In his memoir entitled An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America, Andrew Young tells a story about what happened on that fateful day of April 4,1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Mr. Young says that he had spent hours in a Memphis Tennessee court, negotiating to remove the federal restraining order temporarily halting a march in support of that city’s garbage workers’ strike. By the end of it, he was exhausted. He dragged himself back to where he was staying, at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy were also. He was hoping for a little peace and quiet. He opened the door to the room, walked in, and he found himself right in the flurry of a pillow fight. Pillows flying–that’s what he walked right into, face first. Forget about peace and quiet. 

And guess who was the instigator? 

The same man who would be dead only hours later. Dr. King. 

I just can’t imagine the weight of what that great man carried on his shoulders. The weight of the hopes of millions of people. The weight of the threats that he and his family endured constantly. The weight on his shoulders. 

So the fact that Dr. King could enjoy a moment of extreme silliness at all, never mind a moment of silliness on the very last day of his life: that, to me, is a happy fact. No one can survive the heaviness of serious responsibility without some lightness to balance things out. The world needs saving, but it also needs savoring. Perhaps it was exactly such silly stuff as pillow fights that helped Dr. King bear up under it all. Pillow fights as part of the work of social justice, too. 

Now wouldn’t that be something…. 

Life is joy and woe woven fine, and there is no enduring the woe, without the joy. “Everything,” says poet Naomi Shihab Nye, 

has a life of its own,

it too could wake up filled with possibilities

of coffee cake and ripe peaches,

and to love even the floor which needs to be swept,

the soiled linens and scratched records…

and that’s what happiness can do for us, allow things which seem hopeless to wake up, allow our very own hearts which sleep and suffer nightmares to wake up. To wake up filled with possibilities, to love even floors which need to be swept. 

Creation, they say, is heaven; maintenance hell. So, to love floors which need to be swept, or tubs which need to be scrubbed, or cars which need the oil changed, or grass which needs to be mowed, and on and on—to love these? 

That’s saying a lot. 

Even so—it is difficult to know what to do with happiness. The Persian mystic Hafiz says that happiness runs through the streets trying to find us, but the truth of the situation is, we can be hard to find. And it’s more than a matter of having a glass half-empty personality. It’s the human condition. Evolution has wired our nervous systems so that our bodies would have the best chance of surviving a dangerous world: we are therefore primed to look for and react to threats, to even the hint of harm. Scientists have even shown that neural pathways which convey threats are far quicker than the ones that convey positive things. In our bodies, bad news literally runs faster than good! That’s why we need to hear eight positive statements to balance out one that is negative. That’s why arguments which start up harshly end harshly. Happiness has to work harder and run faster to find us. 

So it comes as yet another happy fact that our brains are plastic. The brain is changed by what we give our attention to. Not any old idea that floats into our field of awareness, but what we repeatedly choose to focus on, nurture, hold on to, harbor. Meditate on compassion, for example, and regions of the brain which support that are shown to get larger, expand, develop stronger connections. We are just not victims of our biology. We can learn to know what to do with happiness. 

Happiness floats, says the poet; and we can learn to tolerate this unnerving floating sensation, we can learn to go with it as it 

lands on the roof of the next house, singing,

and disappears when it wants to. 

[We] are happy either way. 

Without further ado, consider this sermon an addition to the long list of experiments in neuroplasticity. Or better yet, consider it a way of shedding light on what the French Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Part of the human experience is to feel resistance to happiness but to soften that resistance, to learn eventually the spiritual art of how to hold a beautiful thing that floats and cannot be contained….

In no particular order: happiest facts of all time (and remember—we’ve already heard two such happiest facts, the one about Dr. King and the one about neuroplasticity!) So we continue. Here we go:

Somewhere, a baby has just discovered bubbles for the first time. 

Let happiness find you

Some window washers at children’s hospitals surprise the kids by working while wearing a superhero costume. The kids see Spiderman cleaning their window, or Wonderwoman! 

Happiness 

No matter how long you live there will always be amazing new food for you to try. 

Happiness

Otters hold hands when sleeping so they don’t drift away from each other.

Let happiness find you

Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, promised his daughter he’d do something special for her that no other little girl would have: he’d write her initials on the Moon. After he parked the Lunar Rover for the last time and headed back to the Lunar Module, he took his sample excavator and wrote “TDC” next to the Rover. His daughter’s initials are still there today, and will probably last 50,000 years. 

Are you feeling it? The part of your brain that supports happiness? Has happiness found you yet? 

Check this out: 

A group of flamingos is called a flamboyance.

A group of pugs is called a grumble.

A group of ferrets is called a business of ferrets

A group of unicorns is called a blessing.

