Use your strengths to help others

by / Comments Off on Use your strengths to help others / 63 View / December 22, 2013

Opening Christmas presents produces such excitement. Giving and receiving gifts certainly makes people happy, but the good feelings are surprisingly short-lived. Do you ever wish that you could hold onto the happiness of the holidays all year long?

Susan says her peace on earth passes way too quickly: “The joy of Christmas morning is quickly replaced by straightening up the house, preparing a feast and cleaning it all up.

“The holiday will fly by. Before I know it, I’ll be back into the regular routine: get the kids off to school and myself off to work, deal with my demanding boss all day long, and then head home to a fun-filled evening of helping with homework and fixing dinner.”

Within weeks of the holidays, Susan says she’ll begin to have feelings of emptiness, sadness or restlessness.

“The worst part,” Susan says, “is that after spending a small fortune on the kids, I’m always astonished by the absence of appreciation after just a few days. I try so hard to make them happy, but it never seems to last very long.”

Experiencing a post-holiday letdown is common. We create good feelings when we engage in pleasurable activities like exchanging gifts and enjoying holiday festivities. However, those emotions last only as long as the good times are rolling. As soon as circumstances change, so do our feelings.

We need more than the immediate gratification of exchanging presents and pigging out at Christmas dinner. There’s a gift we can give to ourselves that will deepen and prolong the joy of the holidays.

Deploying your best traits to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others will give you a far higher level of happiness than you’ll derive from the passing pleasures of presents or parties. Positive psychology research has proven that using character strengths in order to help people produces a profound level of satisfaction.

The ability to be at your best while making the world a better place will give you a feeling of being deeply gratified (as opposed to merely pleasured). You will feel that your own life serves a purpose, rather than flitting from one fleeting pleasure to another. You’ll be leaving a legacy because of the difference you’ll make in the lives of other people.

Think about what it means to leave a legacy. If you change the lives of 10 people in your lifetime, and they each assist 10 people, who in turn help 10 people … then a thousand human beings are better off because of your contributions.

The most effective way to help others is to know and use your strengths. You can get your free personal Character Strengths Profile by taking the VIA Survey at www.viacharacter.org.

Susan decided that she’d fill the void she’s often felt after the holidays by being more supportive of a girlfriend who was recovering from a serious illness. She’d gone to see her friend several times immediately after her surgery. But with being so busy around the holidays, she’d put making contact on the back burner.

But when Susan imagined what she’d say to her friend whose life had been forever altered by her illness, she felt fear rising up within her. Susan realized that one reason for her lack of contact had been her fear of facing the fact that she could have been the one who got sick. What would happen to her husband and children if she were suddenly debilitated?

Drawing on one of her top strengths, Susan decided that she’d use her love of learning to help her friend find answers to the problems she was facing. Rather than running away from issues, Susan recalled how her mother had encouraged her to research problems to find solutions. She recalled how comforting it felt to have that kind of support.

As Susan contemplated making this change, she became aware that she needed to start planning to take some time to talk to her friend. Otherwise, her good intentions would soon be swept away by the pressure of more immediate, but less important matters. Susan knew that her self-control strength was best activated by writing reminders in her schedule. She loved being able to cross off items on her list.

As Susan spent more time talking to her friend she discovered that she got a real boost of energy from the experience. She was making a difference. And to offset fear, Susan practiced using another strength — gratitude — each day when she counted her blessings for having a healthy family.