JOY-Reader’s Digest Style

A friend recently sent me a passage from an article that was in the February edition of Reader Digest titled, JOY,  the Reader’s Digest Version – Mirth master Daniel Gilbert on how to be happy.

From this article the author, Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, shares his ideas on what contributors in life may bring joy to an individual’s life.

One of his categories was titled “Go to Church or Somewhere” and my friend asked me what I thought about it.  As I read the small excerpt I quickly ascertained that I was reading a “worldview” towards “church.”

Being that I work in ministry, I am made aware of many worldviews towards church and/or Christians, but I have never heard one quite like this.  Though different, like its companions, I find it sad…on many levels.

So let’s take a look at it….and then…. let’s roll up our sleeves and take a real good look at it.

Reader’s Digest, February 2010, page 17, excerpt – “GO TO CHURCH (OR SOMEWHERE)” author-Daniel Gilbert

Churchgoers are happier than non-churchgoers, but not for the reasons people expect.

Our best indication is that it’s not the religion part that makes people happy. It’s the going-to-church part. It’s the community part. It’s the holding hands and singing. It’s the knowing-folks-who-would-bring-you-soup-if-you-got-sick part.

“Odds seem to me pretty good that you could also get all the benefits out of a really tight stamp collecting club.”

So what do you think?  Did he get it right; was his view accurate and true? Is “church” just a glorified social club dressed in happy bliss and wrapped in a warm fuzzy?


  • A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.

Given the above definition we can surmise that the author of the excerpt has formed his opinion pertaining to “going to church” based on his observation and/or experience.  With this thought in mind we cannot simply defer and say that his belief is incorrect, because for him, it isn’t.

Instead we need to “digest” it (excuse the pun), and evaluate how he came to this conclusion.  Then perhaps we can address it, not only here in thought, but out there in “church.”

To Be Honest

My first reaction after reading the excerpt, was an inward remark, “you’ve got to be kidding?!” and then I shook my head in disappoint.  Not so much in the direction of the author but rather at the “church.”

I then took in a deep breath, released it slowly and began to evaluate this excerpt that made publication in the number one magazine in the U.S.

A publication, I might add, that has over 80 million copies in circulation, a readership of 38 million and reaches more readers with households earning over 100,000 + than, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Inc. combined.

I scarce say, we are not the only ones who have read this authors opinion.

One Quick Note

I have read the entire article and would be remised if I did not share that it is my opinion that the author did not intend malice or ill spirit with his statement, Go To Church (Or Somewhere).

I believe that he simply is reporting his observations and shares what he feels are sources that people may derive happiness from.  Though, I might add, I do believe that he presumes alot.

So Let’s Evaluate

“Churchgoers are happier than non-churchgoers, but not for the reasons people expect.”

I liken this sentence to a sweet and sour piece of candy.  Starts out sweet and then “BAMM” your palate gets assaulted by the sour brigade.

First, I believe that his terminology (churchgoers – non-churchgoers) is somewhat vague.  Is he simply referring to those who go to church from those who do not, or is he referring to believers from non believers?  For me, it makes a difference…a big difference.

What’s the difference? My answer…motivation.  It makes all the difference as to why someone attends church.

Let Us Clarify

Churchgoers: This group of people are most likely “believers” (those who believe in God).   However, this group may also include those who have always gone to church (from their early childhood or as long as they can remember), and know it as a way of life.

You may say, doesn’t that make them believers?  Not necessarily, but that is another blog waiting in the queue to be written.

Non-churchgoers: This group of people could also include “believers” and for whatever reason, they do not attend church.  It may be (just to name a few) due to their remote location, they work on Sunday, or they are homebound.  However, as a whole the non-churchgoer group most likely is comprised of “non-believers” (those who do not believe in God).

Now that some sort of clarity has been framed pertaining to his terminology, we can address his presumption to the second half of his sentence.

“But not for the reasons people expect”

This is the part of the sentence that I find most damaging, not only to the relevance of church, but more so, to the value of God.

If you were to poll the average person on the street and ask them why they think people go to church, I believe that an overwhelming majority would mention God somewhere in their reply.

So with seven mere words, the author pens them to conjure doubt and removes God as the possible motivation that instills happiness.

“Our best indication is that it’s not the religion part that makes people happy”

With this statement the author makes another presumption and goes on to offer “tangibles” such as, going to church, community, holding hands, singing, and knowing folks that will bring you soup if you got sick that holds the churchgoers captive.

Though these are all fine activities, they are not the reason why “believers” attend church.  They are merely a by-product.  In fact I find some of his “indicators” as to why churchgoers are happy ridiculous and nonsensical.

His Happy indicator #1:  “It’s the going to church part.”

I will be the first to attest the “act” of going to church can at times be chaotic and stressful, especially if you are herding small children. Trust me, Sunday mornings seem to bring out more skirmishes, spilt milk, and missing shoes than any other day of the week.  Then there is catching every red light from home to church.  Falling behind the slowest person to ever drive a car or  coming up on a county bike race causing you to creep along like a three legged dog.

I rate this indicator:  negative 2 on the happy meter.

His Happy indicator #2:  “It’s the community part.”

Not too sure how he is using the word “community” but if he is referring to “being together” as a whole, then I have to bow out on relating to this one.

I just don’t get it and I’m not sure that most people particularly enjoy crowds or large groups of people just for the sake of being “part of the crowd”.

I rate this indicator: null on the happy meter.

However, if he is referring to being invested in a “community” mission then I would agree that I gain great pleasure in reaching out and helping those that are in need.  It is a sustaining joy that carries far beyond the act of service.

I rate this indicator:  high on the happy meter

His Happy indicator #3:  “It’s the holding hands and singing.”

