Ironically, service--which has the same roots as the words serf, servile, servitude, and slave--seems today to indicate an exchange between equals. "May I be of service to you?" has a very different slant to it than "Would you accept my charity?"
It's one of the great open secrets of the world that by serving others you serve yourself. As Emerson said, "It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself." Those who have given to others for the joy of giving know the reward is just that--joy.
Service is a self-ish thing--in the truest sense of self-ish. We do it because it feels good. And because it feels good, we want to do more. As a poet once wrote, "The greatest gift is to fill a need unnoticed." The gift is given, simultaneously, to both the giver and the receiver. "The love I give you is secondhand: I feel it first."
In service, the person serving and the person being served are one. By allowing others to serve you, you serve them. By serving others, you are serving yourself. It's the cycle of giving and receiving. Soon it's hard to tell who's giving and who's receiving. It just flows.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Besides making you feel good because you know that you have done good for others, service is physiologically good for you.
A study in Tecumseh, Michigan, for example, showed that regular volunteer work--more than any other factor--dramatically increased life expectancy. "Men who did no volunteer work were two and a half times as likely to die during the study as men who volunteered at least once a week."
Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.
Doing good for others enhances the immune system, lowers cholesterol, strengthens the heart, decreases chest pains, and reduces stress. A study at Harvard showed that even thinking about doing service produced positive psychological results.
Service can be done even from bed. The phone is a great tool of service with which you can--to quote Ma Bell--reach out and touch someone.
Give to live.
So long as we love we serve; so long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
One of the greatest forms of service is allowing others to serve you. Their giving might be of the "charitable" sort at first, but gradually they may learn the joy of giving. In allowing them to give, you have been part of their learning.
Giving to others feels good; it strengthens the physiology and enhances self-worth. When you let others give to you, you are giving them the gift of good feelings, strengthened physiology, and enhanced self-worth.
Each time someone does something for you, remind yourself, "I am worthy of this." If you weren't worthy, it wouldn't be taking place. (Pragmatism 101.) You are worthy. Accept the service.
When, through your service to others, you see how much there is to be gained, you will gladly let others serve you. Or you can learn this by watching the faces of the people as they serve you.
One of the greatest myths of our culture is that of the "rugged individualist"--independent, self-sufficient, "I can do it all myself." Hardly. Imagine what your life would be like if you had to meet all your needs yourself.
Independence? That's middle-class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
Did you make your own clothes? Did you weave the cloth? Did you grow the cotton? Did you chop the trees to make the loom and mine the ore to make the needles? Did you make the tools to chop the trees and mine the ore? Did you invent these?
If we look beneath the surface of almost anything we rely on, the myth of "independence" falls apart. We are, in fact, interdependent. We depend on something someone has done--or is doing--for almost everything in our lives. And other people are depending on what we do and have done.
If you can assist others, without overtaxing or overextending yourself, do so. If you want assistance from others, ask for it. It's all part of the flow, the interaction, the interdependence, the interconnectedness of life.
Every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.
The superfluous, a very necessary thing.
Some people become addicted to excitement, to mental-emotional-physical intensity of any kind. Some of it is "positive," some of it is "negative," but all of it is thrilling, demanding, exciting.
Excitement addiction, like any other addiction, requires future levels of excitement to be greater, and greater, and greater still.
The results of this are graphically illustrated in a film that features an unfortunate mouse. (No, not one of those Disney antidrug films--this was a movie about a real mouse.)
The mouse had been surgically wired so that the pleasure center of the brain was stimulated by an electric current each time the mouse touched a switch in its cage. The mouse would touch the switch, an electric current would stimulate its pleasure center, and the mouse would fall on its back writhing in ecstasy.
At first, one "hit" was sufficient for quite some time. After the pleasure had subsided, the mouse would lie there for a while, smoke a cigarette, wonder if it would respect itself in the morning, get something to eat, and see who was on "The Tonight Show."
In Rome you long for the country; in the country --oh inconstant!-- you praise the distant city to the stars.
In the valleys you look for the mountains. In the mountains you've searched for the rivers. There is no where to go. You are where you belong. You can live the life you dreamed.
As time went on, however, the interval between lever hits grew shorter, and the amount of time the mouse could hold down the lever grew longer. Eventually, the mouse abandoned all nourishment and sat, spasmodically pushing the switch several hundred times per minute.
Humans who become addicted to excitement do approximately the same thing--they need more and more but enjoy it less and less.
If you find yourself on this treadmill, get off. Slow down. Take it easy. Learn to appreciate the quieter, subtler, simpler pleasures of life.
The process is the one we discussed before-- focusing on the positive. The positive is not necessarily what will get you excited. The positive is sometimes contemplating the wonder of a plant or reflecting on the amount of time and attention that went into making even the most common of objects--say, a drinking glass.Treating Type A Behavior and Your Heart by Meyer Friedman, M.D., and Diane Ulmer, R.N., M.S. Available in paperback from Fawcett Books, New York.>
Replace the idea of "excitement" with that of "enjoyment." When you feel the need for excitement, see if you can find something enjoyable instead. Too much excitement strains the body. Enjoyment, in its own quiet way, strengthens.
Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.
Be easier on yourself, on everyone, on everything. Suspend your judgments of the way things should be, must be, and ought to be. Suspending judgments gives you greater ease.
Consider ease the antidote for disease.
Do things that bring you ease--quiet walks, resting, hot baths, being with friends, meditating, contemplating, reading, writing.
Approach life with acceptance, patience, flowing, giving, grace, effortlessness, simplicity, allowing, acquiescing, permitting, forgiving.
Write these words--and others like them--on separate cards and put them in places you will see them. Pick one of these attitudes each day and no matter what happens, meet it with that attitude.
It often happens that I wake at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope.
