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The Secret to Happiness

Joy in anxious times

by Ketan Alder

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider how joy can help us to connect with others and the world.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. Ask the students, ‘What is joy?’

    Listen to a range of responses, or pause to allow the students to discuss the question in small groups.

  2. Many of us think that joy is a thing to be possessed: that we have or had joy, and then it’s gone. It’s as if joy were a bag of crisps: after we’ve eaten them, the crisps have gone until the next time.

  3. However, what if we thought of joy as being more like a skill, something that we have to work at to gain its great rewards?

    If we did consider it that way, joy would be a very unfashionable skill these days. Instead, gloominess, anxiety and stress are far easier to come by.

    For example, we might hear people saying gloomily, ‘Don’t you know about the homework? What about that test? Did you hear what that person has done now? How am I ever going to fit in?’

  4. Sometimes, it seems that we are too busy for joy. Instead, we are angry, irritable or tired because we’re having trouble sleeping, or worrying about eating too much or not enough. Maybe we feel under pressure because of big changes in our lives.

    All of these things are real. But, for a moment, let’s take time to focus on joy. In particular, let’s focus on how joy breaks the rules and bursts our expectations.

  5. Ask the students, ‘Where can you find joy in your lives?’

    Pause to allow time for a short discussion.

  6. Many things make us joyful. Maybe we’ve been praised by someone for getting something done, or doing well when we last played sports. Perhaps it was when we tried something new. It might be when we realized our own strengths and felt good about ourselves. We could also have felt joyful through something that we did with our friends, like taking photos together or talking about things that we’ve enjoyed, whether it’s movies, milkshakes or music.

  7. We might notice that many of these things are things that we work at. For example, giving and receiving praise and positive attention; living healthy lifestyles; doing different activities; working towards and achieving our goals; and making friendships.

  8. It might be hard to recognize this, but there’s nothing wrong with celebrating what makes us joyful. Let’s not push it away – instead, let’s embrace it!

  9. Most of all, let’s remember that we can be grateful for our joy while also wanting joy for others. These two actions can co-exist. We aren’t reducing the importance of other people’s joy because we are thankful for our own.

    In fact, embracing our lives, with their mixture of joy and stress, shows maturity and compassion. This is because things that make us joyful aren’t magic anti-stress pills, but they do point to a path beyond anxiety.

Time for reflection

One place that we can find another example of joy is the song of Mary, mother of Jesus. The song appears in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, when Mary, a young, pregnant Jewish teenager, isn’t sure what the future holds for her. She sings, ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant . . . He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things.’

Songs like this were often performances that involved drums and dance, with the singers demonstrating joy in the here and now. Mary’s song cheers the heart: it isn’t about waiting patiently for joy some time in the future; it is a joyful celebration in the now, and she invites us all.

Feeling joyful isn’t about waiting for joy to come to us; it requires action. It means doing and sharing all the things that bring us joy, and helping others to get that too. Joy is one of the most sacred things about being alive. Joy to us all!

To end, let’s spend a brief time in reflection. First, let’s breathe out and, as we do this, release any anxiety that we might feel about difficult things. Then, let’s visualize things that bring us joy, and try to think about one thing that we can do that will bring joy today.

Prayer (by Janet Morley)
May the God who dances in creation,
who embraces us with human love,
who shakes our lives like thunder,
bless us and drive us out with power
to fill the world with her justice.


‘It’s a beautiful day’ by Michael Bublé, available at: (3.19 minutes long)

Publication date: April 2024   (Vol.26 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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