One of the oldest adages known to mankind is from both the Golden Rule and the Christian Bible: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." "It is better to give than receive."
In today's society, those sentiments all too often get shoved aside to pave the way for personal ambition, financial success, instant gratification, and other very self rewarding behaviors we've learned. It's all dog-eat-dog and "me first."
However, humanity hasn't really changed that much: A person's most basic, primal instinct is self-preservation and self-protection.
This is certainly understandable; we are inherently "wired" to hang on, to keep on going, to try harder -- even when the "going" gets tough, as they say.
Euphemisms aside, here's a secret, and it's very, very simple: When you show appreciation for others and give of yourself, you will reap innumerable pleasurable benefits -- for yourself, of course -- but more, much more importantly, for the other person or people we're affecting.
Why? Here's another easy answer: Our second most basic instinct is simply this: to help others.
Sure, the world's a mess -- depending on how you look at it. Perspective changes everything, and when you DO change your perspective, say, from negative to positive, you won't believe the effects it will have on both your mental and physical
When's the last time you visited a elderly person? Remember, if we're lucky, we're all going to be "elderly" someday. Can you recall how you felt while you were in this person's presence? Can you remember thinking, "I want to make this person happy; nothing else really matters right now"?
Or when you drop a dollar in the blind man's tin bucket as he plays guitar on the street, don't you feel more humble, more a part of the world around you, and closer to everyone, in that one moment? When's the last time a really simple act of kindness on your behalf nearly brought tears to your eyes or gave you a chill?"
Those moments are precious to our very spirit, because they fulfill part of our reason to be here: to switch channels from the "me" category and, even just for a moment, appreciate the light and happiness we can bring to others -- simply by paying attention to them, and simply by sharing who we are with who they are. It's often also said that "No man is an island." John Donne was right. We aren't meant to live alone; that's why there are so many of us!
Giving can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. Volunteering has a positive effect on your community AND yourself.
One last hint: Don't assume that what would be rewarding to you is going to automatically be rewarding to others. Some people like amusement parks, others like opera. Some like fast food, others are vegetarian. Some people crave time off, others want recognition. You get the picture. Instead of spending money and energy into doing something for someone that they may not like or appreciate, just give of yourself. That's the only priceless gift.