We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others. — His Holiness the Dalai Lama
We have been through a few moments in history with someone telling us others are the enemy, it’s them or us and more divine small minded ideas. If we move beyond that and really think on it its easy to see that most of of us do not lead lives of alone existence and small feats such as awaking in the morning require many unknown and unseen efforts by others.
A meaningful life is different for everyone since the cultural messages we have been exposed to can impact what we see as meaningful. However, the research on meaning in life points to one factor that appears to be important for all of us: developing the understanding we are not alone and share this journey together. Research suggests that giving helps us feel more connected to others, which imbues our lives with a sense of meaning.Here are a few suggestions to better understand and benefit form our shared journeys.
- Start small. You don’t need to begin with grand gestures; even small, everyday behaviors can have an impact on others and on your own sense of well-being. For example, in a study published in Science, spending just five dollars on someone else led to boosts in happiness. The Eliciting Altruism practice includes strategies for starting a habit of kindness and generosity, such as reminding yourself of your connections to others and identifying with individuals who may need your help.
- Make your helping count. It turns out that not all types of giving have the same effects on us. A practice of thanks and awareness for those we cannot necessarily see or interact with opens doors, eyes and minds for how to help others in ways that boosts your own sense of happiness and well-being. In particular, helping others can be especially effective. When you CAN see the specific impact that your mental actions have you take steps towards greater good and greater understanding.
- Take time to thank others. As the research shows, expressing gratitude towards others can be a prosocial act, too. When others take time to do something nice for you, making them feel appreciated can help build your relationship with them and make your life more meaningful.
Recent research has provided evidence to support the idea that helping others goes hand in hand with meaningfulness. It’s not just that people who have already found their purpose in life enjoy giving back. Instead, helping others can actually create the sense of meaning we’re seeking. Rather than ruminating on what makes our life worthwhile as we work toward burnout, we can find the answer outside ourselves, in human connection.
Peace and Love, Jim