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Find Your Purpose By Helping Others

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Find Your Purpose By Helping Others

I remember how in November 2013 my wife (and fellow Intentional Insights co-founder) and I, together with a great bunch of people, organized a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at our Unitarian Universalist church in Columbus, OH. The event was a big success, with more than 120 attendees, a music program, a raffle and silent auction. We raised over $2000 for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. It might surprise you that the dinner organizers and volunteers came from Columbus secular humanist, atheist, and skeptic groups, including the UU secular group, as this religious denomination embraces believers and non-believers alike. The dinner honored the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a light satire meant to promote reason-based scientific education in biology classes. No belief in a deity was required to participate in community-oriented civic engagement at this dinner – in fact, the event was explicitly oriented toward secular-minded folks.

The Scientific Benefits of Helping Others

Studies indicate that opportunities to serve others, whether in civic, private, or professional settings, as well as charitable giving, result in a stronger sense of purpose and meaning in life, leading to better mental and physical well-being. This does not mean that serving others is necessary for a strong sense of meaning and purpose, but such civic engagement generally helps contribute to gaining this sense. Volunteering together with others in your community enables the creation of strong social bonds, which adds further to a sense of meaningfulness. In the United States, religion offers the main venue for community belonging, and also for working with others to pursue civic engagement. Civic engagement ranges from donating one’s time to bring about a better world such as through the spaghetti dinner fundraiser described above, to pursuing social justice through advocacy and lobbying, as exemplified by BREAD, the main interfaith social justice organization in Central Ohio. No wonder that the majority of the research indicates that church-going believers in the US generally have a stronger sense of life meaning. However, as my research illustrates, other societies create many alternative venues besides religious ones that provided similar opportunities and the benefits that can result.

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Helping Others In the United States

So is there something similar happening in North America? Here’s the thing: there are more and more secular communities around, and they are actively participating in social justice activities. Just here in Columbus, besides the FSM dinner, the Humanist Community of Central Ohio does regular blood donations, which were featured in the main newspaper in Central Ohio, participates in LGBTQ activism, and promotes other forms of social and economic civic engagement. The local chapter of the United Coalition of Reason hosted a walk-a-thon to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, part of a broader national effort by the Foundation Beyond Belief. And COUNT, a Columbus secular group, is explicitly dedicated to volunteering. My wife and I have also led a year-long effort to get BREAD to open up its doors to secular folks, and then successfully mobilized a large contingent of non-believers to attend this event. National secular organizations, such as the Secular Student Alliance and the Secular Coalition for America, increasingly promote civic engagement. More and more opportunities are emerging for nonbelievers who want to volunteer together with others who share their value system, whether for more secular-themed causes such as Camp Quest, reason-based summer camps for children and youth, or social justice in general.

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Effective Altruism

A particularly promising new trend in civic engagement is Effective Altruism. This movement is devoted to using well-reasoned, evidence-based approaches to find the most effective ways to improve the world, especially through charitable giving. Prominent notables are turning to Effective Altruism as the most reason-based, rational strategy of giving. Effective Altruism is endorsed by famous philosophers such as Peter Singer.

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Practical Take-Aways

What are the practical takeaways here? Whether you are a believer or secular, to gain a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life it helps to participate in civic engagement with others from your community. It might be more challenging if you are a non-believer, but there are plenty of local secular groups around the United States that offer opportunities to contribute to social justice on a local level. Take the initiative to push your local communities to do service for the social good. You will likely help yourself and others find a more powerful perception of life meaning, increase mental and physical well-being for yourself and others, and you can gain greater agency through achieving your personal and social goals. Here, altruism and self-orientation combine for the win!

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  • Have you done any volunteering with others in your social circle?
  • If so, what benefits do you think you gained?
  • If not, what are practical steps you can take to help yourself and others in your social circle engage in social service activities?

Featured photo credit: Community via flickr.com

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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