Serving More Than Self

Our nature includes serving others

Service benefits us and others

Embracing the lifestyle choices of Cultivate Social Connections and Live with Purpose pave the way for us to become loving, nurturing people whose lives manifest service to others.

We humans are evolutionarily hard-wired for connection. If we don’t make satisfying connections with other people, we can slide into loneliness, which predicts a host of mental and physical problems. Loneliness researchers Louise Hawkley and the late John Cacioppo proposed that loneliness accelerates the rate of age-related declines in physio­logical regulation and resilience. Several possible pathways include making fewer healthy choices, exposure to stressors, perceived stress, stress response, and reduced ability to recuperate from stress.

Parents can serve their children through unconditional love and acceptance. Child psychiatrist Daniel Siegel at UCLA writes in his book, Mindsight, that 20 percent of American children do not receive an adequate loving attachment to a parent or other person. Underloved children grow into adults with higher risk for emotional problems, such as suicide, depression, and other mental disorders. Such children will more likely end up in the criminal justice system than children who develop close, loving attachments.

George Vaillant’s book Triumphs of Experience chronicles the lessons that he and other researchers gleaned from the first 75 years of the Harvard Grant Study of Adult Development. Vaillant classified Harvard men who ranked in the top quartile of a warm and supportive home environment as “cherished.” He classified those in the bottom quartile as ”loveless.” In their seventh decade of life, the loveless were eight times (!) more likely than the cherished to have experienced depression.

Cultivating social connections can improve our own health and well-being by extending support to others. We can also benefit from the support others extend to us. Helping others is highly purposeful activity, which helps us find meaning in life. Serving others helps us see ourselves as part of a larger whole. Seeing ourselves in this way prompts us to become part of a community and to serve others—because that’s what people in functioning communities do. Serving will help us develop a social fabric that welcomes, includes, and trusts rather than shuns, excludes, distrusts.

David Brooks, in his recent book, The Second Mountain, champions what he calls relationalism over individualism or collectivism. In Brooks’ view, the problem with collectivism is that it “obliterates the person within the group.” Individualism has its place in helping us learn how to find our way in the outer world. But at some point, we must move past our current societal emphasis on utilitarian pursuits and emphasize social connections. Not because connections will give us advantages, but because they will help develop our moral character by serving others.

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