In my book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life, I write about 7 keys to making MOGO (most good) choices. One of these keys is to pursue joy through service. When I was writing the book, I initially planned to separate these into two keys: to pursue joy and to be of service. Joy is an important component of a life that does the most good and least harm, not only because it is MOGO for us personally to feel joy, but also because joyful people influence others to lead MOGO lives. If we’re activists and changemakers who are angry, depressed or burnt out, we’re not very good at inviting others to join our life-affirming efforts.
But when I asked a few hundred people “What brings you joy?” and so many answered that being of service and helping others brought them joy, I realized I’d landed on a lovely alchemy. We humans experience joy by doing good. What a wonderful win-win.
I had the opportunity to experience this firsthand recently. After coming home from a long trip, I was eager to go on a hike and get some exercise and spend time outdoors. My husband and I chose a seven mile hike up two peaks in Acadia National Park. After a lovely hike, we reached the wide, gravel carriage road for the final mile-long walk back to our car, and just as we did we heard shouting from the trail up the first peak we’d climbed hours earlier. When we heard “Help!” my husband, Edwin, ran up the trail. A trail runner (and employee of the park), whom we’d passed earlier in the day, had taken a bad fall, injuring her knee. She was in a lot of pain. Despite supporting her as she walked, it was clear that the mile-long walk to our car would be too much for her, and it was quickly getting dark. We had our cell phones so she was able to call the park service to ask someone to unlock the gate to the carriage road and drive to pick her up. But in the meantime, because she was in so much pain, I ran to my car to get her some aspirin. When I got to my car, the park ranger hadn’t arrived yet, and the gate was still locked, but I saw that with some careful maneuvering I could squeeze my Prius between two large rocks, drive on a grassy area around a tree, slip between the outhouse and another rock and get onto the carriage road. Which I did.
After picking her up and helping her into the car, we encouraged her to let us pick up her car (several miles away) and drive it, as well as her, to the hospital. We waited until we were sure she was okay and had reached a friend to pick her up from the hospital, and then finally left.
We were hungry and tired. We arrived home later than I wished. But I was happy. While I was certainly not happy that this woman fell and injured her knee, I felt so good knowing that we had helped someone in need. Our day was better for having been able to give to someone else. When my husband and I held hands before our meal to say something for which we were grateful (as we do every night), I expressed thanks for the opportunity to be of service to another.
So go out and find those in need. They may be people, or animals, or ecosystems in peril. Give of yourself. And then take pleasure in the joy you will undoubtedly experience.
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and free resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education; and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given several acclaimed TEDx talks, including “The World Becomes What You Teach” and “Solutionaries” and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.
Image courtesy of Ravenwood.