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Meaning

So many seek happiness, yet don’t see that it comes as a by product of something else. One of those elements is contributing to the greater good. How involved are you in doing that? Consider it more deeply in this presentation.

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We’re talking about happiness once again. We’re in our sixth of a series, called Being Happy, and the title of today’s presentation is Meaning. This is how Martin Seligman defined meaning (He’s the scientist, by the way, that’s doing all the research right now on happiness.): Using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Meaning – meaning in life.

If you live in a rural village in China, helping your family to plant rice in the spring would be contributing to the greater good of the family and you would, possibly, feel a sense of belonging and contribution and, thereby, have a sense of meaning and, thereby, be a bit happier. If one of your resources is spare time, walking through the neighborhood with a trash bag and one of those pick-up sticks might make a person feel better.

A lady asked me to explain EMDR to her, so I told her how it works and a story about my first EMDR client – a fifteen-year-old girl who would rage at times and how it helped her to get past her anger. After I finished my story, the lady looked at me and said, “You must be a very happy person to be able to help this young girl.” Well, I do feel a lot of satisfaction when I can help someone. I’m using my resources for the greater good, so that’s always nice when we can do that.

When we identify the spiritual gift that God has given us, we use it to help the church – with that gift – and if we do, it makes us happier. But I want you to know that this is not just a Christian thing. It’s a human thing. We all come wired the same way. Using our talents and other resources to contribute to a greater good adds meaning to our life and that makes us happier.

To punctuate that point again, I was watching a movie, called Jimmy P, about an anthropologist, who worked with a Blackfoot Indian just after World War II. Jimmy P was in a mental institution for veterans because no one could find a physical cause for the excruciating headaches this man experienced. So they called in this anthropologist – his name was Devereux – to help, because he’d done a lot of work with native Americans in the past. And while he wasn’t a licensed psychologist or psychotherapist, he turned out to be a genius at psychotherapy. At one point in the movie, the Indian asked him if he was a Christian, and he said, “No, I just believe in doing good.” And he was a happy person. So the Christians might ask, “Well, has he unlocked his full potential?” Well, we would say, “No.” He did not know about all the good things God has in store for him. But in this physical life he was a happy man because he was using his resources for the greater good and to help people one at a time.

The axiom is so powerful and so deeply intertwined into the fabric of the universe that anyone can benefit from it, if they follow along with it. Some Christians think they have a corner on happiness and everybody else is unhappy. Well, that’s just not so. God loves everybody. If anyone follows any of His universal axiomatic principles, they will be blessed for it. You know, we could call it using your spiritual gifts to help the church, or we can plant rice for our family in China, or can use any of our resources at all to contribute to a larger purpose and we will feel better.

Let’s look again at the core scripture for this series – Ecclesiastes 5:18 through 20.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 – Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat, and drink, and to find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone, also, to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power, to enjoy them, and to accept his lot, and to rejoice in his toil, this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the joys of his heart.

You know, the last twenty years have just flown by for me. I’ve been so busy doing what I like to do – especially the last ten years – that it seems like, “Where did the time go?” Well, I’ve been busy doing what’s good and, like Solomon said, it just flies by. So it’s a good thing to be able to contribute to the greater good. So we always – at LifeResource Ministries – talk about how to do something, instead of just preaching to folks.

One of the ways we can be happier people is to find work that satisfies us, work that we can do well, work that contributes to the greater good. Being happy by helping others to be happy is a win-win. But how do find your inner resources? Well, let’s learn more about how to do this.

There’s a movie called Soul Surfer. I would recommend anybody see it. It’s about a girl – a teenager – young teenager (I think she was thirteen when this happened) – lost her arm in a shark attack while she was surfing. This girl was tightly focused on competition surfing before her accident and she had promised her youth leader at church that she would go with the group to build houses for the poor. But when we she learned the surfing competition would conflict, she chose surfing over humanitarian efforts with her church. But after the attack, there was a scene where she goes back in the water to surf. And we wonder how in the world she could do that. She was just so courageous, and so determined, and so focused on her surfing. And, you know, amazingly, she did go on to competitive surfing again, but with one arm – amazing story. But, in the movie, after she had the attack, and while she was working on becoming a competitive surfer again, she went to Thailand with her youth group to help after the tsunami. There was a scene where they get off the bus and are immediately pressed into service unloading food bags off a truck. It was grim business – catastrophic damage everywhere, traumatized people everywhere. And there they were, unloading the truck – everyone else had two arms, she had only one – and they had a line set up where everyone passes the box to the next. So she had one arm to do that. After they’d been at that for quite a while, she noticed a young boy and enquired about him. And the workers told her that no one had seen his parents and he wouldn’t speak, so “we know he’s obviously traumatized.” She borrows a surf board. And, of course, nobody’s going in the water – they’re all terrified of it – and she coaxes this little guy, eventually, on to the board. She goes out there herself and surfs first – one arm. And the picture of her, with one arm, out there in that scary water having fun allows the little boy to be coaxed on to the board and then out in the surf with her. Pretty soon, all the kids are out in the water. She just knew what to do to get things back to normal. The picture of her – out there with one arm – doing something everybody was afraid of, had a powerful effect on that group.

