If Mahatma Gandhi was right when he said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” it would likely follow, then, that helping others could also alleviate a great deal of your workday blues.
Adopting a “service mindset” first thing in the morning guarantees some measure of success, explains Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of the book “The Conservative Heart,” in a recent New York Times oped.
Brooks contends that service reduces stress and raises job satisfaction because it displaces the object of attention from oneself.
“When I am working for myself, any disappointing outcome is a stressful, unpleasant reflection on me,” he writes. “When I am serving, on the other hand, the work is always intrinsically valuable because of its intention.”
Stephen G. Post, PhD, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and author of “The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get us Through Hard Times” tells WebMD that when we engage in good deeds, we reduce our stress levels on a physiological and psychological level.
Because long-term stress is linked to premature ageing and early death, Post explains that cultivating a positive emotional state through pro-social behaviours, which lowers stress levels, may even lengthen your life. Studies of people suffering from cancer, cardiac disease, chronic pain, breast cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis have all shown a correlation between patients providing peer support to others and a positive shift in quality of life and survival rates.
Post points to more research on the benefits of benevolence, including that of Allan Luks, who surveyed thousands of volunteers across the US and found that people who consistently helped others felt their health improved when they started to volunteer. Half of respondents reported experiencing a “high”” feeling, 43% felt stronger and more energetic, and others reported experiencing feelings of inner warmth, calm, and self-worth.
Even simply thinking about service can have a positive physiological effect. In the 1980s Harvard behavioural psychologists found that students who watched a film about Mother Teresa’s charitable work showed significant increases in a protective antibody that plays a critical role in mucosal immunity over those watching a neutral film. The researchers concluded that “dwelling on love” strengthened the immune system.
All of this isn’t to say you necessarily need to quit your job and join a nonprofit. Brooks explains in the New York Times almost any work could be considered a genuine service job by adding a “layer of intentionality.”
“The type of work is actually less important than the attitude of the worker,” he says.
He illustrates this point by drawing on the parable of a traveller who asked some stonemasons what they were doing — one replied that he was making a living cutting stone, while another said he was building a cathedral.
“Every one of us is building a human cathedral,” Brooks writes. “In our interconnected world and global economy, our work transforms the lives of countless others. Sometimes the impact is obvious: Managers and executives directly inflect their employees’ happiness and career success. But everyone, in every industry, affects the lives of coworkers, supervisors, customers, suppliers, donors or investors.”
He suggests that we ponder on how to make people’s lives better through our work during our morning commute or while sipping our morning coffee.
“Relief is as close as the kindness you show to others,” Brooks writes. “Build your cathedral.”