Updated on 08.03.09

Enlightened Self-Interest

Trent Hamm

Jim writes in:

You write all the time about just helping people and that it will somehow help you. I don’t see it. I understand how it’s beneficial to help someone who can obviously help you, but what benefit is there for helping others beyond the idea that it’s the right thing to do?

Before I get started, I will say that I believe the biggest reason to help out others when you can is because it’s, in essence, the right thing to do. I’m a huge believer in the “golden rule” – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If I have the ability to easily help someone, I pretty much always will.

Recently, I’ve been rereading pieces of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and a particular quote stood out to me: “[B]y directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain; and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it.”

In other words, if you can do something that produces a great deal for the time invested, you should do it, even if it’s not directly beneficial to you.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I live next door to a single mother who has two young daughters living at home. Quite often in the evenings – as you can imagine – she’s got a lot on her plate. She needs to get a good meal on the table for her daughters, clean the house, get bills paid, and so on.

A lot of evenings, that means that her daughters are out in the backyard playing while she’s in the house finishing things up.

Since my wife and I are often out there, it takes little to no effort on our part to keep an eye on what those girls are doing and offer a helping hand if they need it. My wife helped one of them remove a splinter. We’ve invited them into our yard countless times to play in the sprinkler.

Now, if I’m looking strictly at my own self-interest, I wouldn’t do this. It’s an insurance risk to deal with that splinter or to have those kids in our yard. I could just not acknowledge them at all and there’d likely be no problem whatsoever.

However, by paying attention – when it really doesn’t take a whole lot of effort on our part – we’ve built a very good relationship with our neighbors. I’ve borrowed items from her regularly and we’ve helped each other with all sorts of other little tasks, no questions asked. This has saved me from buying tools and other items many times.

I invest very little time in an evening keeping an eye out for those two girls – I’m out in the yard anyway with my own kids. But by doing so – taking that little sliver of time here and there – I’ve built a very nice neighborly relationship, one that’s produced measurable financial value.

Here’s another example, perhaps one that’s more tangible. About three years ago, I did some free web consultation for a small nonprofit organization I believe in. I set them up with a custom installation of WordPress and several other tools so they could add and manage content really easily. In all, it took me about twenty hours of work, spread out over about a month.

What did I get directly out of it? Not much. I did learn a lot about designing a blog, which I later applied to The Simple Dollar, but that was about all.

So why bother? Well, that nonprofit survived – and thrived. A few members of the original team left to form a small startup company. After a while, they decided that they wanted to create a site that was well-designed and easy to update, but this time they could pay nicely for it.

Want to guess who they contacted?

I didn’t take the arrangement. However, they agreed to hire a person that I recommended. I was able to pass on several thousand dollars’ worth of work to another person, who now, in his words, “owes me more than [he] can ever say.”

So, for that web design I did three years ago, I now have a web designer friend who owes me a huge favor someday, a nonprofit with which I have a great relationship, a small army of individuals that I have a good relationship with, and a web startup that is still interested in hiring me as a consultant.

All of that came from just wanting to help out and offering the skills I had to something I believed in that needed those skills – in my spare time, of course.

In both of these cases, I could have focused my energy on something relatively trivial that was purely in my own interest. I could just play with my own kids in the backyard and ignore the neighbors. I could have decided not to help that nonprofit group and instead spent that time doing … something else (who actually knows what).

In each case, though, I just gave a bit of time and energy and talent without thinking at all about returns. Over the long run, though, that time and energy and talent has been paid back to me many times over.

Sure, you’ll always find yourself in situations where you’re never “paid back” for what you give. But even in those cases, I find a surprising result – there’s usually a positive payback, but it’s really indirect.

An example: several years ago, I found myself helping a number of researchers with what amounted to technical support. We were starting to roll out a new interface for a large data set and many researchers had a lot of questions about the interface. I devoted a lot of time to helping out many of these researchers – and many of them didn’t even give me a thank you.

What happened next was surprising. I attended a conference with some of those people where I figured I would more or less be hiding in the woodwork, but many, many people didn’t let that happen. I had interacted positively with enough people that my name had spread to many of the attendees as someone worth interacting with. For the entire three day conference, I was constantly talking to someone, meeting with someone, dining with someone, or sharing a drink with someone. By the end of it, I had more connections and job offers than I could possibly deal with (and even a surprising committee assignment or two).

All I had done was spend a little bit of time helping these people without anything in return. It was a gesture that I didn’t have to do – I could have just sent out some stock answers and called it good enough. But little five minute bursts of effort – spread out across a long period – paid enormous dividends.

