Despite what Madison Avenue would like us to believe, that vacation to the Riviera, that Chrysler PT Cruiser, that anti-aging cream is not the secret to happiness. There's only one thing that unlocks the door to true peace of mind. Serving a purpose bigger than that face you see in the mirror every morning. Giving everything you've got to making your world a better, brighter, more beautiful place.
Most of us haven't a clue how to give. We operate on a clandestine barter system. You do this and then I'll do that. You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours. Admit it or not, we all give for what we think we might get back. It's not always money. Many of us seek appreciation or love or that pearl necklace from Tiffany's. But as long as we keep a scorecard tally, we're destined to be stuck in the same old quagmire of fear.
When you go through life expecting people to do things for you, even if it's only seeing things the way you do, you're playing victim. You're taking from the world, not giving.
"But I'm not a victim!" you protest. Anytime you deny your own responsibility in any situation, you're playing victim. If you've ever believed that some person, some circumstance, some outer reason caused you to do anything, you've played victim. Try these statements on for size.
"I can't help it. It's just the way I am."
"Well, you see, I had this terrible childhood."
"I'm sick and tired of _____________________."
"Why does this always happen to me?"
"My life will never be the same."
"The world is getting so crazy these days."
"People are so insensitive."
See what I mean! You need to "grow up and get over yourself."
When we really become big enough to serve, to give it all away with no expectation, our sense of personal power, our peace of mind, and our ability to love and trust takes giant steps.
Albert Schweitzer is the perfect example. He was a renowned organist, an author, an expert on Bach. But when he read about the atrocious health conditions in Africa, he could no longer "live for himself."
He put himself through medical school, defied family and friends who thought he was crazy to leave his prosperous career and go to the jungles of Africa. "You're being unreasonable," they said. "You should stay in Europe. You can raise money for medical care here."
But as he said, "We must not ask whether a goal is reasonable. We must act according to our own inner compulsion." His own inner compulsion said, "Go!"
He started the Lambarene Medical Center in the only building he could find—a chicken coop. Within nine months, he had treated 2,000 patients. For the next fifty years, he worked in the jungles of Africa, saving lives, inspiring millions.
Even when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, he used the $33,000 award to start a nearby leper colony. He said repeatedly that as long as there was even one man who was hungry, sick, lonely, or living in fear, that man was his responsibility.
"Everyone," he said, "must find his own Lambarene."
WE MAKE A LIVING BY WHAT WE GET;
WE MAKE A LIFE BY WHAT WE GIVE.
With all the problems in the world, finding your niche can seem overwhelming. I mean, how can I, one person, solve world hunger? How can I, a single mom, solve the AIDS epidemic? Well, I can't. But I can bake a cookie for a starving homeless kid. And I can massage the back of the artist in my neighborhood who has AIDS. And each time, I make these seemingly tiny contributions, the world becomes a tiny bit sweeter, a tiny bit closer to heaven.
Not all of us are Jonas Salk. But we make a huge mistake if we believe our gifts and our contributions, no matter how small, don't count. Diane Heinen gets up 365 days a year—rain, sleet, or snow to drive to the gas station on the main drag of her hometown of Valley Falls, Kansas (pop. 1,200).
Using white shoe polish, she writes "Happy Birthday" in large block letters to everyone having a birthday that day. She has a list with every resident's birthday, and she even remembers former Valley Falls' residents—even if they now live in Timbuktu.
Small thing?. Not if you ask residents of Valley Falls, who have an incredible community spirit.
Last Valentine's Day, my friend, Kitty, was without a job. Her mortgage was due the next day. She wasn't sure how she was going to feed Grace and Maggie, her two dogs, let alone how she was going to come up with a $1,000 mortgage payment.
"They say" would surely have insisted it prudent to spend the day sending out resumés.
But Kitty decided to defy "they say." She spent her last $15 on Valentine's cards and kids' party favors. She addressed each valentine "To My Friend" and signed them "From Your Friend."
