Each article in Balanced Achievement’s ‘Conscious Questions’ series focuses on a particular question that you can ask yourself to increase your levels of success, happiness, and fulfillment. By consciously asking yourself transformative questions that are geared towards inner exploration and personal growth, you will be able to get in touch with untapped creative resources and find innovative ways to get the most out of life. In this article, we look at the question ‘How can I help the greater good?’
Statistics from a wide variety of fields show that now is a pivotal moment for the human race and the beautiful earth that we call home. Reputable data brings to light the immense levels of suffering that both humans and animals are feeling, and will continue to feel, unless action is taken. Today, nearly 800 million people around the world don’t have enough food to lead a healthy lifestyle and over 60 million primary-school aged children are not receiving an education. In the near future, it is estimated that over one million species will become extinct from the affect of global warming and that over 100 million citizens of coastal cities will see their shores rise upwards of three feet. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens around the globe are regularly subjected to war and violence, many of whom face the ultimately unjust penalty of death.
Numbers such as these tell us that now is the time we must act. Only by consciously asking ourselves ‘How can I help the greater good?’ and acting upon the most intimate answers we conjure up inside will we be able to overcome the world’s most problematic trends. Only by consciously acting as individuals will we be able to collectively change the world.
Determining the Things that Really Matter:
There isn’t much debating the fact that at the deepest level of our beings, each of us desires to find and maintain lasting levels of life-satisfaction. Unfortunately for many individuals, especially in the western world, this means chasing material possessions, social status, and wealth, without even really thinking about if these externals have the ability to supply them with what they truly want. If they did analytically analyze the long-term happiness perspectives of these things, however, they would come to realize the impermanent nature of them and the fleeting feelings of joy they bring.
Until individuals take the time to determine what’s really important in life, they will continue to overlook the things that will allow them to find the sustainable levels of happiness they desire. Only when an individual is able to put the surface level desires of the ego on the back-burner of life, and instead begins acting on the more intimate drives of the heart, will they be able to find the fulfillment they seek. While each individual may take a different path towards finding bliss, it is certain that only through integrity, compassion, purpose, and gratitude will they become fully satisfied with themselves. Perhaps the truth about happiness is best summed up by a famous Chinese proverb:
If you want happiness for an hour – take a nap. If you want happiness for a day – go fishing. If you want happiness for a year – inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime – help someone else.”
Doing Good for Others Brings You Happiness:
Over the past two decades a number of highly prestigious universities in the United States have created departments aimed at promoting the benefits that come from acting with a for the greater good mindset. Two such departments at the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University have additionally taken steps to study the beneficial affects that come as a byproduct from acting with kindness, altruism, and compassion.
While it might be easy to assume that the doers of actions based upon these qualities receive little benefit, scientific research tells us the opposite. The Greater Good Science Center at U-Cal Berkeley, for example, has determined that altruism is not only a natural human instinct but that it is also good for the givers’ health and happiness. Similarly, compassion studies at the University of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education show that there are upwards of ten benefits enjoyed by those who act compassionately.
Research such as this makes it clear that by focusing on the greater good, each of us can move closer to finding the happiness and fulfillment we seek.
There may not be another person who understands these truths better than His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Although he has witnessed the people he leads have their land and rights unjustly taken from them, he refuses to hold resentment towards Tibet’s oppressors and instead offers compassion. He tells us:
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Not only does the Dalai Lama operate with this mindset because it brings him happiness, or because his religious scriptures instruct him to, but most importantly because he has realized that focusing on the greater good is unquestionably the right thing to do.
An Abundance of Opportunities to Help:
There is a seemingly endless variety of things that we can do to simultaneously help ourselves, our fellow humans, and the earth we call home. The statistics we looked at earlier bring to light only a few of the numerous global issues that need to be solved, and if each of us makes the commitment to help the greater good in even the smallest possible ways, the collective whole of humanity will prosper. While the possibilities to help the greater good aren’t limited to the following five ideas, they can serve as a good starting point for those who are unsure of what they can potentially do.
Help Those In Need:
Both within your community and abroad, there are a bountiful number of nonprofit and non-governmental organizations who are conducting work with the greater good in mind. Depending upon your current life circumstances, you may want to get involved with one of these organization by either volunteering your time or donating money to their purpose. There are a wide range of do-good organizations that you may find appealing based upon your own personal interests. It is important to remember that even if you are busy or don’t have a substantial amount of money to donate, any act of kindness helps. Mother Teresa summed this truth up when she told us:
If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just one.”
Connect with Those that are Different than You:
Over the past decade it seems as though cultural, religious, and racial divides have unfortunately becoming larger and people from different backgrounds have grown further apart. To reverse the troubling trends of social prejudices and inequalities, each of us should make a concerted effort to connect with those who are different than us. By doing so, each of us will come to realize that the internal human qualities we all share are much more important than the external ones that keep us apart.
Join a ‘For the Greater Good Movement’:
There are a number of both for-profit and nonprofit organizations that are focused on creating a global for the greater good movement. By joining one of these organizations or community groups, you will be able to find connection and share happiness with people who are similarly focused on helping those in need. One such organization that you may be interested in joining is called A Force For Good, which the Dalai Lama and celebrated American psychologist Daniel Goleman are both closely associated with. Additionally, if you live in a big city, you may be able to find local organizations that operate with a similar focus.
Become Conscious of Your Carbon Footprint:
Scientific research tells us that unless each country, city, and individual begins to consciously reduce their carbon footprint, that the earth’s ecosystems will soon become dangerously unbalanced, our natural resources will quickly deplete, and the citizens and animals of the world will be left facing grave consequences. One of the most important things that each of us can do, to help the greater good, is to become aware of our carbon footprint and focus our attention on reducing it. There are a variety of green actions that we can take, including becoming meticulous about recycling, and each of us can begin the process by using a carbon footprint calculator to determine our impact on global warming. It’s important for all of us to live our lives based upon this famous Canadian proverb:
We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
Become a Conscious Consumer:
Due to the sheer magnitude of problems that the world is currently facing, there has recently been a push in the business world for companies to begin operating with a for the greater good mindset. Instead of only being concerned with profits, businesses around the globe are starting to approach their work thinking about a triple bottom line, and as consumers, it’s vital that we rewards the companies and organizations that put the same amount of emphasis on people and the environment as they do on income. There is an ever growing number of social enterprises and b-corporations, and we should consciously aim to give our business to them.
Asking Yourself ‘How Can I Help the Greater Good?’:
If you want to cultivate a for the greater good mindset, you can begin asking yourself ‘How can I help the greater good today?‘ each morning before consciously thinking about the numerous opportunities that you have to make the world a better place. Additionally, it can be equally helpful to ask yourself ‘Did I do everything that I could to help the greater good today?‘ in the evening and think about the things you did well and the things you could have done differently. By consciously focusing your attention on doing what is right for the greatest amount of people, you will soon begin impacting the world in the most important way.
It is important for all of us to remember that not even the smallest opportunity to act with kindness, empathy, compassion, or altruism should be ignored. Thomas Jefferson famously told us about moral elevation and how virtuous acts and good deeds naturally spread like wildfires. It is certain that the only way that we can collectively change the world is by beginning to individually operate with a for the greater good mindset and remembering what Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:
Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”