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Joy of the Month Excerpt (December)

The only ones around you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve. (Albert Schweitzer)

Child: On the Christmas when Saren was four and Shawni was three, we tried something. Starting in the fall, they began to "earn" their own money by doing extra household chores. Each got a new piggy bank "for deposit only." I was amazed at the anticipation of a three-year-old and how anxious she was to "buy my own presents for people with my own 'earned money.'"

That year, there were two Christmas days. One was on the twenty-third of December when we went to the variety store and the girls picked out a teacup for Grandma, measuring spoons for Mommy, and a tennis ball for two-year-old Josh (because "he can start thinking about how to hit it"). They watched the check-out clerk count their nickels and pennies. They carried their carefully concealed treasures up to their rooms and wrapped them themselves. All the while they were anticipating the joy of giving, sharing, making others happy; the feelings grew and became real from within. "Won't Grandpa be happy when he sees this?" What will Mommy say when she opens this?"

When Christmas day came, the reactions were remarkable. The children were still grateful for their own dolls and filled stockings, but we saw real joy in the four-year-old's face when Grandma opened her cup and said, "Oh, Saren, just what I needed. Every time I use it, I'll think of you." There was a tear in the four-year-old's eye and a choke of real joy in her voice when Saren said, "I saved up and picked it out for you, Grandma, because I love you." Since then, we've thought back countless times: "Wasn't it fun when Josh opened his ball? Didn't that make us happy?" Children can feel the joy of sharing and service, and when they feel it, they want it again - and when they want it again, they've learned it.

Adult: I have a friend who taught me a lesson about joy. He is a public person: that is, the public knows him. (I would guess that 50 percent of all persons in the western world recognize his name, 95 percent of those interested in sports). One of our conversations was about pleasure. What did we do with our spare time? What did we do with those rare moments - rarer for him than for me - that we really had to ourselves? (Keep in mind he could do anything, go anywhere, have anything that money could buy.) He said, "When I have a moment for myself, I try to use it to find some way to help someone. That's where I find real happiness. It's so much more fun that doing something for yourself."

I'd heard that you can judge a man by what he does with his spare time. I used that criteria and judged this man to be great; maybe more importantly, I judged him to be joyful, because the joy of giving is so deep. The joy comes from losing one's self in helping others, from dismissing self-worries to make room for other-worries. We make our living by what we get, but we make our life by what we give. Emerson said, "See how the masses of man worry themselves into nameless graves . . . while, here and there, a great, unselfish soul forgets himself into immortality."

I was traveling on business, two full days away, meetings all day, free evenings. The first night I treated myself (hard day, I deserved it) to the finest meal at the finest restaurant. I went to bed satisfied, dulled. The next evening on my way to the same spot, I noticed a blind man sitting with his dog in front of a little shop, selling baskets he had made. I stopped, talked for an hour, bought a basket and a stool, cheered him up, listened to him, learned from him. ("I've lost one sense and gained four," he said.) I told him that I liked his company, liked him as a friend, and that I'd be back. I saw tears in his blind eyes as we shook hands. I went to bed that night thrilled, tingling - and, in a small but deep sort of way, a better man.

Sample Methods

1. Serving Each Other Within the Family

  1. Perform "services" for each other. Services include anything from helping brother find his socks to letting sister use the new crayons. If we want children to love, we must teach them to serve. Older children can serve their younger brothers and sisters in countless ways.

  2. Let children serve you. Make little comments like, "Oh, the paper is on the porch and I am so tired." "I can't pull these boots off." "I can't hold this leaf bag open while I dump the leaves in." "My arms are full; now how am I going to get in this door?" It's better when they volunteer to help than when you ask them directly.

2. Do Good Deeds Together

  1. Help a needy family anonymously at Christmas. Have each child sacrifice a toy.

  2. Do "secret good turns." Watch for people in need, and plan for ways to make them happier. Have discussions with the children on how what you have done will make other people happy. Children can pretend to be good little elves (invisible, of course) who clean up the house or do other good turns. Mother will "wonder" who could have done it.

  3. Service project. Prearrange with a neighbor to rake her leaves or make a snowman in her front yard. If the weather is just too miserable, make a small cake or premixed cookies and take them to someone who would appreciate them. Inform the "targets" that you are coming and encourage them to show lavish appreciation to the children for their service.

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