What 'Chewbacca Mom' 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? It’s you.