“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Tolstoy (in Anna Karenina)

I was reading the Times and Seasons post titled “Get Me A New Home Teacher”, with the associated comments (particularly ones that dealt with testimony meetings and hometeaching), and the line above came to mind, except the thought was worded “Happy wards are all alike, every unhappy ward is unhappy in its own way.”

What makes a group of people happy together?  What makes a group of people unhappy?  Is there a such thing as the happy ward?  Is there a such thing as the unhappy ward?  I find myself pondering the idea that every ward/congregation participates in the same programs (that include, as the linked post mentions, hometeaching and testimony meeting) – and yet the experiences people have with these and other aspects of church culture can be very satisfying or very dissatisfying.  What makes the difference?  A wonderful home teacher?  A loving bishop?  A few great friends?  Spiritual testimony meetings?  Just some or all of the above?  What are the essential factors that make the difference?

I’ve felt variations of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in wards I’ve been in during my life.  Some wards made me feel like celebrating.  I loved belonging to those wards and usually felt that others were also very enthusiastic about belonging to those wards.  In other wards, I felt less enthused and often felt that others in the ward were also less than enthusiastic.

It is interesting to see how much a particular ward can impact happiness in my family – and yet it seems that to a great degree, the ingredients that make a group of people come together are not(?) really in our control(?).  Of course there is the argument that each person has the ability to shape his/her experience.  Yet it does seem to me that it is easier to be happy in some wards than in others and that I have to try harder in some wards than in others.  Trying to be happy or trying to feel the spirit is usually a sign that there is a problem or an impediment of some sort that is preventing the natural spontaneity of rejoicing or of feeling edified.

But how much is this is a subjective experience?  How possible is it that one person in a ward is thrilled to be there while the person sitting next to him/her is miserable?  It seems to me that this is entirely possible and in fact is even probable.  I’m sure if it was possible for a person to read the minds/hearts of all those sitting in any congregation, that people of both categories would be present.  Then there is the middle ground.  There is always a group of people who are completely apathetic.  Certainly ever ward I have been in has a a group of ‘inactives’ – people who do not attend regularly or at all.

Still, while recognizing these realities, it does not seem to me that the idea of a happy ward is completely illusory.  I do feel that some wards are ‘happier’ than others and that the difference can be tangible in our lives. So again I have to ask, what makes the difference?

I should add that we really love our current ward.