community and belonging, then why shouldn’t the church lead the way? In a world that feels iced over with tension and uncertainty, there should be no greater place to find contentment and real joy than in Christian community.

Weiner discovered that when Icelanders greet each other, the phrase they use roughly translates as “come happy.” And when they depart, they say, “go happy.” Goodwill and well-wishes are built into their language.

It ought to be the same for the church. We, after all, are the ones who bid each other “The Lord be with you (and also with you.)” We are the ones who see ourselves as a body – a dynamic, interconnected, mutually supportive organism. And we are the ones who are commanded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:26-27: If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Yes, Weiner was right. There is a word for this. Love.

I am so grateful to be part of a congregation that is Christ-centered, open to a diversity of people and perspectives, and directed in love toward the needs of others. We are all in this together, regardless of the weather.

So, keep it up. (And by all means, bundle up!)

Grace and peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser

[1] http://www1.eur.nl/fsw/happiness/

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Geography-Bliss-Grumps-Search-Happiest/dp/0446580260

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