(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
And now, my children, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Happy is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord;
but those who miss me injure themselves;
It all sort of started when Forbes had a recent article about "The ten happiest jobs and the ten most unhappy jobs."
In this article, clergy were listed as #1 in terms of "the ten happiest jobs." I posted (rather tongue in cheek) on Facebook that I was sure my clergy friends were snorting liquids all over their computer screen after seeing that.
I did not expect the variety of directions the comments ran.
Predictably, several clergy and clergy spouses jumped in to affirm how happy they were. (Hmmm. The speed and emphatic-ness of that makes me wonder if a little guilt in being unhappy now and then weren't involved. Probably the most realistic clergy answer I got was "I think with lots of clergy, you'll find high job satisfaction in a job that makes them crazy"--which, I'd say, is true in many of the "helping professions.") Another person pointed out many of the "happiest" ones were in "helping professions," and that helping others seemed more important than money. Another person tag-teamed that the "unhappiest" ones were very well paying, but had feelings of worthlessness attached to them. Someone else pointed out that several of the "happy" jobs also, paradoxically, carried low pay and increased risk of alcoholism. Still another raised the question of whether "happy" was really happy, but, rather, "content."
Now, in reality, I think most of the clergy I know are relatively happy. Oh, I think there's some "situational unhappiness" out there, and I think there are good days and bad days for them, but I raised the question, "How much of the "happy" is the job, and how much is the person?" I think there's a certain commensal relationship in the helping professions there. People who feel that what they do has value, will be happy about that even when they are not happy at the moment. (For instance, I don't think vestry meetings are a favorite clergy activity--and in contrast, I would be really concerned about a clergy person who was unhappy presiding over the Eucharist.) I certainly see that in medicine. I love what I do and I love that I am serving in an under-served location--but I can spit nails at the insurance companies and go medieval on them in a heartbeat.
What it seems is that knowing oneself and giving to others is a positive combination, no matter what one's vocation. If there is one advantage clergy have on the happiness track, I believe it is the heavy emphasis placed in various forms of discernment throughout the process towards ordination, and the carry-over from that is that they tend to be life-long "discerners." Oh, it's not that any of us can't do that, but it is not inherently built into the process. Most secular vocations involve goals to a much greater degree. But the amount of "know thyself" that happens in the process is staggering compared to most other vocations. I can't recall a single time in my process of medical school and residency that ever addressed my feelings about being a physician.
I think the bit I posted above from Proverbs sums it up nicely. Happiness is about hearing God's call for our lives, and that call extends far beyond calls to ordained ministry.