Here’s the simple rule: if you can help someone out without disadvantaging yourself, do it. That means sharing ideas, making connections, and doing little tasks that don’t eat up tons of your time and energy. Don’t worry about the return – if you do it often enough and with enough quality and value, the return will take care of itself.

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  1. Dave says:

    I couldn’t agree more. The more often I do something without thinking of getting something in return, I end up getting something in return. I have made so many accidental connections just by helping others out.

    Great advice!!!

  2. SavingFreak says:

    The “Pay it Forward” principle has been proven time and time again in my life. The most interesting part of this is that every major religion makes some note of this principle. By being unselfish and helping others you usually get back WAY more than you give, but even if you didn’t, the rewards of helping others extend much farther than personal wealth and contacts. It tends to make you a better person.

  3. I try to have compassionate for others in general, regardless of who they are or whether they’re deserving. Filling my heart with compassion helps me, first and foremost, because being compassionate feels good — much better than filling your heart with hate and distrust, which is harder to do if your heart is already filled with compassion. I don’t feel like I make good decisions when I’m hateful and distrustful, and I certainly don’t feel good about myself or my life then.

    Doing good acts does help foster compassion, but I see it perhaps more as an effect of being compassionate. Compassionate people do good things for others because they’re compassionate.

    However, that doesn’t mean that I will do anything for anyone. Sometimes, the most compassionate thing you can do is say, “No.” And we must all realize our own limits and needs. I hate to see people, usually women it seems, who give until they are in debt, unhealthy, and in need of outside assistance. Meanwhile, they’ve hurt the ones that love them because they hate to see them this way. We must remember to take care of ourselves, too! Then our giving can be sustainable.

  4. Deborah says:

    I think one more point is very important: You have do these things without *any* expectation of the favor being returned – both now and in the future. If you expect something, then you will always remember the times you think you get nothing back.

    Personally, I firmly believe that the simple act of helping someone is recompense enough. But many people don’t see it that way, and if they wait for a tangible reward then I think they will be disappointed more often than not.

  5. It sounds simplistic, but what goes around, comes around. I’ve been helped by complete strangers in the past, or by people to whom I had nothing to offer in return. So why not put some of that goodness back into the human pool? A small gesture can have a big impact on another person.

    I’ve come to a point that I have such confidence in that dynamic, that a few years ago I helped someone who could never repay me and told him to help someone else when he was in a position to do so.

    He felt bad about not being able to do so, and promised he would as soon as he was able. I told him to forget about repaying me, but that one day when he was in a position to do so, that he should help out someone else in need, and I’ll be “paid back in time” for my help to him.

    After a while you aren’t doing it because of what you might get in return, but because you come to realize that it really is the better way. For me there’s a faith component driving it too, so I don’t see it as a random coincidence in the grand scheme of things.

  6. Don J says:

    Like Meg (#3) said, there is a personal benefit to helping others, even when there is NO results, direct or indirect. I don’t have the resources to hunt it down, but I have seen references to studies that have shown this. (I hate to say, “it’s out there, trust me” but I really can’t do more right now.)

    I think that this kind of thing would be helpful to cynical readers, who might think that Trent’s great examples “couldn’t happen to ME”. It helps to know that even if you help someone completely anonymously, you will benefit from it in some way.

  7. I’ve heard arguments on both sides of the aisle a lot. To some people, it’s just confusing and does not make sense that giving up your own time and resources to help someone out without an expected return could possibly pay off more than using that time and money to do something for yourself.

    While there is certainly a philosophical disconnect between the two sides, I think a huge part of the argument lies between a need for immediate gratification and the ability to visualize the benefits of delayed gratification.

    I won’t go so far as to call it selfishness, but I’ve noticed that a lot of my acquaintances with this perspective have the same mindset in other parts of their lives be it financial, relationships, etc. that causes them to struggle to balance between a perceived need for something “now” and something “later,” always defaulting to the “now.”

    On the other hand, the old saying goes, “One bird in hand is worth two in the bush.”

    Who’s ultimately right? I don’t know. I know which perspective FEELS better to ME.

  8. Robin says:

    This is a good policy to follow, but I don’t think it is what Adam Smith was talking about. You have misunderstood what he was saying. The ” invisible hand” is refering to the good things inadvertantly happening when people act out of their own self-interest. Adam Smith was not saying people should do good because it helps other, but that when people act selfishly and for greet, good things inadvertantly happen via the ‘invisible hand’. Paraphrased in a cynical modern view “Greed is good”.