She put red ribbons around Maggie's and Grace's necks, stuck them in her Mazda Miata, and headed out. She passed out Valentines, each with a plastic airplane or a bracelet, to forty children, many who were in the hospital with tubes sticking out of their hearts.
She'd walk into a hospital room and say, "I've been looking for you all day."
At first, the parents looked at each other with a look of bemusement. "Who is this weird person?" they'd think.
But the kids knew.
According to Kitty, it was the best Valentine's Day she'd ever had. Yes, "they say" she should have been pining away for the boyfriend she didn't have or the job that was slow in coming. But by taking her "blocks" of humor and love, she was reminded of what a big person she is and always has been.
Serving humanity can take many forms, but it always involves spreading love, building people up, making children smile. Ultimately, it's the only thing that will ever make you happy.
COMPARED WITH WHAT WE OUGHT TO BE,
WE ARE ONLY HALF AWAKE. OUR FIRES ARE
DAMPED, OUR DRAFTS ARE CHECKED.
WE ARE MAKING USE OF ONLY A SMALL
PART OF OUR POSSIBLE MENTAL
AND PHYSICAL RESOURCES.
In a recent poll, 21 percent of North Americans reported that they were regularly "bored out of their minds." Been there, done that, so what? But as Helen Keller once said, "No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new Heaven to the human spirit."
Ask yourself, "How can I open a new heaven to the human spirit?" along with:
1. What does my life stand for?
2. How would I live my life if I were the only person on the planet?
3 .What one thing do I do better than anyone else? How can I share that with others?
IF WE ALL DID THE THINGS WE ARE CAPABLE OF
DOING, WE WOULD LITERALLY ASTOUND OURSELVES.
Assignment: For the next seven days, practice what the Constructive Living folks call "secret service."
We've looked just about everywhere—the want ads, personal growth seminars, the psychiatrist's couch—and still we're wondering what the meaning of life is.
We're still unclear about our purpose. We thought it might be that great career, that exciting penthouse overlooking the harbor, but, alas, when we finally clawed our way there, that derned hole was still there, still begging to he filled.
Finding out who you are and why you are here involves service to your fellow humans. There is no other way. That service can take many forms, but it always involves spreading love, building people up, making children smile.
For the next seven days, try secret service, a common assignment for folks who practice Constructive Living, an action-based way of looking at the world that eschews Western psychotherapy's tendency to overanalyze our backgrounds and feelings and just get on with it.
Secret service, however small or large, must be performed without anyone else being aware of it. Maybe you could mow your neighbor's lawn while she's away at work. Or leave cookies on the doorstep of a shut-in. Remember, no one is supposed to know it was you. It takes away that need we all have to get brownie points, to get ego strokes.
Serving in a quiet, simple way is a natural inclination of the soul, a natural inclination that many of us have forgotten.
And while, yes, it helps other people, the real reason that we serve our brothers and sisters is that it reminds us of a bigger reality: it keeps us positioned on the fact that we are much more than our neuroses or our little ways. When you finally learn to serve big, to give it all away, you quickly realize that you're much more than a number, much more than a small speck in a huge, cold world.
©2001, 2015 by Pam Grout. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com
Pam Grout is the author of 15 books and two iPhone apps, including the New York Times bestselling E-Squared. As a Midwestern stringer for People magazine working out of their Chicago Bureau, she has written about everything from a dinosaur hunter to a couple of guys who opened a bakery for dogs to a wonderful Boeing lineman who ran into a burning building to save six children. She has also written for Huffington Post, cnngo, Travel & Leisure, Outside, Family Circle, Modern Maturity, New Age Journal, Scientific American Explorations, Arizona Highways, Travel Holiday, Tennis, Powder, Snow Country, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, First for Women, Amtrak Express, and others. Visit her at pamgrout.com.
Watch an interview with Pam Grout: The Secret 2-Step Formula For A Brilliant Day