I’ve had the unique and fortunate opportunity to work with a few nonprofit organizations over the past two years. I’ve learned more than enough about life from being involved with these organizations. I’ve learned that patience is a virtue when working with adults with disabilities, and that one should throw patience out the window and start living life to the fullest when working in a cancer clinic. One thing that is constant that I have learned is that to be a part of something greater than yourself is to see the world in a different light. It seems a foreign feeling to stop living for yourself. After all, since we were born life has been about us and only us. That feeling is perpetuated by our parents until we reach college. Then life hits. That sudden, brick-wall realization that life isn’t always (read ever) about you comes as a shock to all. Some don’t take it so well. Others grasp it and run with the idea. They find their identity in making the world a better place rather than making their world a better place. That’s the point where you realize that real happiness lies in what you can do for others rather than yourself. Except some people never learn that, but I refuse to get on that soapbox. Ah, now you’ve got life figured out. You’ve found a greater purpose of which to be a part, the key to happiness. But why do you still seem unfulfilled? I mean, you’re doing all of these great things and doing what makes you happy, but it doesn’t fill some unknown need. I had this realization today.
I spent the past few days working at the Special Olympics. My job was to stay with one individual in the organization for which I work and to assist him in his daily activities. These ranged from hygiene to transportation, and was literally consuming all 24 hours of the day. Don’t get me wrong, my job is fulfilling, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now, but I have grown accustomed to providing this kind of care. It no longer brings with it this daily feeling of bettering the world, but rather a feeling of “this is just what I do”. I have to look hard to see what I do as being a part of something greater anymore. Maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to the feeling. But then I had a bit of a revelation. I had recently been lending my ears to a few friends who just needed someone to listen to them. Just listening. That’s all. Just listening and offering a kind word here and there. I got more enjoyment out of bringing a bit of happiness (however small) to a few people that I know very well than I have anything else for a long time. I realized that I had taken for granted what it means to be a friend. I had made friendships more about myself, and less about my friends. In my attempts to be a more selfless individual, I had become a more selfish individual in an area of life that is fundamental to my being. I learned a lesson. Sure, doing good for the world is fulfilling and admired by all. Being perceived as good by others is a feeling that all persons long for, rather or not they really wish to admit it. What’s important is making sure that you’re perceived as good by the right people. It is far more satisfying to experience praise at the hands of friends rather than just people that you know. Doing something good for those that mean the most to you is far more gratifying than doing something good for random people. Don’t give up one in favor of the other, just keep yourself aware of which one takes precedence in your life. Find a good balance and be a good person, but be an even better friend. It’ll change your view on happiness, as it did mine. What man doesn’t want to be happy?