“Why am I unhappy? What am I not getting out of life?” Do you ever find yourself asking this question? (I do.) Am I not getting enough sleep? Should I get out of the house more often? Should I make new friends? Should I spend more time with the friends I have? Should I work more? Should I spend more time with Eric? Should I have more fun? Should I travel more?
It is funny how I treat my lethargy and unhappiness like it is a mystery. I know what makes my life better, but must actually do something about it before I see results. ~smile~ When I feel down and discouraged, it is seldom because I am not getting enough in life. It is because I’m not giving enough.
When we turn our attention inward, we become fixated on what is not right in our lives. Children and the elderly often think about their needs and talk about their needs disproportionately more than they talk about others’ needs. This is not surprising or abnormal. Children’s worlds are so small and, until they develop, they only understand to focus on what they need: themselves. “I am hungry!” – cry. “I am sleepy!” – cry. “I want the toy someone else has!” – scream. We do not freak out when two-year-olds go to blows over the annoying toy piano. We expect as much.
The elderly often slip back into this way of thinking. It generally does not manifest itself the same way, though I have heard some hilarious stories of mischievous senior citizens. One lady who used to live in my grandma’s nursing home would wheel around from room to room causing trouble. It was hilarious… most of the time. She spilled coffee on at least one resident’s bed, and she pulled clothes out of another’s drawer. When she wheeled into my ninety-year-old great aunt’s room, my aunt would throw a fit and curse at her. “Get the $%^& out of here! I will kick your #$%.”I am not entirely sure I should have laughed, but there is something about old ladies throwing down vicious rhetoric that rubs up against my funny bone. Anyway, I digress.
Senior citizens who live alone and no longer have to care for other people tend to become quite me-focused. My grandma, who I still consider an angel, spent her life caring for others – cooking, cleaning, and babysitting. She had a generous heart and I adored her. As her grandchildren aged and she was no longer physically able to babysit kids in her home, she eventually had no one to care for but herself. She had visitors and always offered them refreshments, but when she got up in the morning, she did not have the same sense of purpose she experienced all those years before as a sister, wife, mother, and grandmother. So, she naturally began to lose touch with others’ needs. Not maliciously, but circumstantially. Her world became very small, just like a toddler’s world is small. Issues most of us would consider trivial because the center of her thoughts.
After several years of working from home, I have discovered anyone can suffer from me-centeredness. Unless I choose to hop in my car and drive somewhere daily, I can go days without leaving the house. Working from home is a blessing, but unless one takes measures to spend time with the outside world, it can become a hardship. Since I am the main person I am around all day, the trivial parts of my life take over my mind if I let them. “Ugh, the dog needs to go out again. Do you know she whined to go outside four times today?” “I don’t feel like cooking. I cooked the last three days. Look at this dirty kitchen. I am tired of cleaning the kitchen.” <Commence whining and dreaming of a maid.> Meanwhile, the world is full of suffering people who are experiencing real problems.
Five Small Ways to Become More Others-Focused
The bottom line is this: I am unhappiest when I focus on myself – and happiest when I pour my energy into helping others.
- Reach out to at least one other person each day. Send an encouraging e-mail. Ask a neighbor if he or she needs anything from the store. Call a loved one and spend the conversation focused on them. Join a friend for coffee and inquire about his or her life.
- Join one service project in your area. Even if you do not have great carpentry skills, there is still something you could do to help Habitat for Humanity or another service project. Even if you do not cook, your services would still be valuable at a soup kitchen. Even if you do not have a background in childcare, you can read a book to some eager youngsters at an after school center. Maybe you could volunteer to help teach adults to read? There are many opportunities out there if you look!
- Join a ministry at church. Most churches welcome help from their members. And, I can tell you from personal experience that you will feel more invested and plugged into your local church if you pour your time and energy into helping it run smoothly. If you simply show up and receive year after year, you may find yourself grumbling about how your needs are not being met.
- Put It In Your Calendar. Life gets busy and without reminders many of us would forget to deviate from our routines. Write in thoughtful gestures you would like to make, and set a reminder in your computer or phone calendar so you will remember to do them. “Thursday, send flowers to Mom just because.” “Saturday, go next door and rake my elderly neighbor’s leaves.”
- Pray More. It is almost impossible to remain me-focused when you are continuously seeking the throne of God on behalf of someone else. Some of the most generous people I know are prayer warriors. Their minds are on others’ needs all the time because they pray often. When we pray for others, the insignificant issues of our lives feel far less weighty.
Is There a Cure for Unhappiness?
I would say the answer is yes. Opening up our lives to others will remove us from of our cocoons of selfishness. Most of us do not wish to be self-centered. It is a natural part of the human condition. If we do not seek to change through God’s grace, we will continue loving ourselves first and giving everyone else the leftovers.
If you have been feeling a bit down lately and you cannot put your finger on why, evaluate your giving. Have you been giving more or expecting more? Have you been focused more on what you can offer or on what has not been offered to you? Have you been thinking, “My sweetie has failed me in 100 ways,” or have you been searching your mind for ways you can give to him or her?
I am always happiest when I pour myself out for others; I think you will be too. ~smile~
How will you ramp up your giving this holiday season and beyond?