In any given day you might find yourself volunteering at a homeless shelter, driving your elderly grandmother to the grocery store, or coaching little league practice. You enjoy contributing to your community; it makes you feel good and you’re pretty sure it makes others feel good as well. Yet, as generous as we may be with our time, how often are we really connecting to others? Are we just as caring and compassionate in our actions as we are generous? Are we conscious of our actions or are we just going through the motions?
In order to truly connect to others, it is necessary to unite with them soul to soul. Michael Berg points out that while we may be quick to help others that may not mean that we've actually connected to them. "We have to be careful not to delude ourselves into thinking that just because we do good things for others, we are unified with them or we are awakening love between us and them,” he says. “We need to acknowledge the very real difference, and its importance, for to the degree that we are separate from others, we are separated from the Creator."
Uniting with others doesn’t just connect us to the Creator. It is also the basis for our happiness and fulfillment. Psychologist Martin Seligman became interested in the study of happiness when he realized that though there were plenty of studies outlining factors that cause depression and other mental illnesses, there was a dearth of psychological studies that might point to a path for achieving emotional wellness.
Seligman joined fellow psychologist Edward Diener, in a study on happiness conducted at the University of Illinois. They found that the most prominent characteristic students with the highest levels of happiness and the fewest signals of depression share is a strong connection to friends and family. These happy students expressed a common commitment to spending time with their loved ones. “Word needs to be spread,” asserts Diener. “It is important to work on social skills, close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy.”
Seligman outlines three components of happiness in his book, Authentic Happiness: pleasure, engagement (connecting to others), and meaning. But he also points out that pleasure is the least important of these components. It turns out engagement and meaning have far more influence on a person's happiness. This can lead us to conclude that we as a society put too much emphasis on experiencing pleasure. The key is to have meaningful and in-depth connections with others.
Kabbalists have always supported this idea; interpersonal connection far outweighs the action itself. “When we help another person,” says Michael Berg, “part of our spiritual work is to ask for assistance from the Creator to truly care for him or her.” One can begrudgingly take his grandmother to the grocery store to shop, all the while texting, tapping fingers, and rolling eyes; one can commit to an act of kindness, while completely passing up the opportunity to connect to grandma.
So how do we do this? How do we make sure we are uniting with the people in our lives? According to Michael Berg, it takes effort, “The only way we can receive the awesome gift of unity… is to work at it and to keep our eyes on the prize. Am I more open to others today than I was yesterday? Do I have more love for them this week than last week?” When helping others, stop and take a moment to ask them about their experience—How are you feeling today? What are your goals for this week? What can I do to help you? Ask meaningful questions and then listen. Sometimes the defining moment in an act of kindness is not in the act itself, but in something as simple as eye contact, a smile, or a hug. Let true connection with others be your ticket to happiness and true fulfillment.