One thing I’ve learned: joy is contagious. And one of the best ways to proactively fill up on joy is to give it to someone else.
One evening I caught that contagious joy in the McDonald’s drive thru of all places. I had dropped my kids off for Wednesday night activities at church and needed a diet coke before starting my own Bible study. As I pulled up to the McDonald’s window, I felt God prompt me to pay for the order of the car behind me.
Now we had done this kind of thing all through December. We call it the Days of Joy Project. It started four years ago, after Dan died and we were staring at what should have been the happiest time of the year while our hearts wrenched with grief.
We desperately needed joy. I needed something to help us put one foot in front of the other; to do more than just make it through the holidays. My heart was so crushed, the gnawing hollowness so persistent – I wondered if I’d ever feel the warmth of joy again.
Jennifer Dukes Lee says that kind of happiness is “warm and bright on the inside” like you’ve “swallowed a star.”
That’s what our December needed. To capture joy by giving it away.
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So we started the Days of Joy Project, looking for ways to bless others.
- We set out cookies and a cooler of drinks for the garbage collectors.
- We packed bags for the homeless and spent an afternoon ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.
- We made dozens of cookies, the only homemade goodies some prisoners would get over Christmas.
- We took coats and mittens to a collection and hot Krispy Kremes to our firefighters.
But when I turned into the MacDonald’s, it was no longer December. The Christmas decorations were packed up in the attic and we’d returned to our regular school and work routines. The Days of Joy Project was over.
But, of course, surprise acts of kindness aren’t just for Christmas, though that’s when our family gets intentional about it. And when I sense God’s prompting, I’m learning to listen. So I paid for my diet coke and the order for the car behind me and headed back to church.
That’s when the real joy started.
As I pulled out of the MacDonald’s and waited for the light to turn green, another car pulled up beside me. Window down, a woman beamed at me as her children leaned forward from their seats with excited grins and MacDonald’s bags. This mom could not get over that someone had paid for their meal.
“Nobody’s ever done that! Did you really do that? I can’t believe it! Bless God! Bless God!”
The light turned green and they went straight as I turned. In the silence of my own car, I realized immediately: I was smiling. Not just with my lips but my whole heart. I was filled up; warm and bright on the inside.
And I saw – joy is contagious.
And something else – God compounds the joy we give. In the economy of God, my small gift had been returned and multiplied.
“Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” Luke 6:38 (The Message)
While blessing others in our brokenness doesn’t cure the pain, it comforts the places that hurt.
While grief pulls all my thoughts and focus inward – so needed to process the emotions – giving away a bit of kindness turns my thoughts outward, to the needs of others.
And when grief threatens to keep me paralyzed at home, giving away a bit of happiness gets me up and moving.
This year, we’re just now starting the Days of Joy Project. We’ll sit together later today and brainstorm all the ways we aim to bless others this season. My youngest two are getting older and coming up with their own ideas. With the busyness of December, I have to be very purposeful to plan it out or I’ll miss it altogether.
If you’d like your own Days of Joy Project to cultivate contagious joy, I’ve got some things to get started:
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