Realizing joy in our lives is dependent on our devotion to some purpose beyond our own needs and desires. A strong sense of that purpose helps us do the next right thing; to do what brings joy both to others and to ourselves.

Mahatma Gandhi explained that “happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” A fundamental human challenge is to do what is right in the face of urges to do otherwise. To do that, we should first have a basic understanding of the difference between acting on instincts and acting based on morals. Trouble arises when our instinctive urges conflict with a higher set of moral principles and values. We live in a complex and highly interdependent civilization. Acting without a moral compass damages the whole.

That said, our collective prosperity requires that we live according to principles such as honesty, mutuality and collaboration. Ideally, socialization teaches people to manage raw impulses to meet needs while not harming anyone in the process. This is not easy. Everyone struggles with feelings, such as fear, greed and a desire to exploit or even harm others, considering they might be of benefit. We all can feel urges to take shortcuts and to break the rules.

We all have a shadow side of repressed parts of ourselves, generally considered unacceptable, that sometimes leak out in our actions despite our best intentions. Ironically, freedom to do the next right thing comes in part from befriending the more primitive and destructive parts of ourselves. We engage them in a loving but firm dialogue, just as we might relate to a child. When we show our shadow parts compassionate concern, and honor their needs, those parts of ourselves feel heard and validated. When we drill down, we usually discover needs for survival and comfort. Doing the next right thing then comes down to addressing those needs intelligently while staying true to our values.

Part of being human is submitting our will to what is best; seeing that what is best morally is best for us personally. Integrity comes from experiencing ourselves as part of something greater than just ourselves.

To realize joy in our lives, we have to make the ultimate commitment to devote our lives to the service of something greater than our own selfish needs. We have to live by a set of higher moral principles and values regardless of our selfish urges, while honoring those urges. With integrity, we transcend to the pinnacle of enlightened self-interest in which we see that the ultimate selfishness is to be selfless. As we are an interdependent part of the whole of life, serving life serves us. We serve life so that life might sustain us. This becomes the spiritual moral star that directs our life journeys.

To act with integrity is to act with love. To act out of fear alone means that our egos, and not our higher selves, are in charge. We enter this world with a tension between fear and love. Moral growth entails resolving this tension for ourselves. Moving from fear to love means we serve the greater good. Success in life involves transitioning from being ruled by fear to being informed by fear while acting with love.

What may appear as love may in fact be ego in disguise, as when we give expecting something in return. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “The last temptation is the greatest treason:
to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” We have to choose. Do we allow our egos to manage our lives or do we harness our egos in the service of love? Why do we live? Do we live only for our own self-gratification or do we live both to savor life and to nurture it? This is the fundamental spiritual question that underlies our commitment to a life of integrity.Some cast this dialectic between ego and love as the tension between good and evil. Consider the following story.

One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside people. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Our commitment to doing the next right thing regardless of impulses to do otherwise brings good not only to the world, but also to ourselves. Karma dictates that we reap what we sow. Love begets love, just as evil begets evil. How we conduct ourselves determines how our lives unfold. A Persian proverb says, “As you move, so God responds.” By acting with integrity, we strengthen our spiritual muscles and become strong in character. We shape our fate.

Fulfillment comes from doing the next right thing. This means acting with wisdom and compassion; acting with love. Love leads to a life without remorse or regret. We have nothing to regret if we do nothing that causes regret. Our estimable acts build our self-esteem, reducing the tendency to fuel feelings of shame. We have to see that who we are is far more important than what we accomplish. We need to shift our sense of gratification from what we get to who we are. As Henry Ward Beecher said, “He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has.” Living according to this principle, we can look back on our lives with minimal regrets, knowing we made the world a better place and left a legacy of love.

Do the next right thing for the sake of doing the next right thing. We surely want to go to bed each night and sleep without regrets and go into our final sleep at the end of our lives with no regrets. We do this by acting with integrity.

To have integrity, we walk our talk. Benjamin Franklin once remarked, “Well done is better than well said.” Actions speak louder than words. When acting with integrity, no discrepancy exists between what we do and what we say; we are honest, consistent, reliable, and accountable; we take responsibility for the consequences of our actions on others; we are trustworthy. Remember that consistency in the small things makes the biggest difference. When our insides match our outsides, we know we are right with life.

See what is best from moment to moment. We cannot do the next right thing if our minds are clouded in self-delusion. Knowing the truth requires opening our hearts and minds to what reality has to say. Gandhi spoke of this as “listening to the still, small voice within” — the voice of our higher selves.

Virtually no one acts with perfect love and integrity at all times. We have to commit to a life of integrity, but realize that we will not practice integrity perfectly all the time. We have to hold ourselves accountable, but do so kindly. When we act without integrity, we should look very closely at the impact it has on others and on our own peace of mind. We have to commit to learn from our mistakes and act differently the next time. We just have to do the best we can and make a conscious effort to move in the right direction, day by day, one moment at a time.
Can't wait to release the suffering and start creating more joy in your life? Go to and download your free copy of 20 Ways to Realize Joy in Your Life now!

Author's Bio: 

Michael D. McGee, M.D.

Michael McGee is currently the Chief Medical Officer of The Haven, a psychiatric treatment facility specializing in the treatment of addictions, located on California’s Central Coast. He also has a private practice in San Luis Obispo, where his approach combines psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. He includes psychospiritual interventions to compliment biological, psychodynamic, interpersonal and cognitive-behavioral interventions.

Graduating with distinction from Stanford University with a degree in biology, he received his M.D. from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed his residency in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is board certified in general psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine. He has extensive experience in general adult psychiatry and addiction treatment, and is the author of The Joy of Recovery: a comprehensive guide to healing from addiction (2018).

Can't wait to release the suffering and start creating more joy in your life? Go to and download your free copy of 20 Ways to Realize Joy in Your Life now!