I will confess that I do not always relish the thought of holding a person’s hand, especially during cold and flu season, and often “opt out.”  The times that I have participated, I rarely find the experience bursting with joy, rather, I often find the hand on the left is cold and clammy while the one on the right hot and sweaty.  Either way, I am reaching into my purse for the “anti-germ” lotion to complete the experience.

As far as the singing I have to give this a “two thumbs up,” but it’s not because I love the songs that makes me happy.  If it was simply about that, the happiness that it would derive would end as soon as the song came to its conclusion. The reason that I enjoy singing is because I love who the songs are directed to.  Simply put…God.

I rate this indicator:  Not so much and so so on the happy meter.

His Happy indicator #4:  “It’s the knowing folks that will bring you soup if you got sick part.”

I will not argue that I enjoy being with “folks” especially those that I share a common bond with.  Frankly I like people and take pleasure in my friends even more. I do experience happiness for the time that I am around them, but unfortunately it’s fleeting and doesn’t sustain me long after departing the parking lot.

Then we must remember that not everyone who attends church has an outgoing personality.  Some are introverted and may find large groups of people to be draining and uncomfortable. I am sure that when they put their car in drive that their comfort zone begins to increase, bringing their happy meter to a rise.

I rate this indicator:  medium low on the happy meter.

Author’s closing statement:  “Odds seem to me pretty good that you could also get all the benefits out of a really tight stamp-collecting club.”

I didn’t know that folks held hands and sung at stamp-collecting clubs.

All kidding aside, this last statement bothers me just as much as his first.  I find it insulting, diminishing, and a devaluation of God.

To Set the record straight

Built into every human being is the bases that makes us do the things we do.  It’s called motivation.

We buy golf clubs because our motivation is that we like to play golf.  We buy football jersey’s because our motivation is that we are a fan of the sport.   We knit because our motivation is to produce a unique scarf, sweater, or hat.  We read because our motivation is to gain knowledge or entertainment.  We, as believers, attend church because our motivation is to learn about, and develop our relationship with God.

It doesn’t matter if we sing, hold hands, or go out to eat lunch afterwards, like I said, those are by-products.  The motivation that brings us together is to worship, praise, pray, and learn about God and His word.   All are things that I might add that we can do on our own and still experience joy.

We choose to come together for a couple of reasons.

In obedience to Scripture Hebrews 10:25,

  • “not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.”  (Exhort – to urge, advise, or caution earnestly; admonish urgently).

God directs us to draw together and this is for our good.  We, as a group, are like a three strand cord.  Not easily broken, or unraveled.  We strengthen each other, encourage each other, love each other.  Especially when we are in need of it most.

However, if our fellowship was removed, our joy would still remain because it is not developed on the backs of our gathering but rather in our faith in God.

Though I still hold to my opinion that I believe that the author meant no ill will, I will say that I think that his conclusions were not accurately acquired and that is the sad part that I was referring to.

I believe that if he really wanted to represent an accurate portrait of JOY derived in his category, that he would have thoroughly polled “churchgoers” or better yet, believers.

Because he chose to be a onlooker from the outside looking in, he draws his evaluation from his non-regenerated common sense.  He simply doesn’t get it and tries to make sense of it in the only way he knows how.

Roll up your sleeves church, we’ve got some work to do.

What is sadder yet is that whatever the author witnessed in his assessment of “churchgoers” was not captivating enough to draw him in for a closer look and that is sad for the “church” and the Kingdom of God.

His exposure, for whatever it was, left him granting us that we are a “happy bunch,” but equates it with the equality of a “tight stamp collecting club.”

He evidently didn’t see God’s grace or joy in the faces of those that were in front of him.  He didn’t notice that they possessed a unique countenance that should have pricked his spirit. He simply noted “happiness” nothing more.  This is where we have failed him, and God.

Let us not be mistaken, his inadvertent testimony establishes that there is a difference between “happiness” and “joy that resonates from the Lord,” and it shows that the “world” is smart and is looking for authenticity.

They know what happiness looks like, and they grant us that, but if we are to reach them, we need to offer joy, the type that is attractive, contagious, and stands even through the toughest of times because it is in those times that we are being watched.

It is that type of joy that draws folks in, causing them to sit up, and take notice because it’s different.  It is authentic and cannot be faked.

It begs the question, “where does your joy come from?” thus setting the stage to share Who the generator is that supplies, creates, and sustains our joy.  This then gives us the opportunity to offer the greatest joy of all… our testimony in Christ.

Who knows perhaps, with joy, we’ll reach someone, who in turn will share his joy that will reach 38 million readers.

Just a Thought


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If you find merit, please feel free to share it.


3 thoughts on “JOY-Reader’s Digest Style

  1. I was looking for this article because my reaction was the same as yours. Although I wasn’t as kindly. I believe this man’s academic background leads him to refuse to accept any belief in God as having a positive impact on people or society.

    Even in the face of facts such as the numerous studies showing that religious people are happier he chooses to belittle the finding and suggest a tight-knit group of any kind would provide the same benefit without asking himself why, if that were the case, that didn’t show up in the studies.

    I appreciate your kind way of responding.


  2. I like how you broke this post down into sections to explain how you felt about it. I also like the admonition to the church to do better. I could do better at living this out myself. I don’t like the author’s use of the word ‘religion’ to describe the Christian’s relationship to Christ, but that is a whole other issue.
    I also like how you emphasize that the author was not trying to be malicious, but was stating what he had seen from observation and derived from his experience.


  3. How true, and sad. It’s frusturating that so many opinions are based on half-educated or from-a-distance analysis. However there is so much power in Joy.

    I was told once that Joy meant JESUS, OTHERS, YOURSELF. I hope i can start to emit joy and not just happiness. Happiness is fleating with the day but joy sustains throughout.


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