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When people think about what it means to live a good or successful life, it’s pretty common for them to just boil things down to material success, and the acclaim of others. So, for example, “success” is often paired together with images of Wolf of Wall Street types riding around in luxury yachts.
But what if you’re successful in your career, make a decent amount of money, but somehow managed to make the lives of those around you worse, rather than better? In such a situation as that, could you really say that you were living a “good life?”
Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable – even essential – for us to focus on our own material comfort and well-being, but in order to live a truly fulfilling, uplifting, and “successful” life, it’s not enough to just stop there. In addition to being a conventionally “successful” person, you should also strive to be a “useful” person.
Being a “useful” person doesn’t mean that you should be submissive or subservient to others, or that you should set up your whole life along the lines of being a people pleaser. But it does mean that you should be able, and willing, to do things to make the lives of those around you better, rather than worse.
So, bearing that in mind, here are a few tips for becoming a more useful person.
Learn some practical and helpful skills
Simply performing a web search for terms such as CPR classes near me wouldn’t be a bad place to start if you were interested in becoming more useful to those around you. After all, first aid skills are certainly valuable, and might equip you to actually save someone’s life one day.
In a more general sense, certain skill sets are just intrinsically useful and helpful to others, whereas others are more abstractly useful, or are useful in a particular professional context. For example, knowing how to change the tyre on a car is a skill which is useful in and of itself. Knowing how to code is useful in the context of certain jobs and hobbies, but may not necessarily put you in a position to help other people on an everyday basis.
If you want to become a more useful person, try and identify, and then learn, practical and helpful skills that you can use to get yourself out of a tight situation, and also to get other people out of a tight situation, too.
Skills related to things like first aid and medical care, in addition to pragmatic DIY skills, are a pretty good place to start here.
Work on systematically identifying and dissolving your bad habits
To be useful to other people, you first have to be the kind of person who has their ducks in a row – at least to a reasonable degree – and it isn’t intrinsically going to make everyone’s life needlessly chaotic, and introduce drama where it previously did not exist.
What this means, in practice, is that one of the best things you can do in order to be a more useful person to those around you, is to work on systematically identifying and dissolving your bad habits – specifically those things that make you an unpleasant or destabilising force in the lives of others.
Of course, the act of identifying and addressing your bad habits is by no means likely to be easy, straightforward, or quick. In fact, it’s the kind of thing that you should expect to be the ever-ongoing work of a lifetime.
The writer Charles Duhigg points out the fundamental components of the “habit loop” in his book, “The Power of Habit.” Essentially, the “habit loop” begins with a “trigger” (an event or situation that signals you to act out the habit), is followed by the habit itself, and then is followed up with a “reward” (the positive sensation or outcome that entrenches and motivates the habit.)
According to Duhigg, a lot of the work of dissolving negative habits essentially comes down to identifying your habit triggers, figuring out what “rewards” your current undesirable habits provide, and then substituting in more positive habits that provide some equivalent reward, instead.
So, for example, it might be the case that stress at work is a habit trigger for you, smoking is the negative habit in question, and the “reward” you get is a momentary sense of relaxation. In attempting to switch out this habit, then, you could try other things when you realise that you’re becoming stressed. Such as, for example, inhaling a certain essential oil mixture, doing some deep breathing exercises, or doing some stretches at your desk.
Practice, don’t preach
We’ve all heard jokes about parents who swear at their children, while simultaneously admonishing them not to swear. Of course, aside from the blatant hypocrisy here, part of the joke is that kids are naturally inclined to do what their parents do, not what they say.
When people decide to reorder their lives in order to attempt to be more “useful” to others, there is always the risk that they will become preachy, arrogant, and detached, instead. This is especially likely to happen if you think that being “useful” or “helping” is a matter of giving out unsolicited advice.
As with kids, however, adults -- generally speaking -- don’t take well to being told what to do, and they especially don’t respond well to seemingly smug and unsolicited advice that is being passed on to them by people who don’t seem to embody those particular virtues themselves.
If you want to have a positive effect on other people, one of the best things you can do is to set a positive example, rather than trying to lecture or advise them.
If, for example, some people who you interact with on a regular basis are constantly complaining, refusing to take responsibility for their actions and circumstances, and all that kind of stuff, you can set a positive example by being the kind of person who always adopts responsibility, and never complains.
Assuming the other people are self-aware enough, they will notice the example you set, and may begin to moderate their own behaviour accordingly.
Focus on doing everything you do, to the highest possible standard
Every one of us, more or less, does things on a regular basis which hypothetically have the potential to influence other people in a positive way, make their lives better and easier, and simply reduce some of the net irritation in our immediate spheres of influence.
Any job you might do, with few potential exceptions, is going to involve you providing or contributing to a service that other people will benefit from. The degree to which we do our jobs well, is therefore equivalent to the degree to which we are being useful and helpful to other people – at least in some sense.
What this means, is that simply focusing on doing everything that you do, to the highest possible standard, is likely to make you a significantly more useful and uplifting person in a general sense.
This is even the case if your day job is pretty mundane, and you don’t find much pleasure or meaning in it at all. So, for example, if you work as a cashier, having a pleasant demeanour, and being at least reasonably attentive, is going to make the lives of the people you interact with a little bit better in some small way.