POPE JOHN XXIII
When challenged by a situation you're not quite sure how to respond to, ask yourself, "How would a Master handle this?" or "How would the perfect __________ respond to this?" (Fill in the blank with whatever "role" you happen to be playing--the perfect friend, the perfect boss, the perfect employee, the perfect lover, the perfect patient.)
If you have religious or spiritual beliefs, ask yourself how the One you worship would respond to the situation. If you admire certain leaders--masters--in their chosen fields, ask yourself what they would do.
You'll probably get an answer. You're not obliged to follow that answer, of course, but, you will at least have another option.
For the most part, Masters don't get upset--at least not for long. They have, as the sayings go, "the wisdom of Solomon," "the patience of Job," and "the love of Christ." If you have this kind of wisdom, patience, and love, what is there to be upset about?
Within us we all have that kind of wisdom, patience, and love. It's just a matter of calling on it.
Some people are remarkably good at knowing not only what's wrong, but also whom to tell about it, and how. These are the effective complainers. Their complaints often result in improvement.
Life is too short to waste In critical peep or cynic bark, Quarrel or reprimand: 'Twill soon be dark; Up! Mind thine own aim, and God speed the mark!
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Most people, however, are ineffective complainers. They moan, groan, kvetch, and complain to anyone who will listen.
This phenomenon can be seen from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. every working day. It's the daily National Convention of the "Ain't It Awful?" Club. The Club Motto is Miseria Libere Companio ("Misery Loves Company"). Bars and cocktail lounges all over the country serve drinks at half-price, and, for the price of a drink, people tell each other their troubles. For some unknown reason, this segment of time is known as The Happy Hour.
Conversations between some people consist of a litany of how unfair it all is. When these people ask their friends, "What's new?" what they mean is, "Any news of fresh disasters?"
If your learning to focus on the positive, the habit of complaining is, to mix metaphors, not flowing with the river in the direction the horse is riding. If you're looking for things to complain about, you'll find them--and you'll find the consequences of negative thinking as well.
What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner.
To reverse this habit, here are two suggestions:
For every letter you write grumbling about something, write a letter of tribute as well. (It need not be to the same person or company.) Each time you ask the maitre d' over and condemn the food, invite the same maitre d' to your table and praise something.
If, in fact, you find something to praise before giving your complaint, (a) you may find the person receiving the complaint more open to hearing it (and doing something about it), and--more importantly--(b) you will be learning to look for the positive even in situations worthy of complaining.
You grow up the day you have the first real laugh --at yourself.
Probably some of the best anecdotes in your personal repertoire are stories of how disaster befell you. With the passage of time, most tragedies have a way of becoming comedies.
Start looking at "bad" situations in life as raw material for your opening monologue. Ever notice how much humor is based on misfortune? What's the difference between laughing about something and crying about it? Attitude. Which would you rather do?
Yes, sometimes crying is appropriate. But laughter--as long as it doesn't become a form of denial--is often the best response to those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. As the tribulations mount, tell yourself, "This is great! I can't wait to tell so-and-so!"
The people you know who laugh easily, talk to them often. As Evelyn Waugh said, "We cherish our friends not for their ability to amuse us, but for ours to amuse them."
The growth of the human mind is still high adventure, in many ways the highest adventure on earth.
Many years ago, Norman Cousins was diagnosed as "terminally ill." He was given six months to live. His chance for recovery was one in five hundred.
He could see that the worry, depression, and anger in his life contributed to, and perhaps helped cause, his disease. He wondered, "If illness can be caused by negativity, can wellness be created by positivity?"
He decided to make an experiment of himself. Laughter was one of the most positive activities he knew. He rented all the funny movies he could find--Keaton, Chaplin, Fields, the Marx Bros. (This was before VCRs, so he had to rent the actual films.) He read funny stories. His friends were asked to call him whenever they said, heard, or did something funny.
He was in pain so great he could not sleep. Laughing for five solid minutes, he found, relieved the pain for several hours so he could sleep.
He fully recovered from his illness; and lived another twenty happy, healthy, and productive years. (His journey is detailed in his book, Anatomy of an Illness.) He credits visualization, the love of his family and friends, and laughter for his recovery.
Some people think laughter is "a waste of time." It's a luxury, they say, a frivolity, something to be indulged in only every so often.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Laughter is essential to our equilibrium, to our well-being, to our aliveness. If we're not well, laughter helps us get well. If we are well, laughter helps us stay that way.
Since Cousins's ground-breaking subjective work, scientific studies have shown that laughter has a curative effect on the body, the mind, and the emotions.
I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: "O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous." And God granted it.
So, if you like laughter, consider it sound medical advice to indulge in it as often as you can. If you don't like laughter, then take your medicine--laugh anyway.
Use whatever makes you laugh--movies, sitcoms, Monty Python, records, books, New Yorker cartoons, jokes, friends.
Give yourself permission to laugh--long and loud and out loud--whenever anything strikes you as funny. The people around you may think you're strange, but sooner or later they'll join in--even if they don't know what you're laughing about.
Some diseases may be contagious, but none is as contagious as the cure--laughter.
No man is a failure who is enjoying life.
Whatever makes you happy--as long as it doesn't hurt you or hurt someone else--do it.
Schedule pleasurable activities into your life with the same dedication, precision, and priority you give less-than-pleasurable ones.
Some people think that happiness just happens, and, yes, to a degree that's true. But happiness has a better chance of happening in situations you find enjoyable. Experienced positive focusers can find happiness in a garbage pile, but even experienced positive focusers find it easier to find happiness at a museum (or reading a good book, or watching a good TV show, or at the beach, or with friends).
Make a list of the things you enjoy doing. Do them often. Actively pursuing happiness is pursuing health.
Copyright © 1988-1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press, Inc.
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