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The Joy Manifesto: Part II

10/02/2013 11:13 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • MeiMei Fox New York Times bestselling author, speaker, life coach

This manifesto has been a long time coming. So long, in fact, that it comes in two installments. You can find part one here.

Joy is a choice! We can tap into it every single day. It is always accessible, even if just for an instant. Go on, fill your cloudy skies with a rainbow.

Join me in declaring yourself a Champion of Joy! We, the upholders of the Joy Manifesto, promote, practice, and prescribe to the following recipe for a more fulfilling, happy, positive existence:

5. Living Is Better When You're Giving

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My inspirational friend Kate Atwood founded Kate's Club when she was still in college. The non-profit creates a healing space for kids who have lost one or more parents. Ever the pioneer, she has now set her sights on getting young people not just volunteering on occasion, but rather integrating service into their everyday lives. She calls the movement "Living by Giving." I love this idea.

Service is a critical way to tap into joy. Psychological research shows that people who volunteer lead longer, healthier lives. They actually experience fewer aches and pains (try working at a soup kitchen the next time you have a headache?). In fact, the experts say that serving others has as powerful a positive impact on our well being as regular exercise, going to church, and quitting smoking.

While on a trip to Uganda this past August, making short films for UgandaProject so that a small group of amazing students like Kenny Lule can go to school for another year, my husband Kiran Ramchandran and I were reminded of what a blessing it is to serve others. For 17 days, our focus was on working hard to make these young people's lives even better by sharing their stories and raising money.

During long, often challenging days of shooting and editing, as well as spending hours talking with the students, I lost track of concerns that often wake me up in the middle of the night when I'm back home. Thanks to these volunteer efforts, today I feel stronger, healthier, and more connected than ever to my husband, who was always by my side. I also have an extraordinary new Ugandan "family." There is no question that my service to them also resulted in their service -- a most joyful gift of friendship -- to me.

Let's make service a habit, joining in Kate's movement. Being a Joy Champion is not just about volunteering; it's about Living by Giving.

6. You Can't Overdose on Prayer

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Sure, we have control over many aspects of our life. We can set goals and work hard to achieve them. But I have come to realize that one of the most important ways in which we can manage our happiness is by controlling our attitude. I make an effort to appreciate my blessings every day, accepting -- even and especially when I miss out on getting or achieving something I desire -- that life is still wonderful.

I have witnessed, time and again, how much happier people tend to be when they accept their lack of control over much of their life circumstances and practice having faith. That's why #40 on my list of 40 Ways to Find Joy in Your Everyday Life is: "Surrender, give it up to God." It took me a decade of hard knocks to learn this lesson: I'm actually not in charge of much aside from my attitude. As Irving Berlin put it, "Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it."

In Uganda, where HIV infection is widespread and many of UgandaProject's students have lost one or both parents to AIDS, I saw faith in action. Those we were sharing our time with had little by Western standards -- none could have afforded school tuition without joining UP. Yet their belief in God and His goodness was immense, contagious, and profoundly joyful. It truly inspired me.

I was deeply touched one afternoon when one of our fellow volunteers shared a conversation that she'd had with UgandaProject student Edith. The American had been expressing her concerns about finances and finding true love. Edith replied simply, "You can't overdose on prayer."

So, Joy Champions, let us pray. It's all spelled out for us in the Serenity Prayer, recited during AA meetings: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can't change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

7. Fear Less, Love More

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There are so many meanings to this mantra, which I have cultivated over the course of the past decade. Fearing less doesn't mean being fearless. Fear evolved in order to protect us from man-eating tigers and poisonous snakes, giving us a much-needed burst of adrenaline to save our lives when sprinting from a predator or natural disaster.

And yet, our modern Western society trains us to live in a state of fear. Whether it's terrorism or the imminent collapse of our economy or the threat of China's success or our own excess fat and ever-increasing wrinkles, we're conned into worrying all the time about what will "get us" -- now that tigers and snakes are not usually a threat.

When we "fear less," we resolve to be courageous in confronting that which intimidates us -- whether that's speaking in front of a crowd, traveling to Africa, or starting a new business. We also resolve to share our vulnerabilities. Rather than offering up a plastic mask of perfection and talking about how terrific our lives are, we recognize that being real, sincerely expressing our frustrations and challenges as well as our triumphs, helps us to connect authentically with others.

And once we've let down the guard, the huffpuffery and blustering tales of our greatness; once we've opened our hearts to allow the pain to come seeping out; once we've taken hold of the hand of our friend, our mother, our son, our lover, our coworker, a homeless man on the street, and said, "I see you. I appreciate you. Just as you are." Well, then and only then, can we truly say that we "love more."

Joy Champions, it's all about love in the end. The great spiritual leaders of every culture and time period have known this to be true -- Jesus, Buddha, Rumi, Thoreau, and Oprah, among so many others. Love is the key to joy. Love is the key to life. So when in doubt, forget all the rules, the seven- or nine- or 50-point lists, the how-to guides and the self-help books, the therapeutic techniques, the TED talks, the recipes and formulas... and just love.

Photos by: Kiran Ramchandran

For more by MeiMei Fox, click here.

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