“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi
Indeed, life without service to others is meaningless. We are often plagued with questions such as “Who am I?”, “What difference am I making in this world?”, “What is my purpose?”, so on and so forth.
Can we live a life of fulfilment that caters solely to the self? With growing detachment and greed in the modern world, depression and a lack of contentment with our lives have been on the rise.
No matter the how big impact we wish to have in the world, if it is not in service of another, does it really count as one?
We were born to help others in need; it is our natural innate disposition. However, unfortunately, we have been “educated” for greed. Most people lack depth and joy in their lives despite the success they achieve. What maybe the reason for this disconnect?
Often, service is mistaken as only “giving”. However, it is as much receiving as it is giving. This exchange is what fuels and sustains the essence of life. In today’s world, understanding the importance of this is required more than ever.
It is only through lifting others that we can lift ourselves. This is the Law of Life.
The world runs and sustains itself through service
We tend to think of service in a very narrow definition of the word. Serving others is not a planned act; it is by default our highest purpose in life.
The need to serve stems from a place of awareness and compassion. Can you imagine the world without that hope?
People are risking their lives to run into buildings on fire in order to save others; prioritizing the lives of others before themselves, etc. If that is not service, then what is?
It is difficult to even think of a world that functions without this sense of kinship with our community and humanity at large. The problem we face today is a fast-paced world, growing in size yet lacking in depth.
The problem rests with our perception of what really matters. We all feel the need to help others, but societal pressures and responsibilities burden us and prevent us from taking action on it.
However, we forget that happiness and fulfillment can never persist unless shared. Think of the current pandemic as an example! Despite the crisis we’ve all been dealing with, people have been providing aid to every possible quarter to serve in whatever way they can.
This life is a shared responsibility, and it demands that we grow together. Doing service is one best things in life, as it connects us all; it cannot be taken for granted.
Necessity of Serving Others now more than ever
Forbes has titled American businessman Arthur Blank as one of “The 100 greatest living business minds”. His business models and success story are built upon his idea of serving others with passion through whatever work you decide to do.
Arthur talks about how his definition of success and service has broadened over the years ever since he began questioning the major issues the world is dealing with today.
Despite our progression in the material world, the growth of our GDP over time has failed to ensure people’s happiness.
○ The “what’s in it for me?” model
One of the reason for this maybe living in a technologically-driven world, which means that we’re exceedingly reliant on digital media to meet all our needs. Consequently, we’re more detached from intimate interactions with people and feel separated in a sense.
In fact, the rates of depression and suicide have spiked unlike ever before, and more and more people are reportedly leading unsatisfactory lives and loosing their faith.
We’re all hustling for “success” without questioning something far more critical. Are we working in a way that is “worthy of our lives”?
Over the last few centuries, in particular, our commercial activity has hit the roof with universal compassion taking a nosedive. We live in a time of rapid consumption and see service to others as almost a favour.
This “what’s in it for me?” mindset has created a huge disproportion in our consumption vs contribution ratio and is making us head for ecological, psychological, and also economic disaster.
○ Our passion is for us, but our purpose is for others
Today more than ever before, its important to uphold service and the willingness to give as abundantly as we take so as to create the reality of both a prosperous and sustainable world possible.
Failing this, we’ll be operating from a scarcity point of view with no faith, falling prey to more greed and creating an unstable system where we’re all unhappy from running a “rat race” against one another.
The problem lies in identifying life with our ‘individual identity‘ alone. The more we focus on that, the more troubled we feel.
If we were to extend that identity to the rest of our community and people; through connections, associations, and a willingness to give back, it is us who will ultimately grow in gratitude and experience.
If money were the end goal, the most successful people would be the happiest. But we all know that to be untrue. This is because success in the actual definition of the word is ‘all-encompassing’.
Our passion is for us, but our purpose is for others. If you do not feel happy, it is because you are not serving.
Serving others also equals serving ourselves
When we think of service, we think of the word “giving”. Little do we realize that it is only in giving that we receive. Empathy and compassion is a contagious chain; we act in service of another to brighten someone’s day, only because we know and have experienced service and love from someone else in the first place. It’s almost like a “ripple effect”.
○ Feeling of having impacted another life
Positive psychology is built on the foundation that “People want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within them, and to enhance their experiences of love, work and play”.
Considering positive psychology’s effects on our emotions, it is easy to conclude that compassion and gratitude play a huge role in determining one’s well-being. Upholding the value of serving others as a core principle of your life greatly boosts empathy and appreciation.
Science has shown that certain parts of the brain that experience a dopamine rush from engaging in pleasure activities are stimulated similarly by serving others. This is because by helping others, we experience a sense of achievement and a feeling of having impacted another life.
○ A renewed sense of purpose
To serve is not limited to charity work alone; it can also be through your profession. If you are solving a problem faced by your community through your work and service offered to them, then that equals serving people as well.
Until your values are intact and your intention aligns with your higher purpose, you wake up each day with the idea that you are doing the work of God. That in itself is a big reason for people to push through each day.
Not only does serving others instill deep gratitude in us for everything we possess that others don’t, but it also enriches us by giving us a reason to expand, grow, share and build on the values that we believe in.
We then connect with people who share similar values and visions, and that gives us a greater impetus and meaning to all that we strive to achieve and create.
Without this sense of purpose, we feel lost and lack the discipline and inspiration to create positive change within and beyond ourselves.
Intention of our Service is more important than the Act
Author Nelson Henderson said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade we do not plan to sit“. Life takes on a whole new depth and meaning when we indulge in actions for a cause much bigger than ourselves.
