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Christine Schanes

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The Joy of Service

Posted: 06/20/09 11:08 AM ET

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.

- Rabindranath Tagore


"Service." The word alone can conjure up a daunting feeling of being responsible for doing something we might not like or want to do. Perhaps, the thought of having to do "community service" is overwhelming. Please read on, you may be surprised.

The word "service" has many uses. Dictionary.com finds that "service" can be used as a noun, "an act of helpful activity;" it can be used as an adjective, "of service, useful;" it can be used as a verb, "to make fit for use;" and it's even employed in idioms, "at someone's service" and "be of service." And, of course, we use the word "service" to describe those people who defend this country in "military service."

Where can we serve? We can serve in our own family by simply sharing our love. We can serve those in our own neighborhoods through acts of kindness and compassion. We can serve individually or together at every level of our culture. Obviously, all of us, regardless of age, can serve.

Is service helpful? Service is always helpful. Through service, by definition, we help. However, scientific research studies also have shown that when we serve our immune systems can actually get stronger. Who wouldn't want a stronger immune system?

Further, when we serve, we exercise our better inclinations and attitudes. We know that "practice makes perfect." So, as we serve, it becomes more natural for us to serve. Through repetition, service becomes more familiar and easier to do. In very short order, service can become a habit, a way of life.

Can you imagine what the world would look like if we all had the "service habit?" Compassionate acts would be everywhere. Rather than greed, we might exhibit understanding and kindness as the first response many of us have to life situations.

Perhaps most profoundly, whether we are conscious of this or not, every act of service has a spiritual quality. It is through service that we acknowledge through action that we are brothers and sisters to one another and that we share a common home, planet Earth.

I believe that this spiritual quality is expressed within each of us as joy. It is this joy that Rabindranath Tagore refers to in the above quote. I call this "the joy response."

Please test your "joy response" by taking the following steps:

1. Reflect on your present mood. Notice if you are happy, sad or bored.

2. Do something to help another person or a cause.

3. Reflect on your mood after your service. I'm betting you will be feeling joy. You may even be smiling.

If you have never felt "the joy response," I can tell you that this automatic reaction within each of us is a pure expression of love. Because we automatically give ourselves "the joy response," we really don't need to get a "Thank you" from those to whom we do service. Through "the joy response," we give ourselves our own thanks!

Perhaps, I can provide an example of "the joy response." Occasionally, a young person who is working with our organization, Children Helping Poor and Homeless People (www.chphp.com), has shared their feelings that arose when they shared food with a homeless person, but to their dismay, the homeless person did not say, "Thank you" for the gift of food.

"That's an easy one to explain," I say.

I ask the young person whether he or she lived in a home, if they slept in a bed and if they had a television.

"Yes, yes and yes," they respond.

"So, let me understand," I would say. "You have a home, a bed and a television while the homeless person probably has none of these things. And you expect the homeless person to thank you for the hamburger."

"Hmm. But wait," I continue, "how did you feel when you gave the hamburger to the homeless person?"

Without exception, the young person always says, "I felt great!"

That's the "joy response." That's the "Thank you" that we give ourselves for an act of service. You see, we're always thanked for our service.