On the day after the covenant for the Avonside Mission Area was signed, a dozen delegates for the Happiness Laboratory met for their first session in the Tithe Barn in Shirehampton.
They had answered an invitation in the local newspaper, or been personally invited by members of St Marys congregation, to an exploratory drop-in session one Saturday morning in which they had watched a promotional video and chosen to sign up for the course.
Revd Helen Johnson, Priest in Charge at St Mary's, said: I was surprised by the strong response. We had clearly identified a pressing need which people were prepared to do something about. Many of them had no connection with our church, and they stayed with us for all of the sessions.
The course consists of six group sessions covering:
- Savouring and gratitude
- Acts of kindness
- Friends and family
- Body and soul
- Resilience and coping strategies.
Delegates are invited to do social experiments related to these topics during the intervening weeks, in order to find out what works for them and thereby increase their happiness. At the start of each session, delegates discuss how they got on during the week. This is followed by input from a DVD, which follows a group of delegates from Lydney and shows their reactions to expert input from GPs, psychologists, psychotherapists and faith leaders (including Rt Revd Martin Snow, Bishop of Leicester). Delegates then explore their reactions and their own approach to the issues raised, and plan how they will respond in the weeks ahead.
At the end of the course, delegates were asked: 'What were the benefits of the course for you?'
- Time and space to consider what is important and helpful in life
- Savouring moments by slowing down
- Tips about resilience
- Looking at life differently with a more positive outlook.
- Helping with bad thoughts and giving peace
- Reminded me that happiness needs to be worked at
- More belief in myself
At the final session, delegates were encouraged to continue their experimentation and invited to follow-up courses in Shirehampton.
Rev Ian Bailey, who led the course with Helen, added: This zone between un-churched and occasional-attenders is something we are wrestling with at the moment in Shirehampton and in the wider Mission Area.
"The Happiness Laboratory is excellent material to bridge this gap in a non-churchy way. It pre-supposes nothing about the delegates worldview, understanding or beliefs: it really does start wherever they are. It aims to help delegates appreciate that they are 'spiritual beings in a material universe'.
"Shirehampton will run follow-up courses to build from that, ultimately to finding faith as we know it. The Happiness Lab has proved to be very popular among its target audience and we have a waiting list for the next one in 2018.
To find out more, visit The Ugly Duckling Company website or watch the promo below.
All costs of the course were met by sponsorship.