“And Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Among the most primal drives we humans have is the insatiable need to be needed. More so than desiring money, a big home, a fancy car, the latest fashion, or Twitter likes, we crave connection. As a researcher on brain science and human happiness, I couldn’t agree more! Being part of a community and feeling needed turn out to be one of the greatest sources of our happiness. Knowing that you belong and that others value your presence in the world is a form of wealth beyond measure!
Enjoy discovering more about the “Science Behind Connection” in this series’ second article that explores your “Connection to Purpose.” Read last month’s article.
What is your purpose in life? I admit; it’s really not an easy question to answer. Here’s a way to help you get started thinking about it. You might ask yourself: “Rather than what I can take from others, what is it that I can give to others?” If you can answer this question, it’s very likely you are living your life with purpose.
I also believe that finding your purpose is intimately connected with the concept of contribution. What is contribution, and why is it required for achieving happiness? Contribution is linked to the idea of knowing that others need you and that your presence in the world matters and is meaningful. Why is this true? It speaks to the fundamental joy received from recognizing that you add value to the lives of others.
Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a combat soldier, a social worker, or an emergency room doctor, your presence in the world matters. Studies now show that individuals who report higher levels of happiness are those that actively contribute their time and resources when helping others.
Why is that? The idea of contribution relates to “social capital”—the sustainable wealth measured by the social bonds and collective assets of a community. It’s the pursuit of social capital—not monetary capital—that resides at the heart of humanity and at the foundation of our real wealth. Even economists are beginning to affirm the societies that prosper and thrive the most are those where its people value social capital. When you pursue life with purpose and know that your presence in the world brings meaning, it is a form of personal wealth that enriches you beyond money.
Evolutionary psychology and social neuroscience suggest that the human brain evolved as a social organ to contribute and cooperate, as a fundamental strategy for survival. Despite thousands of years of civilization and technological progress, we remain social beings that experience value, belonging, and engagement with our tribe.
But something very sinister is taking place today. Despite the comforts and leisure that modernity brings, we are in the grips from what I call our perilous “Age of Disconnection.” More than ever, we feel isolated, scared, anxious, and alone. As Junger affirms in his book Tribe, “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
We’re slowly discovering what all of the timeless spiritual traditions have taught—no amount of money can bring enduring happiness. Something else is deeply required in our lives. His Holiness the Dalai Lama expands on this dilemma.
He imparts, “Virtually all the world’s major religions teach that diligent work in the service of others is our highest nature and thus lies at the center of a happy life. Scientific surveys and studies confirm shared tenets of our faiths. Americans who prioritize doing good for others are almost twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives.”
We witness this universal concept of finding your purpose and being in service to others reflected throughout all the world’s religions. Social capital and spirituality framed in service are what exist behind the teachings of the New Testament that instruct us to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling.” It is equally evident in the ancient Hindu and Buddhist concept of dharma—joyously fulfilling one’s duty in life.
Purpose is related to finding your dharma and following your calling in life. It’s not about working just for a weekly paycheck, but for a life’s cause. Humanity’s timeless teachings have in some fashion advanced the majesty and importance of promoting social capital over monetary capital as the key to happiness.
Experiencing contribution also doesn’t require you to become the next Nelson Mandela or Malala Yousafzai. In my university Happiness course, students discover that happiness isn’t so much about figuring out the purpose of life, but rather discovering your purpose in life. One of the exercises students are asked to do is to wake up every morning and ask the question: “What is one action that I can take today that brings value to others?” Perhaps this is a question you can begin to ask yourself or one you can even ask to your children: “How do I get to express my contribution today? What can I do to make one other person feel valuable and needed today?”
Acts of contribution and service can be as simple as holding the door for a disabled or elderly person, or more entailed such as volunteering to serve food at your local homeless shelter. Of course, since humans fundamentally evolved with social brains, the act of contribution is best enjoyed with others. I find that we are most happy when we contribute and work together for a common goal—whether cooking a meal as a family, clearing up the neighborhood park with your fraternity, or building shelters for the homeless as a community. Most importantly, these acts of service and of contribution further enrich the tribe by advancing social capital—the wealth where everyone profits.
To repeat the wise words of Dr. King, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Being able to answer that question can be the start for you to enjoy a rich and prosperous life. It begins by learning to connect to your purpose. Here’s a video that we think you’ll enjoy that explores more about “Connection to Purpose.”
Next month’s article will reveal how to experience your “Connection to Passion.” Until then, enjoy the abundance from connecting to your purpose in life.
In Health & Happiness,
Think You Have What It Takes to Be a Conscious Contributor?
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The Conscious Good Studio Series is a monthly program of inspiring films screening at yoga and meditation studios to serve as a catalyst for connection. We are thrilled to announce our summer Studio Series program: The Best of Mindscape Film Festival!
It consists of all things regarding the human MIND: consciousness, perception, thinking, memory, and that which is yet to be discovered. It pushes the boundaries of our own comprehension with a thread of stories that connect us in this world and beyond. The Mindscape Film Festival by Conscious Good is a celebration of this marvel.
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