185,000 members spread Joygerms worldwide

Joygerm Joan with Joygerm Joseph

In one of its first editions many years ago, The Joyful Noiseletter featured an article about a lively new organization called Joygerms, started in Syracuse, NY, by a kindred spirit who called herself "Joygerm Joan."

Joygerms Unlimited, which was founded in 1981, has grown to an organization of 185,000 members worldwide, and its founder, the unsinkable Joygerm Joan White is now 87 and still spreading joygerms and bursting with good humor and one-liners.

Joygerms is an informal club whose members attempt to spread goodwill and joy everywhere. Joygerms, Joan says, still "has no meetings – just friendly greetings; no dues – just do kind acts."

White got the idea for Joygerms while working at her Syracuse advertising and public relations firm, Joan of Art. "It was born of a need to counteract the negativity of our times," she said.

Members of Joygerms plan parades and entertain at hospitals, nursing homes, schools, or any place where people are depressed. Some members are practicing clowns.

Membership is open to anyone (of all ages) who wants to join. New members get a free membership card, a "hug coupon, entitling the bearer to be a sharer in the happy art of hugging," and a Joygerm Smile Certificate, and a tongue depressor with the imprint, "The only thing Joygerms allow to get depressed is their tongue."

"Joygerms believes there is only one race – the human race," Joan says. "We promote the reawakening of the need to fill yourself to the brim with kindness, courtesy, self-respect, responsibility, encouragement, and civility." They also promote "elder respect."

"Why," Joan asks, "do we name and claim that doting demon depression as our bosom buddy? Why does doom and gloom gloat and pivot on wheels of power? Why do we sour so easily and scour the scene for deep holes in which to bury ourselves alive? What keeps us from traveling the road of joy? Why can't we allow 'merry wisdom' to marinate our mirth? Why can't our journey be more jovial? I choose to make a joyful noise."

Faith is a common ground among Joygerms. "My Christian faith is important to me," says Joan. "I'm strongly connected with my church and the people in it."

She is an ecumenical Christian with great respect for other faith traditions. Joan cherishes this quote she recently read in the writings of the Christian Richard Rohr: "Many people of other faiths, like Sufi (I love Rumi, Tagore and Hazif), Jewish prophets, many philosophers and Hindu mystics have lived in the light of the Divine encounter better than many Christians... and why would a God worthy of the name God not care about all of God's children?"

"Joygerms," says Joan, "are hoping that a new generation will be channeling cheer, politicking in politeness, and drinking from the well of reverence, awe and wonder."

A few critics called Joygerms "a cult." Joan responded by saying, "Yes, it's a cult. We cultivate kindness and joy and cheer."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health establishment has been declaring that depression is now widespread, and psychiatrists and psychologists have been making a fortune treating these people.

But not long ago, after reviewing the results of myriad psycho-therapeutic techniques, two professors of psychology concluded that nonprofessionals are just as effective, or more effective, at helping depressed mental patients as are professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.

Writing in Psychological Science, Andrew Christensen, professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Ned Jacobsen, professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, noted that no one in the mental health establishment is eager to fund a study comparing professional therapy with nonprofessional therapy.

"For years," said Joan, "I have longed for a call from the Centers for Disease Control informing me that 'doom and gloom' is on the demise and Joygerm fever is on the rise. But no calls to date."

The rise of lay healers

If they ever get the courage to do it, why not study and report on the very inexpensive ways that the laypeople of Joygerms and the subscribers to The Joyful Noiseletter help people with depression?

The news media are endlessly and uncritically promoting the high-priced therapies of the mental health establishment, but totally ignore the many inexpensive ways that common folks and nonprofessionals help other folks.

Joygerm Joan has been a longtime subscriber to The Joyful Noiseletter. After she read the articles on "The Decline of American Journalism" in the Sept.-Oct. and Nov.-Dec. JN's, she wrote that the articles were "spot-on." Joygerms have also been "totally ignored by the modern news media. I join JN in mourning the loss of good journalism. I can remember back when we had great respect for journalists, based on honest, truthful, and factual reporting. Such a great loss!"

Joygerm Joan has joined JN's board of consulting editors.

For more information or to join Joygerms, email Joygerms@gmail.com or call 315-472-2779.

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