Hi, readers! My name is Nicole Handel, and I am taking over Taraleigh’s blog for the day, while she is soaking up sun and moving her body in beautiful Costa Rica! I wanted to share with you all a little bit about happiness and service, as well as a way for you to tune-in to your own gratitude through reflection.
Happiness in Helping
When people ask me what I believe in, or what I believe is the root of happiness, all I know is to speak from experience. Thus, I tell them that I believe in wanderlust: that nagging urge to go, to explore, to fly, to soar. Wanderlust is not a simple wish or curiosity to experience new places and things. Wanderlust is both the angel and the devil on each shoulder and in your head and in your every waking moment that repeats a meditative, unignorable mantra: “Journey, journey, journey, journey” into infinity. Wanderlust is not for everyone; it manifests itself in the audacious, the courageous, the imprudent, the undismayed, and above all, the spirited.
It is a strong case of wanderlust that provokes the 2AM flight to Uganda with but a month’s notice; it is that same case of wanderlust that leaves the thinking, the planning, the financing to after the flight booking. Therefore, wanderlust does not have time for the technicality of the world and its demands; wanderlust has only time for the world. It is on account of wanderlust that the most unexpected aspirations paint themselves a place in your heart, and that the platform for living– truly living– is built, stick by stick.
I believe in the spreading of wings and of the uprooting of comfort. I believe in the beautiful spontaneity of the unfamiliar and of the foreign. I believe in the most raving, unannounced, forceful, bombarding instance of wanderlust that this earth knows.
It is my assumption that this mysterious, powerful force–wanderlust– is what drives the world’s most globally-minded individuals to do what they do. This “doing” though is separate from the doings of businessmen and women, students, workers of all types, and all others participating in the “rat race” lifestyle that Tal Ben-Shahar discusses in his Happier (Ben-Shahar). These individuals who trek the globe are far different in what they do; their incessant need for nomadism isn’t in search of meeting some achievement or deadline or goal– it simply for the act in itself. There are
three different breeds of traveler, though: the tourist, the businessman, and the curious. The tourist can be considered the hedonist of the three– he travels purely to seek enjoyment, with no further or deeper goal. The businessman is the rat-racer of the three– he travels, and although he might enjoy it or gain meaning from it, his primary goal is rooted in finance and competition. The curious, though, is the happiest of the three. The curious traveler does so not for shallow enjoyment, like the tourist, but for a satisfaction that stretches to much greater depths– the curious traveler is he who travels because it quenches a thirst that nothing else fulfills. The curious traveler is the one who has been struck with wanderlust.
Although actualizing wanderlust has the ability to bring great happiness and joy, there is yet another, deeper level of being for the curious traveler. He has several options in his motives for travel, aside from his unavoidable curiosity: he can travel with the simple goal of pleasing his curiosity, and learning the ways of the land and the peoples that he encounters; he can travel with the hope of gaining a greater and broader intellect (travel for learning); he can travel in order to integrate himself into a culture and become one with it; or, lastly, he can travel to serve. This last level of the curious traveler is the greatest and most profound of the four tiers. Traveling for service implies that the curious not only wants to satisfy his curiosity, gain knowledge, and integrate himself, but also that while doing these things, he wants to positively impact the location as much as it impacts him; he wants to give to the culture and get from the culture, which forms a beautiful cycle of existence.
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When I was just a small child, somewhere after learning to talk and before learning to effectively talk, I declared to my parents that I was going to Africa. Amused at first, they laughed at me, but their parental instincts kicked in just enough for them to add in, “No you aren’t”. As I grew older, my passion and curiosity for what I then just knew as “Africa”, rather than the continent’s many countries, only grew and deepened. In my early years of high school, I developed an interest for psychology, and before I knew it, I was on the path to becoming a cross-cultural psychology student. As gratifying to my soul as it was to finally be pursuing my dreams, I was still struck with an urgent sense of wanderlust, and was aching every day that I spent stationary, within the confines of my country. In my freshman year of college, I noticed a poster hanging near the cafeteria that was advertising a three week service trip to Uganda. Without hesitation, I sent out an email requesting an application.
I spent hours thinking about the perfect, most honest, most “me” answers that I could to the questions asked of me on the Uganda application. Every day, before homework or a social life or recreation, I marched to the cafeteria to sit in the back corner with a cup of tea, contemplating answers. Finally, I was called for an interview, and a few long months later, I was told that I had been accepted to go on the trip, with eight other students. I could write novels just describing the weekly meetings that led up to our trip, or the relationships formed during those anticipatory weeks, but it will suffice to say that as much as the trip changed me, so too did they.
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8AM. The sound of children laughing and speaking to each other in Lugandan. I am lying on the top half of a mosquito-netted bunk bed, that I hurriedly bring myself to climb out of, nearly breaking an ankle. I run outside, and on the lawn of the cottage that is the volunteers’ guest house stand nearly forty beautiful, happy, healthy children, immediately yearning for our friendship. One little boy runs up to me and says, “Hi! I’m Jimmy! Who are you?”, while another little girl, Hannah Banana as I later knew her, sat against a tree looking at me, with a baby in her lap. The three weeks that I spent with these children changed me, drastically, and I get the sense that as much as I wanted to impact them, they were far more successful in the above task than I was. I left Uganda embodying the tired cliche of a girl whose life was changed by a single volunteer effort.
I later found out that there is extensive research which supports the idea that volunteering is beneficial for the volunteer– the act of helping others brings happiness to those doing the helping. One theory is that the very act of volunteering makes people feel more connected to one another and less absorbed in their own lives (Wilson & Musick 1999). This concept makes complete sense, because in a world where cell phones, computers, and corporations seem to be focal points, finding and making a true connection between humans is minimal. Similar to why reconnecting with old friends can be considered a happiness booster (Ben-Shahar 130), so, too, can forming connections with strangers, particularly those “in need”. Additionally, Ben-Shahar says that sharing one’s life with another person and having an individual to be close to (or many) “intensifies our experience of meaning, consoles us in our pain, deepens our sense of delight in the world” (Ben-Shahar 111). Therefore, there is the notion that volunteering abroad pulls us in towards other individuals and thus gives us relationships and meaning.
How can we reflect on these concepts in our everyday life, though? How can we reign in our experiences to bring us immediate joy or clarity? Try this exercise, and feel the gratitude come into your life:
Has there ever been a time when you set out to help someone, and found that you were in fact the one who received some sort of help? This is a common occurrence in volunteering. Tal Ben-Shahar, in his book, “Happier” discusses the concept that altruism in service is not always the case; often, volunteers find pleasure in volunteering and the feelings that accompany it (Ben-Shahar 126). In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself”. Based on this ideology, write down a list of people or instances that you tried to be helpful to/in, but received your own help, as well, and write a short note of gratitude to each person, organization, etc. Whether or not you deliver the notes is not important; the very idea of having a concrete item which discusses all of the times that you felt helped after thinking that you were the one helping is most important.
For more: www.nicole-handel.com
Ben-Shahar, Tal. Happier. [London, Eng.]: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Lopez, Shane J. Discovering Human Strengths. Westport, Conn. [u.a.: Praeger, 2008. Print.
Wilson, J., & Musick, M. (1999). Attachment to volunteering. Sociological Forum, 14(2), 243-272.
Thank you Nicole for taking over my blog!!!!
The awesome in me sees and bows to the awesome in you.