The Key to Happiness: Service

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An actual picture of my wife, Krista, and me doing service at a soap bottling factory near our home.

A few weeks ago my wife and I, along with some of our neighbors and friends, volunteered to fill an assignment at a local soap factory. The soap is actually produced by people who know what they’re doing. The bottle-filling, boxing, and stacking are done by people who didn’t know anything about packaging soap or the shipping process before they walked through the facility’s front doors.

There were about ten of us volunteers and two or three (depending on what was going on) actual employees of the facility. The machines were too noisy for us to have any real meaningful conversation, and the work mostly monotonous, but I noted throughout the four hours we were there that people kept smiling. For most of us, it was a big departure from our normal day-to-day. I work as a software designer and fledgling data scientist by day. My wife works as a health coach and is an amazing mother to our five energetic children.

For our date night, we were responsible for filling, capping, boxing, and palletizing 50 fluid ounce bottles of laundry detergent. During our almost-four hour shift, we bottled just over 3,000 bottles. My specific responsibility was to make sure empty bottles got put onto the assembly line. I also helped lift flats of smaller bottles onto another assembly line. My wife made sure the lids were correctly set on each bottle so a machine could tighten them to prevent leaking in transit.

Most of the soap bottled that day would be given away or sold for very little. The church to which I belong donates millions of dollars of goods and money to relief efforts around the world every year. The only way any organization can afford do something like that is to have tens of thousands of volunteers who give of their time (and sometimes money) to help produce, package, and prepare all goods of all kinds for shipping. What my wife and I engaged in has repeated itself millions of times since our church began worldwide relief efforts during the Great Depression. The process will repeat itself millions more in years to come.

Fast forward a few weeks from that experience. Two friends of mine, a couple, are expecting their 8th child. Their family is one of yours, mine, and ours. He has been trying diligently to finish a few rooms in their basement to make room for all their kids. I felt a nudge one Saturday morning to give him a call. Due to current world circumstances, he didn’t know who to call, so he gratefully accepted my offer to come help him for a few hours.

I’ve done some construction work in my life. I don’t really enjoy it. I did much of the work finishing the basement in my own home. When I arrived, my friend told me we would be hanging drywall; probably my least favorite thing to do in construction. It was me, him, and his brother. They have lots of experience hanging drywall, but that doesn’t make it weigh any less.

I spent the entire day working with my friend and his brother. For the next three days, I could hardly lift my arms (as I mentioned previously, I write software for work so I’m out of shape).

I feel fortunate that I can say with 100% honesty that I enjoyed every minute of those two service opportunities. I left my friends’ house feeling the need to do more service for others. I’ve had many opportunities in the past. I expect to have more in the future. They always lead to one thing: being happy.

I believe serving others is the key to happiness.

In a great post by Tannya D. Jajal titled, “The Helper’s High: The Neurobiology of Helping Others”, Tannya states:

Helping others triggers impacts to our brain in many positive ways. When we help others, our brains release oxycontin, serotonin and dopamine. These hormones have the effect of boosting our mood and counteract the effect of cortisol (the stress hormone).

There is an ever-growing body of science to support Tannya’s claims. Even more important that that, however, I think Tannya’s statement at the end of her article says it best:

When we give in to our inherent desire to give and help others, we lead significantly better lives.

When we serve, we lead a better life. When we lead a better life, we are happier. It really is as simple as that.

Recently our family came up with a service idea we’re calling 10-minute service. A couple of times per week, we find a neighboring family that we can serve for just 10 minutes. There are 7 of us so we can accomplish more than an hour’s worth of service in just 10 minutes when we work together. During these unusual times, that sometimes looks like stopping on the street to talk to someone as they work in their yard. Sometimes, it’s a yard sign letting a neighbor know we’re thinking about them. It may be a phone call or a well-worded text message. Sometimes we pull weeds for a friend when they’re out of town. Whatever we choose, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It’s always something simple. Something that can be done in 10 minutes. Of course, once you’ve started it’s so much easier to serve for longer. As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun, and serving others is fun!

Give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised how happy you are after doing just 10 minutes of service every couple of days — if you can stop at just 10 minutes. Just a warning: serving others can be an addictive behavior.

Thanks for reading!

Married to my best friend. Father to five exuberant children. Fledgling entrepreneur. Writer. Software developer. Inventory management expert.

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