Have you noticed that more and more, we are living in a “me”-centered culture? From movies, reality TV shows, magazine articles, and even our neighbors and coworkers, we often receive the message that “it’s all about me.” It’s about how much I can earn. It’s about how I feel. It’s about getting what I want.
I’ll be honest: When I was a young man, I lived my life according to this “me”-centric philosophy. I thought that professional success would make me feel the most fulfilled and content. I spent my free time doing things that I thought were fun and exciting. It certainly never crossed my mind that one day I would spend a lot of my time and money pursuing philanthropic endeavors.
So what changed? Well, I gradually learned that we are all in this life together. My breakdown in particular forced me to realize that there were some things I literally wasn’t capable of handling on my own. And after I recovered, I felt compelled to reach out even more and help others who were experiencing tough times of their own. I now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that givers, even more than achievers, are happy people.
When you help another person, whether it’s offering a listening ear to a friend, mentoring a child, or volunteering your time and/or money to help a worthy cause, you become part of something bigger than yourself. You’re working not just for your own good, but for the greater good. And I promise you, seeing the positive results of what you do for another feels beyond great.
Also, when you help others, you’re stepping outside of your “me”-centric thought processes. When you’re absorbed in building a house with Habitat for Humanity, for example, you’re not thinking about all of the bad hands you’ve been dealt in life, and all of the possessions and opportunities you wish you had. On the contrary, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll go home that night with a renewed perspective and a fresh appreciation of just how fortunate and blessed you really are.
If you don’t already, I challenge you to make helping others a regular part of your life. Start by looking for opportunities to perform random acts of kindness: helping someone with a broken arm load groceries into her car, for example, or rolling your neighbor’s trash can up the driveway when you know he or she is not feeling well. Then, challenge yourself to devote an hour or two a week to some sort of service-oriented activity. You could stock shelves at your local food pantry, visit a disabled veteran at the local VA, or volunteer to help coach a Little League team.
If you’re like me, you’ll find that helping others is addictive. The more you see how much of a difference you can make in others’ lives, the more you’ll want to do it, and trust me, when you see yourself as a giver, you’ll feel better about yourself and the mark you’re leaving on your surroundings. You’ll also stay connected to your own blessings and maintain a healthy perspective on the world—all of which are components of a truly happy life.
Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In and Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People, grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. His new book, The Sunny Days Secret: A Guide for Finding Happiness, is coming in summer 2013.