My parents taught me to be a kind person, and to do things for others without being asked or expecting anything in return. The lengths I’ve seen them both go for a complete stranger is inspiring. However, it wasn’t until I was recovering from drug addiction that I realized the power of serving others.
After my last relapse in 2008, my chief concern in life was to overcome the craving for drugs and alcohol. Some days it completely consumed me, and for months later some event would trigger that craving suddenly.
I worked the steps of AA repeatedly, went to hundreds of meetings and therapy sessions, and engaged with tons of different sober friends. But the one thing I attribute most to my success in recovery – serving others.
The final step in the AA book talks about serving others, and I took this VERY seriously. I worked with dozens of other alcoholics taking them through the steps. I let 5 different homeless people live with me at various times, a few of them for months at a time to help them get clean.
I was so self-centered at the time, always feeling sorry for myself, angry at the world, and in general pretty depressed.
When I started to focus more on others my mindset started to shift. This is not at all to say I stopped thinking of myself. Just the act of doing more things for other people gave me a different perspective on life.
I started to become aware of other people’s struggles, fears, hopes, desires, dreams, etc. I learned that my problems weren’t unique, and rather than feeling alone I felt a part of.
My good friend Doug taught me how to infuse this lesson into every aspect of my life. He’d be at a restaurant, and would strike up the deepest conversation with the waiter about what his dream in life was. By the end of the conversation the waiter would be glowing. He’d do the same with a homeless person or college professor.
Why should you do this?
On one hand, I have the unpopular belief that we are all connected in some way. We are the same thing just living in a different meat suit, with different past experiences, looking through a different set of eyes. So in that sense I think we owe it to each other to be as loving and helpful as possible.
The more direct, empirically proven reason is that when we help others WE feel happier and better about ourselves. Feeling like you are a good person doesn’t suck.
Humans are hardwired for connection, and by helping others we feel connected to them. Some psychologists say it’s a core need up there with food and water.
So help yourself by helping others.