Letter: Finding happiness in serving others

DR RAYMOND COXIn grade school, I used to enjoy reading the dictionary (weird kid, right?). My sixth-grade teacher challenged the class to find the longest word in the dictionary. 

I won by finding a 46-letter word. This exercise helped me begin to understand the power of words and why it is important to attempt precision in word choices. 

For example, we tend to use the terms medical care and health care interchangeably, even though their meanings are quite different. 

Medical care refers to the treatment of illness and disease. It contributes to 20 percent of health outcomes, such as quality of life and life expectancy. 

Health care focuses on the prevention of illness by addressing the social determinants such as food, housing, income security and public safety. 

Addressing these issues accounts for 70 percent of health outcomes. 

The term “grace” has many definitions, but often refers to “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God” or to “moral strength.” 

Certainly, most of us can give examples of times when we may not have suffered the just consequences of our misdeeds. 

I can remember skipping so many of my anthropology classes in college that I received a standing ovation when I did attend. It was clearly grace that allowed me to pass that course. 

More commonly, my health is much better than it should be, given my lack of attention to healthy habits. If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself. 

Moral strength, on the other hand, is an action item we can choose to exhibit, or not. 

The current attempts to undermine or disrupt what were considered commonly held beliefs make exertion of moral strength more difficult, but also much more critical. Common values such as courtesy, respect and being helpful to our neighbors in need are examples of moral strength, especially in times when it seems these values have been abandoned. 

Joy is a word that brings a smile to your face just by saying it. It is defined as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” 

I like the theological definition: “finding happiness in the service of others.” 

While my life has been filled with joy since childhood, I never thought much of it until I moved to Hilton Head. Dr. McConnell’s wife, Mary Ellen, shared some of Dr. Jack’s speeches to give me insight into why Jack started Volunteers in Medicine and why he considered it his most important life’s work. I was struck by how many times he used the term “joy” in his talks. 

I spent quite some time trying to deconstruct how joy differs from happiness. 

Obviously, whatever brings you happiness must be fun. It must be something you would do even if you did not get paid for it. 

But what makes it joyful is by doing good — bringing comfort and happiness to others. And that, my friends, takes grace. 

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to end my career working with so many people who understand and demonstrate grace and joy every day. 

Have some fun. Do some good.

Dr. Raymond Cox has served as Executive Director of the Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Clinic since 2013. He will retire on June 30.