In Search of Joy: A Saturday Salutation

Most people have big and small joys in their life.

Many are busting to share them.

Could you find more ways to draw out the joy on your team?

What would be the side effects of more joy at work?

“To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.”
~Mark Twain

Early Joy

Some of my earliest thinking on leadership was during a search process for a new pastor in my childhood church. We were just kids, but my parents acted as if we had a big role in the situation. After each service, our family would eat bagels and discuss what we felt each guest pastor could bring to our community. At the time, it seemed perfectly normal to be included in such discussions. In hindsight I realize my parents were working to “grow leaders”.

My favorite possibility was the long-haired guy who would come down into the congregation and lift up his hands and invite us to, “tell me your joys ” He would then engage the congregation in shout-outs of all the great things happening in their lives. It was a startling deviation from the more formal nature of our traditional service. Not everyone loved it; however, each time, the congregation would come alive in the midst of all that joy and sharing. The hymns had more energy. The coffee hour that followed was more warm. The whole sanctuary just seemed lighter.

There was plenty of time later to get serious, and to pray on the sadder stuff.

My “vote” was for that guy. He didn’t get the gig, but he left me with a lasting impression about the power of engaging groups around “joy.”

Joy at Work?

People like to talk about good stuff, and are not frequently asked. Folks are carrying around all kinds of things that make them happy (and sad). Of course, it’s just not cool to go busting into a room and say, “Guess what is happening to me! I am so happy or lucky or proud.” And yet, when asked, the joys flow freely and the joy becomes contagious.

People wait to be asked.

So why don’t we ask more?

If in any gathered group there are joys, it stands to reason that at work there are people with joy they might be delighted to share.

Mining For Joy

I recently opened up a large conference by asking everyone to stand up who had “something significant and positive happen to them in the last year.”

The energy was palpable.

This crowd had some big joys: babies, graduations, new homes, successful risks, marriages, overcoming major health issues, substantial weight loss. We began in joy and the energy carried us through the more intense and serious work ahead.

This technique also works in smaller groups.

Here are a few opening lines that work well. Of course, it’s important that this is voluntary, with no pressure to share..

  • What’s something great happening in your life right now?
  • What’s the best thing that happened this week?
  • What’s going well?
  • What makes you amazing at your job?
  • What are you most thankful for?
  • Who would you like to recognize on the team before we start
  • Who’s got some good news?
  • …???

Sharing joy can bring a team closer, shift a mood, and provide perspective.

The Power of Yes

“Yes-let’s said Tigger, bouncing a little, even though he had no idea what was to be begun. He liked to be asked to do things, and he liked to be asked to do them first, and he always said “yes,” because it is much more interesting when you do.”

-David Benedictus, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood

As leaders (or community members, parents, friends), deciding where to spend our physical and emotional energy can be daunting. So much of the self-help literature seems to be teaching us how to say “no” to the wrong things so we have more time to say “yes” to the “right” things.

That makes sense.

What can be more difficult is knowing the difference. Sometimes the most illogical opportunities can provide the most fascinating experiences. Sometimes the growth comes precisely because the opportunity is out of our comfort zone, or because we have to completely rearrange our lives to make room for it.

Yes can be scary. 

Yes leads to opportunity.

A Story of Yes

I recently got involved in writing and directing a children’s musical for our church. An out of the box “yes” project for me for sure. On the surface, there was absolutely no room in my life for this, but it was an amazing experience. The kids and volunteers were fantastic. I must say, we put on a heck of a show.

But then, came the real “yes” or “no” question. We had performed the show one evening, deconstructed (and thrown away) most of the set, and a few weeks had gone by when I got a call from my minister. “Would we reprise the show for a church service?”

Everyone who knows me well and cares about me had the same reaction, “say no.” They saw how the show consumed me the first time. On the surface it did not make sense, the logistics of pulling this off again, with the kids out of practice, many of the volunteers gone, limited set. Something made me say, “yes.”

What happened next was one of the most magical moments of my year. We found enough of the set to make it look fun, the kids all stepped up to practice like crazy on their own, they managed themselves backstage without a lot of parent volunteers, the congregation was absolutely packed and the kids had a blast and received a standing ovation. As I was standing there after the service, I had tears in my eyes and thought, “I almost said, no.”

Sometimes saying no can prevent us from stretching ourselves or working past the surface difficulties. I will surely still say “no” to many things, but I have learned the value of thinking well and deep before I do.