A group of in-laws leaving the house may also be called a blessing. (I made this last one up.)

I never said happiest facts needed to be all big and profound. Sometimes it’s just like waking up and you are soo sleepy and you think you have to get up but you look at the clock and realize you have a couple more good hours of sleep left and you just dive right back in and it’s all ahhhh! Sometimes it’s just like that. 

Wayne Allwine (the voice of Mickey Mouse) and Russi Taylor (the voice of Minnie Mouse) were married in real life.

Happiness

Humans laugh before they know how to speak. Laughter is primal.

Happiness

Cuddling and other “love actions” release oxytocin which helps speed healing and recovery from physical wounds.

Let happiness find you

Somewhere, someone is having the best day of their life…

Are you floating yet? Happiness floats, just like the poet says, 

It doesn’t need you to hold it down.

It doesn’t need anything.

Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,

And disappears when it wants to.

You are happy either way.

Seeing somebody else smile actually makes you feel better, because that’s the way our brains are wired. We are wired to mirror each other. Your smile heals me. My smile heals you. 

Happiness

Cows have best friends. They do. If a cow is having a bad day she can just sidle up to her best buddy and feel better.

Happiness. 

Penguins only have one mate their entire life. They “propose” by giving their mate the best pebble they can find.

Let happiness find you. 

Here’s a happiest fact from Unitarian Universalist history. Hosea Ballou, considered one of the most influential 19th century Universalist preachers, coined a new word, “happify,” because he wanted people to wrap their minds around a key insight of Universalism, that God made our nature to be such that doing good deeply and lastingly satisfies us. That in acts of love and service, we realize the truest depths of who we are. 

This is an original vision of what it means to be authentic. Authenticity is not so much about being different from everyone else as it is about finding your unique way to be of service in the world. (20th century writer Frederick Buechner puts it like this: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”)

Find that place, and you are happified. 

Once, as a boy, right out of the blue, Hosea Ballou asked his father (who happened to be a Baptist preacher and believed in hellfire and damnation with his whole heart), “Suppose I had the skill and power to make out of an inanimate substance an animate thing, and did make one, at the same time knowing that this creature of mine would suffer everlasting misery [in life and after death] – would my act of creating this creature be an act of goodness?” 

How do you think his Baptist father fielded that one? It shook him to the core and he said nothing. 

The fact that we have people in our history like Hosea Ballou: it’s happifying!

But there’s more!

Dateline: DUBLIN, Ireland, May 5, 2020 — More than 170 years ago, the Choctaw Nation sent $170 to starving Irish families during the potato famine. […] Now hundreds of Irish people are repaying that old kindness, giving to a charity drive for two Native American tribes suffering in the Covid-19 pandemic. As of Tuesday, the fund-raiser has raised more than $1.8 million to help supply clean water, food and health supplies to people in the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation, with hundreds of thousands of dollars coming from Irish donors, according to the organizers.

Many donors cited the generosity of the Choctaws, noting that the gift came not long after the United States government forcibly relocated the tribe and several other American Indian groups from the Southeastern United States, a march across thousands of miles known as the Trail of Tears that left thousands of people dead along the way.

“I’d already known what the Choctaw did in the famine, so short a time after they’d been through the Trail of Tears,” Sean Callahan, 43, an Apple administrator in Cork City who made a donation, said on Tuesday. “It always struck me for its kindness and generosity and I see that too in the Irish people. It seemed the right time to try and pay it back in kind.”

Happiness

Happiness

It takes seventeen muscles to smile and forty-three to frown.

Happiness

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We’re all made of stardust.

Let happiness find you

Big picture, the world is actually getting better, compared to the past. Globally-speaking, we now have less crime, a lower death rate, and a longer life expectancy than ever in all of human history…. 

Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,

And disappears when it wants to.

You are happy either way.

We can of course debate whether some of what I’ve shared are truly the happiest facts of all time. Maybe, maybe not. But with each fact, hopefully you felt lighter than before, you felt the floating sensation of the happiness that has been running through the streets looking for you, the happiness that is your brother and sister and sibling and has been missing you.

Yes, evolution has primed us to look for and react to threats. Yes, in our bodies, bad news literally runs faster than good. But our brains are plastic. Our brains can be changed by what we give our attention to. Happiness floats, and we can learn to tolerate this unnerving sensation…. 

Why did God create us? 

Hosea Ballou’s answer is because God thought we might like it. 

How did Dr. King bear up under his mighty justice struggle? 

Because sometimes he went full-on silly with pillow fights. 

None of us knows when the end is coming for us.

None of us knows. 

So don’t wait. Let happiness find you, let it hold your hand. 

Know what it’s like to float in a world that can sometimes feel so heavy.