How did she know to do that? Well, that very terrible, horrific, traumatic event that she suffered put her in a different place in the world and in her mind. She now knew what was needed when a person was traumatized. And so she just naturally, without thinking of it, provided it. She was thinking about one little boy, but it wound up helping everybody that was there, including the workers.

I think of a scripture here. It’s in 2 Corinthians 1:3.

2 Corinthians 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

You know, we learn empathy from somewhere. And God says that He teaches us empathy by the experiences He puts us through. So that story about the surfer girl is kind of dramatic. Most of us don’t have to lose an arm to a shark to get the drift or to learn what our gift is.

Here’s another example that might be a little more every day. I know this man who is a really great guy, but at the same time I always see him as a tortured soul. There were elements of his early life that left some pretty deep wounds. But one day I went to visit one of his relatives, who was very old and he was in decline. He was becoming very weak and this man was there at his house. And I was just completely blown away with his ability to take care of his older relative. He was just a natural caregiver, if there ever was one. He just knew what to do. I’d sit there and think, “What should happen next,” and he was up doing it. So, you know, Young came up with this term, the wounded healer, this might be the wounded helper. When we would talk to him about it, though, he would just shrug it off, like it was no big deal. And that’s how a gift feels to a person that has it. It’s easy – hard for other people, but easy for the one gifted. It just seems to be easy to them. They just know what to do.

So both of these people – the surfer and the wounded helper – were in situations that took them out of their normal routine, weren’t they? – when they used their gift. We seldom find our gifts by looking inward. We have to get out there and experience life. The surfer girl had to go to Thailand and unload boxes before she started to realize what God had given her as a result of what had happened. Most of us don’t have to go to Thailand either to find our gift. Just going to church may be enough to do it. What can I do easily and naturally that needs to be done here?

So that’s a little bit about the resources part. Let’s talk about the greater purpose piece. How do we figure out what the greater purpose for us is? And I’m not just about general things, like doing good or serving God, but more like, “How does God want me to serve Him here now?” or, “Where exactly should I do good and what exactly should I do?” – the finer details then – so where to contribute for maximum satisfaction.

When I was in my masters’ program I had to do several practicums, where I was actually working in a counseling situation. And one of them I got in was an addiction group. Most of the people that were court ordered – you know, “one more time and you’re going away” kind of situation – a lot of ankle bracelets and Breathalyzers on their cars and that stuff. So the leader of the group was a master at pulling stuff out of the addicts in that group. One night, one of the guys said, “I don’t see what group this group is doing me. I don’t even think I have a problem. I mean, what’s the big deal about coming home from work, playing my guitar, and drinking a couple of beers?” And to my surprise, the group leader just got all over this guy right away – no hesitation. Later I said to him, “Why did you react like that? What did I miss? A couple of beers aren’t that much.” He said, “The kind of beers you’re talking about, for someone who’s not an alcoholic, isn’t much, but he’s talking about two forty-ounce malt liquors and each one of those has about as much alcohol as a six pack.” So, I’ve noticed since then that I always fall for all the excuses, the judgment, the lies, the manipulations that addicts lay out there to excuse the way they behave. I’m just not good at that. He, on the other hand, was excellent. Being an alcoholic himself, he just knew what to do – just like the surfer girl did with the surf board and the little boy. His addiction led him into a career of helping addicts. And that helped him, too. Working with people who had the same problem helped him keep himself on the straight way. And helping others get past the issue gave him satisfaction in a way others wouldn’t experience. I wouldn’t experience it.

So the surfer knew what it was like to be afraid of the water. The wounded helper knew what it was like to go without care. And the addiction counselor knew what it was like to battle addiction. What experiences have you had that make you sensitive to the needs of others? I was telling a lady in my practice, who had suffered severe abuse as a child, about another girl that I had worked with that had been abused. And she said, “I would know what to say to her.” So what do you know how to do to help people? If people are hurting and you have some kind of skill to offer, a person can usually find a way to make a living doing that – probably not a lot of money, but enough to get by. And I mention that because, if you can find a way to do what you’re good at, it’s going to make you happier and it’s also going to help more people, because you don’t have to work most of the time to make a living and then just do a little bit helping on the side.

I know a man who owns a business. He inherited it from his father. He makes a good living from his work, but it’s become really routine, I think – probably not very challenging. He keeps other businesses supplied with stuff they need to make their products. So it’s product in, product out and some sales. Now this man loves cars. He’s owned a lot of them, including an old car that he has restored from scratch. One day he took me all over the LA basin, showing me places that had a lot of restored old cars. He did that because he knew that I like cars, too. And I surmise that helping me enjoy those cars made him feel happier. One day I heard him say that he was thinking about buying a car dealership and I thought he probably – if he could survive the ups and downs of the auto market – would probably find a lot of satisfaction getting people into nice cars. And, if my surmisings are correct, he would probably be happier with that than what he’s doing now. And he’s getting toward mid-life, so you know, it’s possible that a change might take place and do good for him.

