Many of us grew up in the era of the comic strip character Snoopy, the beagle from Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. He always referred to the various ways we could achieve happiness – Happiness is…… a warm blanket or a sunny day but he also pointed to the importance of having friends that care. The Peanuts gang was made up of individual characters, each with their own personalities and talents, but through it all they were always there for each other. Many of us are fortunate to have friends who there for us in good times and in bad.
With our troubled past and a plethora of bad news every day, we could be forgiven for thinking that in Northern Ireland we live in an unhappy country. However, October’s 2022 Office of National Statistics (ONS) highlighted the long-standing question of why despite all that is wrong here, Northern Ireland consistently ranks as the UK’s happiest region. Newry and Mourne is also one of the highest scoring regions so why are we far happier than London, Birmingham or Newcastle.
People here apparently feel more worthwhile and many rank the amount of green space as the number one factor influencing their personal happiness. We are indeed fortunate to have the wonderful landscape of the Mourne Mountains and Carlingford Lough on our doorstep. Upkeep of the local area and having good neighbours are also ranked as top three reasons for our happiness so for most of us that sense of community and civic pride are part of our sense of wellbeing and identity. This national wellbeing index was one of Prime Minister David Cameron’s flagship policies when he entered Downing Street saying, ‘It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing’.
However, one issue not well explored by the survey is the part religion plays in the resilience of a society that has had its fair share of knocks. Religious practice here is still higher than other parts of the UK and Ireland. Whilst church attendance may have dropped, God still plays a part in our lives both in the receiving of sacraments and in daily Christian practices in our family life. Maybe this also counts for some of our happiness.The lyrics of the popular Salvation Army hymn based on Philippians 4:6 celebrates, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’. One verse spells this out,‘Can we find a friend so faithfulWho will all our sorrows share?Jesus knows our every weaknessTake it to the Lord in prayer’,Here we are reminded that we are not alone and that we always have a friend to turn to in time of need. Jesus is always there for us as our ‘Our Forever Friend’. Many already know this already and it is why our Cathedral has hundreds of visitors each week, people who call in for silent prayer or to light a candle. They know that they are never alone and are happier because of that.