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Why Helping Others is the Best Way to Spend Your Time
Some people go fishing, others read a book, go dancing, do yoga, participate in public picnics, fly to conventions, watch a movie or write blog posts like this one.
We live in a “Spaßgesellschaft” – to use the German word – in short: a society obsessed with fun and entertainment comprised of Jet-skis, bungee-jumping, sightseeing tours, plasma television screens and cute little gadgets that glow in the dark.
We love it too much to stop. Yet there’s a looming sense that the happiness we can derive from those things is limited.It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? We have tried so often to do or get this or that and – yes it brought us a good experience – but almost immediately after the first rush of euphoria it then needed to be renewed or exchanged again with something better, brighter and more expensive!
The reason for this is simple: Actions and purchases done purely for one’s own entertainment might seem the only natural thing to do but the problem is that they all circle around the idea of a “me”. A “me” that is bored, a “me” that is in need of entertainment, a “me” that is lacking something. In short: A “me” that is seeking. That “me” by definition is always limited, thus the pleasure it experiences is as well.
In other words: Whenever there’s a “me” involved – staying happy is a phenomenon that comes and goes (and mostly doesn’t last long enough, doesn’t it?)
If you think now is the point where you’ll hear the jealously kept secret of “true happiness”, I have to disappoint you. There isn’t any. But here’s a simple principle:
If you spend your time by helping others your attention will shift from thinking about this “me” and instead you will begin to think about the other. And something interesting happens. By not making it about “me” a fundamental sense of “lack” disappears. The need to be happy, its boredom and lack of content rises and falls with this “me”. In other words: No matter what you do, the more inflated your sense of “me” the more you’ll be driven to do things and feel important. You can see this with politicians for example or other people with a sense of self hugely blown out of proportion.
If on the other hand, you take the spotlight of attention and move it away from “me” to the other it becomes a lot lighter. Have you ever noticed how dealing with someone else’s problems is always easier than dealing with your own? There is a certain sense of manageability to it. We readily dispense advice to people but if the same thing happens to us, we’re like a turtle on its back.
Imagine somebody comes to you and tells you about their problems. You’ll have a lot of peacefulness and can help this person make the right choices because it’s not about you! Imagine you could see your own thoughts, feelings and ideas as if they belonged to somebody else. Probably you wouldn’t be worried so much.
Helping others is a Lifestyle!
Therefore, helping others – to me – is not something you do to show how generous and “good” your “me” is – that would defeat the purpose (although the “me” tries to hijack helping others to inflate itself and be “important”. It has nothing to do with moralistically coded behaviour, do-gooderism or whatever. Helping others is a lifestyle! (One with low / zero maintenance costs and huge results!)
It has somewhat of a bad image, though, right? Somehow, when someone says “service” we think of pious Christians giving out food to the homeless and then priding themselves that they’ll get to heaven quicker. By all means, I do respect what they do – but somehow there is a sense that “helping others” is something inexplicably noble and holy.
It’s simply the best way to stay sane while living in a world that is completely obsessed with being a “me”. A “me” that should get a new job, make more money, be popular, more powerful and so on and so forth.
The cure is not trying to improve this “me”, to send it to therapy, meditation workshops or whatever – Whatever we’ll do as a “me” will be directed towards a “me” and there’s no way out, no matter how important it may feel.
The best way to get out of this is therefore to exchange this “me” for others.
It’s simple. And it works.