Most businesses – to survive – have to contribute to the greater good in some way. So most people can take pride in their work and feel satisfaction from it if they understand what they’re doing is helpful to others. Now, I have to say, though, we’ve all met the selfish people who don’t get that, haven’t we? We can see on their faces how unhappy they are – the ones that act like they’re doing you a favor to do their job.

So summing up this point, we see that our own past hurts and our own interests can often lead us to a place where we can use our strengths to contribute to the greater good.

Next, I want to discuss an issue that’s come up in my life and, I think, in the lives of others as well. It will unfold as we go, so see if you’re able to figure out what I’m talking about as we go along here.

I sit in a room all day, helping people one at a time. The kind of people I help – most of them – can only be helped by one-on-one help. And I find that most satisfying for me – to contribute to them, because that was, I think, the way my gift works – one at a time. I always do better that way than to a large group. Seeing the excitement on people’s faces when they realize they can get over whatever problem they have is great, but it’s even better when they actually conquer the problem and are past it.

But there is another way to contribute besides one at a time. Back in the late eighties, there was a man – John Shad – who was the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. He busted a man named Ivan Boesky for illegal operations in the stock market. This guy had fleeced a lot of people out of their savings. He did that through a savings & loan scam, if I remember correctly. John Shad had his five minutes of shame after that busting. And he had that on ABC Nightly News. And the reporter said that this man was a true public servant – that all his life he had committed himself to serving his country. He said, from his youth, he divided his life into three parts – learning, earning and serving. And his service was invaluable to our nation – that it was a kind of serving that never sees the ones served. He served a lot of people all at once. You know, the fine they levied against Ivan Boesky was $100,000,000.00. So he stole a lot of money. And that’s a great way for a person to contribute as well, besides one-on-one. This man was probably an attorney with a ton of experience behind him – you know, he’d spent a long time learning and earning. He probably had prepared for years to do what he did. I think there are very few people in the country that could be the head of the SEC very well.

So what kind of contributor are you by nature? Which way are you? The other thing about that is, once you think you’re a one-on-one or all-at-once kind of person, don’t get stuck with that. You never know what’s going to happen.

Let’s go back to the soul surfer for a minute. She intended to help one little boy, but she wound up helping everyone on the beach. And after her accident made the news, she got thousands of letters from people all over the world, who told her that her courage had inspired them to overcome all kinds of issues. And toward the end of the movie, a reporter asked her, “If you could go back to that day and not have gone surfing, would you do it?” And she replied, “I wouldn’t change what happened to me, because then I wouldn’t have this chance, in front of all of you, to embrace more people than I ever could have with two arms.” Now that she knew what she could do to help, she was looking for a way to enlarge her serving territory. She knew that she had an audience to reach out further to more people. And the tip there is in front of all of you. It reminds me of the Jabez prayer in the Bible in 1 Chronicles 4:10.

1 Chronicles 4:10 – And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “O, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil that I may not cause pain. So God granted him what he requested. Why do think? Because he was sincere. He really meant it. He didn’t want to hurt people. He wanted to help. He wasn’t trying to acquire influence for his own sake.

So we see in the Gospels that Jesus was really into one-at-a-time, wasn’t He? He talked to people the disciples never would have talked if He hadn’t led the way. There was the Samaritan woman at the well, there was the keyist – the hated tax collector, there were all kinds of Pharisees and Sadducees – they were hated by the people as well, there were thieves and prostitutes. But, you know, He talked to everybody. He was non-judgmental. But He was also good at all-at-once, wasn’t He? When He spoke publicly, people listened.
I was thinking about Martin Seligman. He started out as a psychologist – probably a good one – and he did one-on-one work, right? Then he became an administrator, where he helped a few more people. Then he started writing books. So he’s trying to extend his influence, to enlarge his territory, to reach out more with what he’s learned to with his gift. And it’s very natural to do this. And sometimes, it’s a good thing, and sometimes, it’s not. I think, in his case, it’s very good. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know so much about positive psychology. I’d sit in my office practicing it and thinking I was by myself.

A few years ago, I had so many clients I was turning then away. And I thought about opening up a clinic. But then I thought about how that would take me away from what I’m good at, and back to what I did before, which is administration – which I’m okay at, but not gifted. So, we have to know what we can do well and where our serving target is – just something to think about. If we figure that out, we can serve successfully. Then, as a consequence, we’ll become happier.

Well, that’s a bit about being happy by contributing to a greater good. I hope you’ll think about it. We covered the Christian aspect of it in that other series I mentioned earlier – Unlocking Your Full Potential. So you might want to go there and look at that.

Okay, in two weeks we’ll conclude this series with one final presentation of some more of the hands-on or minds-on things that we can do – actually do – to be happier. It’s called Don’t Worry, Be Happy.