Serving Others is the Key to Personal Well-Being

With a week to go to Mother’s Day, 2022, I have been presented with yet another example of how I have failed as a mother.

One of my daughters was tasked with writing a paper about what she needs for her well-being. She was left to narrow down this broad topic to a smaller thesis, then write 800 words supporting it. She turned to me for help, so I started trying to get her to think about what she needed in her life to count herself as healthy and happy. She came up with food, sleep, and entertainment. It seemed to me there was a lot missing in this list, but I thought I could work with it.

“What do you need in order to get enough food, sleep, and entertainment?” I began.

She immediately jumped to someone to give her food, the proper conditions for sleep, and things to entertain her. I stifled my disappointment because, despite my urging, so far she has never had a job. She has never earned anything for herself. People giving her things is all she knows. As sad as I was that this was her first thought, it should not have been a surprise.

“What if no one is willing or able to give you these things? How do you get them for yourself?”

Her next thought was that she would take them. Stealing, or manipulating, to get things from other people who would generally be unwilling to give to her, seemed to her a good, healthy thing to do.

I balked, horrified. I pointed out that if people only stole from each other, eventually there would be nothing left to steal. Also, by stealing and manipulating, a person destroys all potential for building love and trust, which are necessary foundations for creating healthy relationships. They also lose honor – not only from others, but also in their own eyes.

She argued that stealing and manipulating are skills, and she could feel proud of her skills in this area (which, I desperately hope, she has not yet proved). She insisted that, even if her victims no longer trusted, respected, or admired her, other thieves and liars would be impressed by her thieving and lying skills. I suspected that other thieves and liars would tend more to be threatened rather than admiring, if her skills in this area were truly good. Also, what is the point of gaining the approval of dishonest, thieving people, assuming they would even give it? These are not people you can trust or with whom you can build any kind of healthy relationships. They are not people you want to have in your life at all. Whatever you may ever gain, by any means, is subject to be taken away from you by such people. Furthermore, if you are making yourself into someone no one else, including other thieves and liars, would ever want in their lives, how can that make you happy? What have you gained?

Her answer: food, sleep, and entertainment. She insists that this is all she wants. All my talk about honor, self-respect, and healthy relationships seemed worthless to her.

I switched to a new angle. I started to talk to her about how we build healthy lives in this world – how we earn money to honestly provide for ourselves the basic necessities plus, hopefully, a bit more. It all comes down to service. We assess what we can do, look to see what others need and want, and try to establish connections between our abilities and their needs and desires so that we can best serve others. We provide goods or services that others need and want enough to be willing to pay us for them. Economy 101: we serve others.

This is the way we not only make money to meet our own needs and desires, but it also builds our characters, strengthening the skills necessary for healthy, thriving, loving relationships. Any partnership of any kind – business, friendship, romantic or familial – requires people to be constantly alert to how they can help each other. All good relationships, at their core, are people mutually serving each other. The sole exception to this might be in parental relationships, where the parents only serve their children without any reciprocity. Ideally, however, the love, respect and honor that the children develop from this initial one-way service to them, will not only be paid forward, by them someday serving their own children, but also will make them honored to be able to serve their parents as their parents age, sicken and require more help.

Acquiring the healthy habit of looking to see how we can serve others also builds in ourselves self-esteem and healthy pride. We realize a sense of value in ourselves when others value us – which happens when we prove our ability to help others. The more valuable we become to others, the more valuable we feel in ourselves. This can become an ever-increasing cycle of improvement as we, realizing that we do have direct and real value through serving others, then increase our value to others by expanding our service into teaching others how to improve their own value. The ability to mentor others increases our sense of value and pride immeasurably. It also increases our self-confidence and encourages us to take risks to increase our value in other ways we might not have considered before, perhaps by learning new skills or experimenting with new approaches to meet the needs and desires of others. Wealth, prosperity, and well-being, thereby grow. We become creators of great and increasing good in this world, not only for ourselves, but for everyone.

Serving others is the true key to building our personal well-being on every level. The fact that it also helps build well-being for others is a joyful side-effect. Ultimately, serving others is identical to serving ourselves. Through this, we benefit the entire world, as well as ourselves.

This is a lesson I have striven to teach my children every day of their lives from birth. Sadly, today, I discovered that at least one of my children wholly rejects this lesson. I cannot see any path to happiness, health, or wealth for her by refusing to accept this fundamental truth, but none of my arguments could make a dent in her insistence that serving others sounds horrible to her. I am not only frustrated, but deeply grieving.

She insists on following her father’s path in life, despite the obvious proof that it has led him to nothing but the destruction of everything good in his life and the completion of his own, self-created misery. I could find no way to save him, despite my continuous efforts throughout our marriage. I learned, the hard way, that you cannot help someone who steadfastly refuses to help himself.

All I could give to my ex-husband could never be enough for him, because he had chosen to be a taker in life rather than a creator – which is a direct result of scorning the attitude of serving others. Lacking the capacity to create for himself, he was always going to be insecure in taking what he needed from others. All resources are a zero-sum game to those who lack the ability or desire to create more but, rather, content themselves with only taking. Knowing that his resources were limited to what he could take from what others created, he could never have enough to feel secure, no matter how much he stole or lied to take, or even how much was lovingly given to him, since what is given can be withheld or withdrawn.

Sadly, I did not realize how handicapped he insisted on making himself until too late. I also failed to realize that he was so severely damaging his children by teaching them his self-destructive attitudes and undermining the healthy attitudes I was trying to teach and demonstrate. Even so, I cannot comprehend why any of our children would model themselves after him. Simple common sense should serve to make obvious the failure of his teachings, even if his entire life were not the testament to their failure that it now is. Why, then, cannot my beautiful, bright, healthy daughter, full of unlimited potential, see the clear need to avoid following her father’s path to her own destruction?