I once heard the story of two great banquet halls. In each, hungry guests surrounded tables prepared with feasts fit for royalty. Very long-handled eating utensils were strapped to the arms of each guest, prohibiting them from bringing food to their mouths.
The diners in one hall were miserable, frustrated in their failed attempts to even sample the delicious-looking meal. They grumbled and complained of the torture of remaining hungry even in the presence of such a magnificent buffet. In the other, cheerful conversation and grateful compliments to the host could be heard.
The circumstances were identical in each hall. What made the difference in the diners’ attitudes? In the first, each person’s attention was turned inward, selfishly and unsuccessfully trying to satisfy his own need. In the second, diners had forgotten themselves, turning outward to use the spoons in their own hands to feed their neighbors. Every hungry appetite was satisfied, as much for friendship as for physical nourishment.
The unhappy folks in the first room were only doing what comes naturally to all of us. I can’t judge them for their tendency toward self preservation. But they had not yet learned this truth: When you are feeling low, even when you’re “empty” and don’t think you have anything left to give, the guaranteed way to lift your spirits is to reach deep inside yourself and do something nice for somebody else.
It’s counter-intuitive, but I know it works because I’ve experienced it recently. It’s so fulfilling when you find yourself in a situation where someone really needs something you can offer. Helping them, in reality, helps you.
Looking out for members of society who are most vulnerable is always its own reward. When I was raising small children, some days my only achievement seemed to be that they were alive and well for one more day. Your actions don’t have to be anything remarkable to be significant service to a child. Patiently teaching a simple skill to a child might be remembered for a lifetime.
Likewise, providing patient service to the elderly–skills they can no longer provide for themselves–is never wasted. Doing something for someone that they can’t do for themselves is noble work. It doesn’t pay very well, in the monetary sense, but it is vital to happiness.
Our love for people grows out of service to them.
“It is a time-honored adage, that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase.”