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Day 62: The joy of being helpful

December 15, 2023

Having people in your life who matter to you is one thing. Having a genuine connection with them is something else entirely.

Have you ever been surrounded by people and felt completely alone?

I have. Often. Even though I was with people who loved me.

It’s a weird thing – when you don’t know yourself and you’re being thrown around by your thoughts and feelings, how difficult it is to feel any sort of connection with the people around you.

It occurs to me as I write this that the disconnection is down to something akin to “time-travel”, in that you’re not actually there.

When I’ve been locked into my thoughts and had my mind hissing and spitting at me, it didn’t matter where I was or who I was with because I wasn’t actually there. I was off in another time and place. Of course, at the time, I didn’t even realise it was happening. I just thought nobody understood me.

Today I chatted with a friend whose child is feeling this way. Our conversation got me thinking about what connection feels like and how it relates to the experience of joy.

As an only child, I grew up being the centre of my parents’ universe. I’d like to say I wasn’t spoilt but I really was. Yet, I don’t remember being a particularly happy child. In fact, I remember having a nickname – “Moaning Minnie”.

Only as an adult and a parent have I experienced the need to put myself second. Perhaps that’s why I’ve had to do all this soul searching and digging around in my thoughts and emotions – it’s been an enormous undertaking to change such a fundamental thing about myself!

But today I realised that part of what kept me stuck all those years is that connection has to be two-way. Feeling loved isn’t enough. We have to be able to give back, to make some sort of meaningful contribution to the relationship beyond our mere presence within it.

Today when my friend reached out for help, she gave me an incredible gift – a chance to be of real use to her. We’ve been friends for over two decades and there were points in the early years of our friendship where she had to look out for me like a parent might have. In those years, although I was partying pretty hard, I was very unhappy and was always trying to outrun my feelings of being a bit of a crap human.

I don’t think I truly shook off those feelings until I had a reason to step out of my bubble of self-absorption and start doing things for no other reason than because they helped someone else.

How does this relate to joy?

I think connection is a big part of joy and I think true connection can only be felt when both parties feel they make a contribution. So for my money, joy is not only in the offer of help, it is also in the asking for help. Connection cannot exist to its fullest unless both parties feel they have something to offer and only when that balance is achieved will the relationship and the connection bring us joy.

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