Friday, April 18, 2014

A Pattern for Joy

A Pattern for Joy

“Man is eminently a storyteller. His search for a purpose is largely a search for a plot and a pattern in the development of his life story.”  Eric Hoffer

I believe there is a pattern for finding true joy in life.  As a SunBridge 3-GEN Planner, I have come across a very small handful of people who have discovered this pattern (usually almost by accident) and are living in harmony with it. 

A few weeks ago I enjoyed several delightful hours interviewing a couple from North Carolina who clearly had found and were living the pattern.  Simply being in their presence was a treat, because they radiated happiness and fulfillment. 

Spending time with them was like discovering a warm and sunny spot out of the wind on a cool and blustery day.  We shared lots of wonderful stories and more than a few tears. 

From their example and others, I’ve learned this pattern or process has four steps:

1)      We must discover a passion outside us that is bigger and deeper than ourselves. 

There is no joy in selfishness.  Perhaps brief pleasure, but not joy. 

Those who discover the pattern for a fullness of joy are unselfish.  They inherently love many someones and somethings beyond themselves.  Then something triggers a powerful transformation inside them. 

What begins as a slow boil of caring within us is kicked into overdrive when we find a purpose and a mission outside ourselves that is much bigger than us.  Then the drive becomes relentless; it can no longer be resisted. 

This North Carolina couple loved helping children with serious illnesses and had done much already to help these young victims.  But it was the tragic loss of their own grandson that was the catalyst for supercharging their lives. 

They determined, as another joy-filled couple from Florida once explained to me, that they could either “be bitter or be better,” and they had a choice.  They chose to be better, to use the energy of their grief to make a difference in the lives of others. 

They threw themselves into their new mission because they understood first-hand what losing a young life can mean to the parents and grandparents.  They leveraged their loss into a reason to go the second mile to relieve the suffering of others.

Sadly, few people ever find their own passion, and almost none of them experience the spark that kicks in the afterburners.  They’re too busy playing with their toys, re-decorating the parlor, or jetting off on the latest ultimate vacation.

The truly joyful find the passion, experience the spark, and then take action.  In the end, that makes all the difference.

2)      We must connect with — or build if necessary — an exceptional organization that can produce life-changing results for the recipients of our passion. 

“It takes a village,” as the old saying goes, to put arms and legs and heart onto our passion.  It can’t be done alone.

Satisfying a passion that’s big enough to consume us takes time and coordination.  It requires persistence, order, and organization.  Flash-in-the-pan, fly-by-night, or one-hit-wonder passion never leads to real joy.

It’s OK to build castles in the sky, so long as we push forward to build foundations under them.  That’s why a solid, high-quality organization is so vital to bringing our passions to life.  The structure provides assistance, consistency, and longevity.

The North Carolina couple I interviewed had found such support in the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  I recently spoke at the Jimmy Carter Center in Atlanta and toured Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando where I recognized other similar world-class organizations.  On a smaller scale, I’ve seen the same thing in local churches and grass-roots homeless programs.

I have encountered lots of passionate people who never connect with or create an organization that can deliver life-changing experience for the objects of their passion.  As a result their passions eventually die a slow, unfulfilled death. 

3)      We must throw ourselves headlong into the passion and the organization, including time, talent and treasure, without reservation and without any concern for “what’s in it for me.” 

Those who measure their giving and service will never find the fullness of joy.  It is one of life’s paradoxes that “he that finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it.”

In the same vein, those who give and serve to be seen of others will likewise lose the greater prize: When you do your alms, do not sound a trumpet that you may have glory of men. Otherwise, that will be your reward.

Only those who are truly “all in” will ever experience this ultimate reward of pure joy.  This is true whether we are talking about our service to a particular charitable mission or our commitment to our marriage. Toe-dippers or those who leave part of themselves on the shore never really “get it.”

My friends from North Carolina were reluctant to fill in many details of their giving and service, but reading between the lines, it was obvious to me that for many, many years they had held nothing back.  They, in turn, had found much greater returns on their “investment,” as promised by Luke: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.”

4)      We must share the journey with someone we love.

I believe we humans are hard-wired to be together.  Thus, the final ingredient in the recipe for a fullness of joy is at least one other person to join in the experience with us.  Everything is richer, sweeter, and more satisfying when shared.

This is not to say that much good and much happiness can’t be achieved solo, because it can.  But there is an added element of amazing when we take the path to joy hand in hand, together with someone close to us.

It was clear with the North Carolina couple that, as wonderful as everything was in their generous, all-in quest to make a difference for “wish-kids” and their families through Make-a-Wish Foundation, the whipped cream and cherry on the top of their joyful sundae was the fact that they had done it together.
. . . .

As I see it, the path to a completeness of joy is Passion, Organization, Commitment, and Companionship.  This is the pattern.

This pattern is simple to see but difficult to achieve. But while challenging, it is not impossible.  Because I have seen others do it, I know it can be done.  It is worthy of our best efforts.