Don’t have any doubt about it – helping others, with a generous heart, is arguably the ultimate form of enlightened self interest, in that it is essential for the achievement of sustainable happiness. Observe the happiest people you know and you will see that they live their lives to a greater or lesser extent in the service of others.
Those with purely self serving lives will be constantly restless, looking for the ‘next thing’. They will find only fleeting happiness in their personal achievements, accumulation of possessions, social status and narrow pleasure seeking activities. The most satisfying achievements are those that are motivated by the wish to bring benefits to others or the wider community.
It is no coincidence that those who have achieved great personal success and wealth, often devote themselves increasingly to philanthropy as they get older. This is not to suggest that we should give into the temptation to put off serving others until some, never to arrive, future date. Our ego will always give us reasons why its ‘needs’ are more important at least for now, and to put off doing the right thing until later (chances are that ‘later’ will never arrive!).
We might talk ourselves into believing that there is no point in helping others as our contribution is too small or inconsequential. However, think of times in the past when you have benefited meaningfully from a small act of kindness from a friend or stranger. It may have been no more than providing a sympathetic ear at a time when you felt vulnerable.
In difficult and challenging times we might be forgiven for focussing exclusively on resolving our own problems, but this is precisely the time that we will benefit from giving of ourselves to others. It will provide a respite from/perspective on our own issues, and deepen our sense of connection at a time when we might fell isolated. For example, it is interesting how some of those who find themselves unemployed turn to charitable or voluntary work, while their job search continues.
‘ Our prime purpose in this life is to help others, and if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them’. I like this quote attributed to the Dalai Lama as it illustrates another dimension, namely that if we can do no good in a particular situation at least do no harm. Of course, we cannot help everyone but there are no end of worthwhile causes to support. We have to choose the unique ways in which we can contribute, based on our talents, where our passions lie or a particular ‘calling’ we feel.
In order to feel the full benefits from our giving our motives must be pure. Give unconditionally and with no expectation of recognition. We should not give in such a way as to create a dependency in the other for our help or enforce a sense of helplessness. Helping should not be motivated by an ego power need e.g. to control a charitable organization. Likewise we should not ‘help’ out of fear or because we are being bullied in some way.
So, for your own sake, let being open, willing and available to help others become an essential part of who you are.