Joy – What does joy have to do with your giving?

I used to feel embarrassed that I wanted to have joy. I had two good reasons (or so I thought). Joy? It’s so simple – what’s wrong with me that I don’t have it already? Or the Devil’s Advocate: Joy?? What kind of fluffy, irresponsible person focuses on joy, rather than impact, success, effectiveness, molding the next generation, blazing the corporate trail, or something more worthy?

I’m reconsidering.

Two recent events made me think that it would be a mighty fine thing if we all sought a little more joy with our actions, investments and intellect.

I had the pleasure recently of attending a women’s gathering in an admired colleague’s home in Silicon Valley. Catalytic Women is all about women and, yet, I hesitate when it’s a “woman’s” thing. I like men. And I’m really out of my comfort zone with that touchy feely stuff, like coaching. (Sincere apologies to my coaches, past and present.) Well, excuse me for a moment while I dine on crow.

So, back to the women’s gathering… The facilitator talked of balance or, as she aptly observed, integration. Phew. Confirmation that “balance” is unachievable (and that Anne-Marie Slaughter really does get it). Then she talked about an article written by a hospice nurse on the five most common regrets she heard by people at the end of their lives. Now, I have a soft spot for hospice. They provided the most amazing care for my mom last year at the end of her life. So I listened. You’ll have to call me (or Google the article for the other four), but here’s the regret about joy: “I wish I’d let myself be happier.” So simple. So hard. So scary that this is not a given in our lives and culture. 

A few days later I read a coveted New Yorker. I stash them, unwilling to admit that I do not read fast enough to savor every word of every issue, but I relish (sometimes old) issues when I finally do decide to give myself a little joy in reading them. This one was from last month and talked about Lucretius, the 1st-century BC writer of On the Nature of Things, who wrote of pleasure, beauty and gave us the the word epicurious, among other indulgences. He wrote with passion about joy. In our sad culture of video games and special effects, it sounds almost pornographic. But think about that… the daily act of appreciating things and activities because of the joy they give us and others.

So what does this have to do with women, wealth and philanthropy, my preoccupation? Giving is all about joy. Joy in playing a (sometimes small) role in making the world a better place. Joy in giving back and expressing appreciation for what we have. The joy of caring and compassion. Bringing joy to others – often our own families – by reaching out and giving what we can.

Philanthropy doesn’t have to be big foundations and big checks. It is a powerful way to express joy… and hope… and love of mankind (the actual latin translation of the word philanthropy).

Last night I was invited to a philanthropic microfinance model that didn’t even require a gift, just a pledge to help if the need arose. (MCE. Look it up.) But that’s another story…