When I lived in New York City after college, I had a friend with whom I spent hours on the phone (remember when people did that?). He fancied himself quite the philosopher — and he was quite the cynic. One of the points we argued endlessly was his insistence that everything a person does, even caring for others, is done for selfish reasons (to perhaps give you a fuller picture of this guy, he is also the reason I finally read Atlas Shrugged). At any rate, I felt strongly that he was wrong and that there were really good people out there who did things just because they wanted to help people, end of story.
Thing is, I think he was right.
Two years ago, I traveled to South Africa with my church and made some wonderful new friends who introduced me to the concept of Ubuntu. Literally translated from Zulu, it means “a person is a person through other people,” but I like the simpler phrase “I am because we are.” We are all part of a profound living network. We need each other to be healthy and happy. And the best way to keep these connections (and therefore, ourselves) healthy is to care for each other.
Recently I’ve been recommending Douglas Abrams’ The Book of Joy to anyone who will listen. It’s a brilliant account of a week-long conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Book of Joy discusses extensive scientific evidence that living beings thrive in community. Furthermore, researchers have found that even thinking about generosity can cause the body to increase production of an antibody protein used by the immune system. And a meta-analysis has produced evidence that volunteering reduces the risk of death by 24 percent! The book is full of incredible wisdom and real strategies for finding joy in your own life.
Which gets me to my point (finally!) and why I’m so enthusiastic about writing with the CK Tribe. I have so much respect for Courtney’s approach to total wellness; from the moment she came to my office over a year ago to tell me about her vision, I was really excited to help her bring it to life. And total wellness includes the benefits one can derive from community engagement and caring for others. As Abrams points out, it’s a “virtuous cycle”: the more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more joy we can bring to others. While I am all for retail therapy or a Reese’s Pieces sundae at Friendly’s (the one with 5 scoops of ice cream, not the little parfait) when I am feeling a bit blue, these are usually short term solutions. Very few things bring me more lasting joy and hope than learning about how others are making the world a better place.
Each of my posts will feature an organization, group or individual doing something special to make their community and/or the world a little bit better. For those readers who are already flat out just trying to get dinner on the table and the kids dressed appropriately (anyone else have a child who is unwilling to wear a winter coat to school even when it’s 7 degrees outside?), hopefully just reading about the cool things these people are doing will bring you joy (a little “joy hit”). For those who want to do a little more, I’ll also include relevant info about how you can “up” your joy factor further by patronizing, donating or volunteering.
So go ahead, be selfish — it’s good for you!