○ The simple act of selfless service
The importance of mental health is significantly prioritized in today’s world. Our psychological well-being is benefited greatly when we give to others for a ‘reason’ that has absolutely nothing to do with us. This is called “selfless service“.
This could mean being a listening ear or uplifting others through our words, wisdom, experience, or service. It could also mean championing causes like sustainability, child welfare, eradicating poverty, or fighting animal abuse.
When we extend our compassion to all of life and think of the benefits we can bestow to the present and future generations to come, we do so with no thought of ourselves in the picture.
Yet, despite this, we end up receiving a lot of joy in the process. Psychologist Elisha Goldstein says that this kind of specific altruism is great for our mental health as it helps us detach from our egos and nurtures the reality that there is something greater than ourselves.
Discovering ourselves by serving others
One of the major reasons we feel like our “life sucks” is because we feel lost without a real sense of purpose. Success and material wealth doesn’t always guarantee fulfilment.
We can never fully understand the point of this life and our ability to create a real difference in this world unless we engage in some sort of service that alleviates human suffering in one way or another.
○ Giving life more context and meaning
We are able to embrace the core values of hard work, passion and commitment even better when we strive to serve our community.
This inspires us to not only work harder in order to give back more, but the kind of vulnerability and peace that service gives us strengthens our character further and gives our lives more context and meaning.
By developing values of care towards the disadvantaged, compassion for those suffering, and tolerance for people with a different outlook on life, one tends to find out more about themselves. All of this is possible only through service.
In order to discover our true essence, we cannot live with a selfish attitude. A majority of the things we learn is through our interactions and experiences with others.
Helping others is a humbling activity that shifts our perspective and makes us look at our own life from all angles. Consequently, we start transforming aspects of ourselves for the better.
○ Humanity above everything else
In our quest for self-discovery, the more we understand that we’re a part of a much greater network called humanity, the quicker our ego dissolves. When we are focused on the bigger picture, it helps put everything into perspective and rethink everything in our lives.
In our broader community building efforts, we find ourselves in a larger context of helping the world advance both spiritually and materially.
In this process, we discover virtues like justice, humility, empathy, generosity, and truth, which further act as guiding points in our decisions and our value system.
“The more we search for ourselves, the less likely we are to find ourselves; and the more we search for God, and to serve our fellow-men, the more profoundly will we become acquainted with ourselves, and the more inwardly assured. This is one of the great spiritual laws of life” – Shoghi Effendi(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, February 18, 1954)
One cannot pour from an empty cup
It is important to also include yourself and your own interests under your umbrella of compassion and love. True service should never feel like a chore to you. In case it does, you’re doing it wrong.
The proverb that “one cannot pour from an empty cup” is absolutely true since we cannot care for someone else unless we care for ourselves first. How can we serve abundantly from a place of scarcity?
○ Be Kind, but Know Your Limits
We all have big dreams, a desire for success, and the urge to help people and champion as many causes as we can. However, the idea is not to push ourselves beyond our means. Service is meant to make us see life as a whole; for both us and the people we connect with.
Being kind and helpful to others is a virtue that we should be proud of. However, it’s important to know when you can give more and when you need to get better boundaries in place
We should try to remember the adage: “You can’t give what you don’t have.” This is especially true with regard to giving time and resources.
If we are feeling overwhelmed or like we’re not able to provide enough support for someone, it’s important that we get better boundaries in place so that they are able to take care of themselves.
The words “yes” or “no” are powerful when they come from someone who knows their limits. And the ability to say both is important for our own mental health as well as everyone else around us.
○ Everybody has the capacity to serve
But, it helps to remember that everybody has the capacity to serve in whatever way they can. A classic example is that of Sindhutai Sapkal, who is commonly referred to as “The Mother of Orphans“.
Despite having nothing to offer, Sindhutai stood tall with her will to give by begging on the streets so she could feed every orphan she saw.
Her cup was already filled with the gratitude of being alive, and that alone was motivation enough for her to serve. Our true purpose always arises from our pain which pushes us to protect others from the same way.
No matter where we are in life, if we recognize the “fullness” in our life by simply acknowledging that there is really nothing more for us to take from life, we can manifest a heart of service in any situation.
Then, we automatically start serving from a very powerful place to be. We begin to serve not to give or take anything but to simply express our gratitude for this life.
A Final Dialogue on The Importance of Serving Others
We are all built to serve; the deeper our intention behind it, the broader our sense of purpose and fulfilment.
We discover ourselves greatly when we bring meaning to our “larger identity”.. i.e. humanity. Not only do we start viewing our life with a new lens of gratitude and meaning, we also discover how powerful we are.
Realizing that we’re here for a cause much greater than our individual self and that we possess the power to shift lives can be incredibly gratifying to our self-esteem and mental health.
In our desire to serve others, we must begin by filling up our own cup until it overflows with only love and goodwill for the rest. Only then can we shift from patterns of ‘consumption’ to ‘contribution’ as we surrender ourselves to something much higher than all of us combined.
Without our altruistic tendencies, we can never be whole. Even nature demonstrates how the world runs on the theme of selfless sacrifice. A tree gives us its shade and its fruit without asking for anything at all in return; it never questions ‘What’s in it for me?’
These examples are right in front of our eyes! It only makes sense then that we align ourselves with the Universe’s purpose and make it our mission to carry it forward to all of creation until this everlasting ripple creates enough synergy to connect and transform hearts all over.
“When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. But when you serve, you see life as a whole” – Rachel Naomi Remen