January 7, 2015

Step 3—Looking at Motivation: A Final Word

Happy New Year!

Today I intended to move on to Step 3 of building better relationships, but as soon as I finished writing about Step 2 and the importance of helping others, an article on volunteering caught my attention. Since it’s so relevant to what I’ve been discussing, I’d like to briefly summarize it here.

This article discussed a study by UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute that compared people who volunteer with those who don’t. The report, titled “Doing Good is Good for You,” states that 76 percent of U.S. adults who volunteer say volunteering helps them feel physically healthier, and 78 percent report that volunteering lowers their levels of stress. In addition, volunteers report feeling a deeper sense of connection to their communities and to others. Although not everyone has the time to formally volunteer on a regular basis, everyone has the opportunity to help others; just small acts of thoughtfulness throughout the day can have positive effects not only on others but on ourselves.

This discussion about motivation in relationship reminds me of a story about the difference between heaven and hell. This story presents two contrasting images of motivation—one of self-concern and the other of honoring others. In hell, people sit at a long banquet table with 4-foot long forks in their hands. The table is covered with platter after platter of the most delicious-looking food, but the people seated there look pale, emaciated, and miserable. They stare despondently at the feast spread out before them, unable to figure out how to use those unwieldy forks to get even a bite into their mouths.

In heaven people also sit a long banquet table—a table with the same dimensions as the one in hell—piled with an identical display of sumptuous dishes. The people in heaven are also given 4-foot forks to eat with, but unlike the people in hell, they immediately know how to use them. People on one side of the table take turns feeding those on the other side; then those on the other side reciprocate. It turns out this is exactly what those long forks are designed for. The people in heaven sit happily enjoying each other’s company, savoring the most delicious food in the universe. The difference between heaven and hell, between joy and misery, could be as simple as this shift in orientation—a shift from self-centeredness to caring about others.

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