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Is Service to Others a Duty or a Joy?

Over the years, I have felt a little guilty about not doing more for others. Yes, I taught at a large spirituality center, put on men's gatherings, presented at conferences and hospitals, shared by understanding of life in books, worked as a psychotherapist for three decades, but all these forms of service came from a place of joy - I loved the material and I loved sharing it. But I never worked in soup kitchens, never tutored disadvantaged children, never volunteered my skills in public health settings, etc.

As I have come ever more deeply into joy - the joy of conscious union with my own divine being - I have begun to understand that joy is itself the greatest source of generosity. Service should not come from duty, guilt or religious commandments, but from self-dissolving joy. Why? Because joy makes you both selfless and generous. It liberates you from problem-focused thinking and when happiness replaces problems, there is nothing to defend, protect, clutch, hoard, control or worry about. Duty creates strain and stress; joy invites happiness which is itself infectious and no effort to share. And from joy, you are even happier when you can share it through being what you already are.

In a funky little restaurant in Astoria, OR, my wife and I came upon a small sign which read, "Happiness is not a destination, it's a way of life." Exactly! Love breeds love; joy breeds joy, but shoulds only breed more shoulds (and burnout). Don't go down a path just because you "should" or because someone or some organization tells you to. Follow your bliss, as Joe Campbell discovered, and doors will open to service opportunities that are so simple and so easy, so here-and-now, no work at all, and feel so good. Joy grows the soul, and as the soul expands, love and generosity flow forth. As Rumi says, the soul is here for its own joy, and that joy is found in the gifts you share from the way of joy.

This doesn't mean that you meet the suffering of others with foolish displays of happiness, which would be crass and insensitive in most instances. But it does mean that the joy you find in helping others - assuming a particular service is the call of your unique nature - will carry you onward and bring positive changes to a world sorely lacking in happiness. As psychologists proved years ago, positive reinforcement greatly outweighs negative reinforcement, so let's grow our souls and the world's soul in joy.

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