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Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Monday 23rd May 2016

What Chewbacca Mama Teaches Us About Happiness

We were in our hotel room, across the street from the Mayo Clinic.

We had piled into one bed, needing to be close to each other—a quiet way of saying that no matter what happened, we were in this together. Anna’s body was still weary from the effects of anesthesia, which had kept her asleep earlier that day for hours of tests.

Anna rested her head on my shoulder. Scott flipped channels on the hotel room TV. And I scrolled through my Facebook feed.

That’s when I saw it for the first time—the viral video that would eventually blow up the Internet with side-splitting laughter. Numerous Facebook friends had shared the video to their news feeds, and several tagged me because they knew I had taken this terrific dare to cultivate happiness in my life.

So I bit.

I held my iPhone out so Anna and Scott could see, too. If you saw the video—and chances are that you did—you know that the video shows a woman named Candace Payne in the driver seat of her parked car. She has just purchased a mask for herself—not her kids, she’ll have you know—but for her own sweet self.

Candace puts on her brand new talking Chewbacca mask, which she just picked up at Kohl’s. She gets so tickled when she sees herself, that she starts laughing hysterically.

And so did our family, right there in our hotel room.

(Here’s the video, if you haven’t seen it.)

For a solid four minutes on Thursday afternoon, we were caught up in her glorious laughing fit. We felt warm on the inside, tingly, like we’d swallowed a part of a star. We forgot all that was going on around us. For a moment, we forgot why Anna was wearing a red hospital bracelet around her wrist. We forgot that we wouldn’t have answers until tomorrow.

We forgot everything, except for how good it felt to laugh again.

And that’s the way it was for millions of other people, too. All over the world, people forgot their aches, their regrets, their own bad news, this rancorous political cycle that has left all of us feeling weary.

Lately, the world feels like an ugly place, you know? A plane drops out of the sky. A terrorist opens fire. Your friend goes on hospice. Someone you loved walked out the door. You have a distaste for the person you see in the mirror. You can’t kick the habit. No one comes around anymore.

And then suddenly, some mama you don’t even know puts on a silly mask, and we’re all surprised when we find our smiles again.

This is Candace’s great gift to the world: She shows us the durable value of happiness.

Candace Payne didn’t have a clue how contagious her own happiness would be. But her video quickly went viral. It easily became the most watched Facebook Live video of all time. As of this writing, the video has been viewed more than 136 million times, and counting. Candace was simply determined to share, as she put it, “the simple joys in life.”

Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can certainly buy you a Chewbacca mask.

More accurately, happiness isn’t what you can buy at all. The mask was simply a prop to help us see these vitally important truths:

1 – Sometimes, the best way to find happiness is to create it for someone else.

2 – When you share you happiness with someone, it isn’t a happiness divided. It’s happiness multiplied.

3 – Happiness isn’t in things. Happiness isn’t in circumstances. Happiness isn’t in money or status or popularity. Happiness is in you.

Over the past year, I have been on a Happiness Dare, to cultivate and spread happiness. I have intentionally been wringing delight out of ordinary days. And I have been fighting for happiness on the days when it’s hard.

Chewbacca Mama proves that it’s worth the effort. Her joy had a ripple effect that still has the Internet in stitches.

Research has an answer for this. Studies tell us that happiness has a contagious effect. One study showed that if you smile at someone, chances are, they can’t help but smile back.

Another study reveals that happiness can spread through social networks, even if the original happy person is a friend of a friend of a friend, said James Fowler, co-author of the study.

To boil it down: People can actually “catch” our mood. And the mood that people are hungry for most of all? Unbridled happiness.

To Candace Payne, the Internet thanks you. You made our day. You showed us that our joy is recoverable, even on our hardest days. You showed us that it really is the little things. You showed us that when the world feels like a pretty awful place, there is still a lot to smile about. That mask was pretty hilarious, Candace, but the real gift? Is you.

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If you like the post, you’ll love The Happiness Dare, coming to book stores everywhere August 2. Available for preorder now.

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  • Thanks for adding the beautiful truths to accompany this hilarious video!!

    Praying for all of you on this medical journey… Wisdom and insight for her medical team, courage and wisdom for you and Scott and Anna as you sort through and weigh it all… God’s mercy and equipping you all through this journey!

  • Jennifer, you are so right. We have the power to create our own happiness, if we are willing to look hard enough for it. Even more importantly, we are able to create happiness for others, just by spreading a little laughter and joy. I need this reminder sometimes: to “lighten up!” Thank you for giving me that today! Praying for you and your family.

  • Karmen

    I love how you tie this in to your life but more than that, how you are LIVING it! It’s our privilege to be joy filled Christians–let’s do that through FUN and LAUGHTER and WEARING MASKS IN A PARKED CAR AND VIDEOING IT AND THEN BEING JOYFUL ENOUGH TO POST IT ON THE INTERNET. Thanks for this post! Praying for your family.

  • Oh, yes! The happiness we share comes back to us ten-fold and then some, Jennifer! It’s no mistake that laughter is called the best medicine. I’m going to watch Candace right now so I can enjoy a belly-laugh today. Blessings, my friend, and praying for Anna.

  • Nancy Ruegg

    My son told me about Chewbaca Mama, but hadn’t seen the video till you posted it here. Oh my. In no time I was laughing so hard, the happy tears came! Hilarious!! Then I nodded in agreement through your observations and research-reporting about happiness and smiles. You reminded me of a little experiment I did while traveling by plane to and from Texas last month. I gave big smiles and “Hellos” and “Thank yous” to the people in the airport who were cleaning, manning the gift shops, etc. You are right: people responded BIG time! I received smiles in return and some even paused for a bit of friendly conversation. We think folks won’t be interested in interacting with a stranger, but that’s not true. Look how we all responded to Candace!!

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Jennifer, happiness IS contagious….you’ve proved it. Joy is so needed in this world of ours–thanks for sharing about the Chewbacca Mom and for your oh-so-true words here. Rejoicing with you in Anna’s (and yours and Scott’s answers). God is good. All the time.

  • Mary V

    Yes, Happiness is contagious but she spoke of Simple Joy – There is a difference between Happiness and Joy right??

    • Hi Mary,

      You ask a question that is very common. Unfortunately, over the last 100 years, the church has tried to make a clear division between joy and happiness, when really, they are very closely related. They aren’t the same, but they certainly aren’t opposites. I don’t think that anyone could look at Candace Payne and say, with a straight face, “Oh she’s joyful all right. But she’s not happy.” That would be absurd. Candace exuded happiness.

      I spent the first three chapters of my forthcoming book, The Happiness Dare, trying to reclaim that word, “Happiness,” and set it in the proper context, the same context that Jesus used when he gave the sermon on the mount. The word blessed in “blessed are those who …” is makarios. Makarios means blessed, and it also means happy. That’s why many translations of the Bible have Jesus delivering his sermon with these words: “Happy are those who…”

      I hope that helps. This is a very LIMITED response to what took me pages and pages to tell in The Happiness Dare. 🙂

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Sometimes you have to say “no” to the good, in order to save room for the great.