I discovered, when I enrolled in college, if I took philosophy courses, then I could avoid taking math classes. They tricked me because philosophers are usually mathematicians.  A philosopher is someone who explains something to you that you don’t understand, but makes you feel like it’s all your fault.

I’m fascinated by what makes people want to get out of bed in the morning. You have your own philosophy – those core beliefs that motivate and sustain you. I’ve never considered myself a philosopher, but I am curious about what motivates people.  I’ve asked a few of these people on the team I’m traveling with what brought them to Africa or what keeps bringing them back. I’m traveling with doctors, nurses, and medical professionals that could just as easily spend their money in the Bahamas.

Regardless of the verbiage, the answers are the same: a deep sense of satisfaction.

Dr. Deborah Turner of Des Moines and Dr. Murray Holcomb of Hutchinson, KS sort out supplies (both in scrubs)

Dr. Deborah Turner of Des Moines and Dr. Murray Holcomb of Hutchinson, KS sort out supplies (both in scrubs)

These trips are neither cheap, nor easy.  What would compel a person to spend thousands of dollars, take their vacation time, and travel to places far less comfortable than if they spent money on a Caribbean cruise?

Here’s the reason why, but you have to hang with me while I apply an economic concept to this called transfer.  All economic exchanges are, in one way or another, a transfer.

Involuntary transfer think “taxes”  – we have no choice  but to  transfer to the government the money they say we owe them

Voluntary transfer– we give money in return for something

Our lives are spent in economic transfer.  Once we get the government and the basics of food, clothing, and shelter out of the way, then the excess is often used to transfer pleasure. For example, if Joe has ten thousand dollars he wants to spend on a boat, he gives (transfers) his money to the salesman. The salesman then gives him (transfers) a title for the boat.

What I’ve realized on this Medical Mission Trip is that this form of economic transfer is really a transfer of pleasure.  The people who have given so much to go on this trip are receiving great satisfaction. Along the way, they are transferring the pleasure to the recipients- desperately poor people in need of medical attention. I have seen the parents light up like the Bellagio when their children are diagnosed and treated. Their gratitude is palpable.

From the cheap seats of being an observer of human behavior, it seems like this economic transfer of pleasure might be the purest form of pleasure there is. As Aristotle said, “Pleasure is a result of virtuous activity.”  We think we can buy pleasure in America with more toys and nicer vacations, but chasing pleasure as a means in and of itself is like trying to eat peas with a butter knife – impossible and frustrating. But if we see pleasure as a by-product of doing good then we won’t succumb to the temptation of trying to buy pleasure. Instead, we will focus on making the world a better place in which to live and find pleasure as a result.

I’m watching a transfer of pleasure that is truly a pleasure to watch.