The Marvellous Power of Thanks - Goodlife Zen

The Marvellous Power of Thanks

There are stories which open the heart and inspire the mind. A few days ago this inspiring account was posted by Bob Sugar and Brad Stevenson as a comment to my post Counting Your Blessing: 5 Ways to Increase Happiness. I decided to publish it as a guest post because it is such a marvellous real-life lesson that can inspire us all.

About 15 years ago I, Bob, experienced a lesson that forever changed my way of thinking and living in the world. My dearest and closest friend Peter, was diagnosed with terminal cancer that would take his life within a period of 9 months. During our 10 years of friendship, Peter taught me many lessons, the most important being that we are all inherently designed to serve and to give to others. He was a living example of this principle. I witnessed and experienced first- hand, his selflessness time and again, spending endless hours devoted to helping others without expectation of reward or profit.

As Peter’s cancer worsened, a few friends and myself decided to organize a silent auction to raise money for he and his family. This undertaking took months of commitment and planning to bring to fruition. So off we went in pursuit of donations, finding a hall for the auction, setting up a drop off place for the donations, and dispersing announcements and fliers throughout the community to inform people about the fundraiser. We had endless preparation meetings as the time moved closer and closer towards the auction. The auction itself involved setting up a treasury account, tracking money, providing drinks and snacks and informing the winners of the auction items.

Although I knew my best friend was dying, this was one of the most satisfying and gratifying experiences of my life. I got so engrossed in being of service, of focusing my energy on Peter and what I could give, that I was happy, as well as disengaged from my own self centeredness. I was participating in this fundraiser out of love and gratitude, in the knowing that Peter and his family would breathe just a little bit easier as a result of our efforts.

The fundraiser was a huge success and the good feeling inside of me lasted for weeks afterwards. In June, 1993 Peter passed away and the loss is too significant to begin to speak about here. However, a part of Peter lives on inside of me that I will take with me to my grave. His modeling of how to live in service to others, taught me as much about living as it did about dying with dignity and grace.
In this day and age we live in increasingly fast paced stressful times, faced with a multitude of challenges. Few of us are insulated from the pressures and demands that come with life.

Whether it’s the need to earn a living in order to support our families, illness of a friend or loved one, aging parents, or stressful relationships, we are continuously attempting to deal with these realities of our lives. Proportionately to the level of stress and demands we are faced with come the challenges of negotiating our internal landscape, with the worry and sometimes accompanying depression that comes along with it.

Stephen Post, a research professor at Case Western Reserve University and Co-Author of “Why Good Things Happen to Good People”, found that since depression, anxiety and stress place a high degree of focus on the self, focusing on the needs of others helps to shift our thinking. He goes on to say that when you are expressing compassion, benevolence, and kindness they push aside the negative emotions. One of the best ways to overcome stress is to do something to help someone else.

Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous understood this giving principle as an inescapable, non-negotiable action that serves to keep the alcoholic sober. Once going through a series of steps that involves rigorous self honesty and clearing away the wreckage of the alcoholics past, the alcoholic is taught through example, to carry the message of recovery to others who suffer from the same affliction. Bill Wilson’s discovery and understanding of this need to be of service to others opened up a door that has resulted in millions of alcoholics, drug addicts, food addicts, gamblers and sex addicts finding recovery. All of these individuals have come to discover in the recovery process a common thread that keeps them abstaining.

They get to keep their recovery by giving it away in love and service. With this understanding it is now imperative to mention a couple of exceptions to this principle. There are some who live in constant overwhelm as a result of giving, giving and more giving, that can often result in mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. It would be far more beneficial for these caregivers to get some support and help from others, as a way to find some balance and ability to care for themselves more effectively. To equal measure, an individual who is suffering from severe depression should seek out professional help and not attempt to just use the principle of service as an antidote to the depression. Where giving in service can be a useful adjunct, depression must be treated with the help of professionals.

In summation, we are generally much happier when giving and being of service to others. The result is a positive feeling of self worth, motivating us to give and be of service even more. This looping effect feeds on itself, thus creating an increased level of desire to share of ourselves. This whole paradigm is very counter intuitive since we live in a culture that focuses on getting. With fear as the culprit, our society feeds on the need to get and acquire. If we really slow down and strive to ingest the antidote to fear, there can be no denying that living in the world practicing kindness, compassion, consideration and caring, in service to others, would disprove the belief that we have to get and have more in order to be happy or feel secure.

There certainly are no shortages of volunteer programs within our communities that can always use the help of individuals desiring to be of service. Below are a few suggestions where we can channel ourselves in the name of love and service.

  • Donate time to a local museum.
  • Contribute money to a program that you believe in
  • Give some food, clothing or money to a homeless person
  • Sit down with a friend in need, and be a good listener
  • Go to a local hospital and volunteer to be a baby holder
  • Get a group of friends together and start a fundraiser for a charity of your choice

When we give for fun and for free amazing things happen. The greatest paradox of all is: “It is in the giving that we receive and it is in the loosing of self that we find our true nature”.


Thank you for this lovely contribution to GoodlifeZen, Bob and Brad! It has certainly made me reflect on how I could make changes to my life – Mary

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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