09/25/2014 09:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

3 Roads to Joy: 5 Questions to Start the Journey Now

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Life is about giving. And giving is about joy.

Unlimited, responsive, productive joy.

Here are three roads that can help get us there.


"Genuine appreciation depends on truthful observation of the world. Such appreciation often multiplies the impact of the beautiful, the serendipitous and the tender things in life. Witness the sun rising -- the tranquil glory of the experience is likely to stay with you all day, bringing joy each time you recall it or share it with a friend. "

But life can be hard, you say.

Giving can be complicated, frustrating, ineffective. Generosity of spirit can go unrequited.

I agree.

I've definitely heard that negative voice that pretends to command reality. "The system's rigged," "they won't listen," "it's impossible," and "it doesn't matter what you do." This voice says it will protect me from disappointment, but really it only offers only one guarantee -- that I will lack joy because I am living according to a script that forbids it.

So how do I silence the killjoy voice?

No complicated strategy. I just try to acknowledge and accept the negative experience and then let it go. This "catch-and-release" of the negative can open my mind as well as my options.

"Catch-and-release" definitely works when you are giving. Even major philanthropists practice this approach. They call it impact evaluation, which means taking stock to understand what happened and learning from your mistakes.

Think about it. Epiphanies are not just things that happen to characters in short stories, they can illuminate everyday experience. The crisis that had me by the neck yesterday -- honestly confronted -- becomes a new awareness that can lead to lightness, adaptability and joy.


"Happiness is made of forgiveness, gratitude, kindness and love -- all things that must be given." -- Mpofu's Grandmother's Loving Lessons

One of the most direct paths to embracing joy is through generosity. And philanthropy offers many avenues to this kind of deep delight. But gifts needn't be material or come attached to naming opportunities. Volunteering. Listening. Friendship. Companionship. Compassion. The list of personal, non-financial giving is long.

Giving thanks is my favorite.

Of course, any kind of generosity can create a new relationship or a new dimension to an existing relationship. Giving is the most primal form of community. And joy thrives in benevolent company.


It seems counter-intuitive to practice joy. Joy seems to move like a hummingbird, flitting where it will, bringing delight and then disappearing. Can we control the hummingbird? Doubtful. When we try, we usually just chase it away. Yet, in my life, practice often grows the flowers that attract the hummingbird.

I've learned two things about this kind of practice:

  • Joy springs naturally from commitment and the regular affirmation of values like respect, kindness and appreciation. Many philanthropies also have their roots in such values.
  • Daily focusing of the spirit, heart, mind and body allows me (limited self that I am) to connect to love and light (limitless energy that pervades everything). Think of this as spiritual collective impact.

You'd be surprised how quickly you can find your groove. You just need a helpful pattern to support it. A joy practice. Imagine your lunchtime yoga. Or your early morning walk or run. Effort is very much like that. Routine and rhythm can be the gateway to spiritual connection and revelation. Some people pray. Some people meditate. Some people go cycling or skiing. There is no prescription. I drink coffee.


I love java and the ritual of making it. In recent months, I have found myself stepping outside with the freshly-brewed coffee and taking a moment to give thanks. I find it natural to thank the coffee growers and harvesters, to thank the coffee trees and the sun and the soil and the rain that help the coffee berries grow and ripen, to thank our ancient ancestors who first discovered the wonderful coffee bean and cultivated the trees. I find it natural to thank the roasters and the retailer. To thank Mother Nature for the curling wisps of steam as they rise and billow in strings of tiny water droplets. And of course, to thank God. I say my thanks aloud and then I take the first sip.

It takes only a few minutes and it combines the three elements I've mentioned above -- appreciation, practice and (if I'm making the coffee for a friend) giving. All that and I get a coffee -- no wonder I feel joyful.

I want to leave you with some questions.

The idea is to get you thinking about your life and your philanthropy - to consider how you may experience, share and generate joy regularly and with immediacy.

  • What can you do in the next 30 minutes that will bring you in greater alignment with your heart-truth?
  • What can you let go right now to enhance your experience of joy?
  • What can you do or say right now to generate joy?
  • Who can you contact in the next hour to share this joy?
  • How can you weave appreciation, effort and giving into a practice for your life?


If you believe the idea of life being joy-centered is a falsehood, you have bought the snake oil of disillusionment, and you are probably still taking a tablespoonful of its bitterness every morning. My recommendation is to skip a day, open up to the possibility of joy, and see how you feel.

Messages from the Ancestors - Wisdom for the Way is a book compiled and published by two friends of mine, Maryellen Kelley and Dr. David Cumes. I highly recommend it.

Cross-posted on Thinking Philanthropy.