Service to others really matters—and it makes you happier

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I was once dragged along on a week-long community service trip called STORM Co—meaning Service To Others Really Matters. It was organised by my wife for a group of 20 or so local high school students.

It wasn’t that I was opposed to the idea of community service, but I say ‘dragged along’ because my life was just too hectic. At the time I was building a house while completing a PhD degree—I was a busy man!

But when they couldn’t find a bus driver, I reluctantly agreed. In my mind I gave up a week of ‘productivity’ to do community service in a country town in rural Australia.

Transformational event

The experience was transformational. Since then, I have willingly—even enthusiastically—been back for several more week-long stints.

Why? Each time I return home feeling emotionally energised.

And the science backs up the message that approaching life with an attitude of service is not only honourable, it’s one of the best things we can do for ourselves.

Service has even been described as ‘enlightened self-interest’—as compared to ‘self-sacrifice’—because the rewards that come from it do the doer such good.

The ‘helper’s high’ is a real and enduring buzz.

Serving with signature strengths

As we travelled home in the bus from my first STORM Co experience, I asked those on the trip what gave them the biggest buzz. They all responded differently.

  • For some it was visiting residents at the local retirement village
  • For others it was running a ‘kids club’ for children in the town
  • Others enjoyed painting fences or tidying up a garden at a senior couple’s house
  • Some enjoyed working with local shop owners on a community project.

The point is that we’re all different, and we’re all meant to serve differently. I’ve come to understand that our greatest highs come from sharing our greatest gifts.

An increasing number of studies show that intentionally using our ‘signature strengths’ is associated with higher levels of happiness and less depression.

Abraham Lincoln was right when he said, ‘When I do good, I feel good.’

Take up the challenge

If people make a habit of intentionally using their signature strengths in a new way, it has been found to increase their happiness for years.

But, heading into retirement or already in retirement, our strengths and skills are for service, not status. Using our signature strengths can elevate us, but using our signature strengths for goodcan lift us higher.

As have many others, I’ve come to discover that the sweet spot in life is where what we love, what we’re good at and what serves the world intersect.

And, we’ll be most emotionally uplifted if we use our signature strengths for service to others.

Darren Morton is the lead researcher at the Lifestyle Research Centre at Avondale College of Higher Education and the author ofLive More Active.

Category: Attitude, Connecting, Emotional Health

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