  9. Jill says:

    Maybe it’s the Canadian in me, but insurance risks of keeping an eye on your neighbour’s kids? If your neighbour is really that swamped, maybe giving her one of your casseroles that you make en masse would help her out even more.

    Helping someone onthe condition that it’s easy for you to do so limits how much good social karma you can put out there.

    I enjoyed the create a blog-pass on the referral story much more than the neighbour one. Community should be built around interactions that are un-measurable financially. Otherwise, I question the motivation.

  10. diane says:

    I agree with the pay it forward theory but I have also learned things about myself regarding helping others. Back in January a friend of mine had a house fire, her house was almost destroyed and it is in foreclosure, my husband and I took her husband, herself and one of her sons into our home to help them out until they found a new place. I realized at that time, that so many people had helped me out in my own past and that I was essentially paying forward the help others had given me in the past, but, I also learned months later that I needed to let go of helping out my friend before I became her crutch to lean on since I also thought that she had learned the same lesson, in fact, she hadn’t and being a helper and carrying someones burdens for awhile may be ok,but, we need to learn in fellowship how to remember that what we do is for the greater good of all. Had my friend and her family not stayed with me, she would have become a burden to society in general, been placed in a shelter, had to go on food stamps, and had to live in a welfare apartment for awhile, instead, she and her husband were able to maintain some level of sanity enough to get assistance from the community and neighbors through the newspaper articles that were written about her house going up and having people that were generous enough to help out. Perhaps, there is a sense of greed on my part, since, I don’t feel indebted to anyone in my past by helping my friend, if thats greed than so be it. More importantly, my friend can never forget this and perhaps someday, she will pay it forward to someone else.

  11. Jude says:

    As a single parent, I appreciate that at least one of us occasionally gets some help. I have a 3-year-plan for my life which will end in suicide. If I’d ever had anyone else to depend on, even in a small way, my life would have been significantly better. By the way, I do things for others *all* the time, but I’m invisible to them. Oh, well.

  12. Jude,

    Honestly, your words scare me. Please seek help from someone in your life you can trust or call a support line!

    There is a way out from any situation…trust me on this!

  13. Sara says:

    There are benefits to helping others that are not directly obvious. You never know when you’ll cross paths with someone again; someone you help out in a small way now could end up being your boss in the future, or working at the customer service counter at the store where you want to return something but lost the receipt. Your kindness to this person now could affect how he treats you in the future when he’s in a position to help you.

    If you make a habit of helping other people without expecting anything in return, you’ll get a reputation as a good person, which could help your career or make others more likely to help you when you need it. And setting an example of kindness can inspire other people to do the same, which makes the world a better place for everyone.

    If you help other people only when there’s a direct benefit to you, you’ll surely miss out on a lot of indirect benefits.

  14. Livia says:

    Great point. Thanks!

  15. MANDOLIN says:

    I find this to be very true. I get more out of helping people than I ever give. I think one reason for this is everyone has their own talents and habits and certainly everyone has different employers. I love getting help when I need it and giving help when I can. It is a way to form relationships and my relationships give both financial and emotional help.

    One of my talents is giving gifts & clearance shopping. I tend to find excellent gifts inexpensively. This year I started a project of sending at least one present in the mail a month to someone I know who needs it, would love it, or to someone who sent me a gift. I tend to look in clearance at gift stores, book stores, childrens clothing stores and and at dollar stores. You would be surprised how much people love a surpise gift even if it is from the dollar store. I never expect anything back but when I get something back I certainly love it. Sometimes it is just the appreciation…sometimes they send me gifts..sometimes a party invite….sometimes used childrens clothes. I would say 90 % of the time I get something back and for a gift that costs me 5 – 25 dollars…not to mention I love giving gifts in the first place….it is well worth the little investment. I think everyone should use their talents for others in their lives if they can.

  16. Jeana says:

    I believe, aside from the paybacks, that habitually helping other people helps you by making you a better person. When you help others you become more patient, generous and selfless. When you only look out for yourself you tend to become narcissistic. People who are completely focused on themselves tend to self-destruct, sooner or later.

  17. Jennifer says:

    I second #5. Adam Smith was saying almost the opposite. Individuals acting in their own self interest often end up promoting the good of the society through “an invisible hand”.

  18. BD says:

    Jude (#7)

    If you’re a single parent, you automatically get the government’s help. You’re eligible every year for major tax breaks at income tax time, and depending on your income and age of children, you may be eligible for other help as well: WIC, food stamps, welfare, etc, to help pay for the kids. Don’t ignore these resources!
    Also, many churches have food programs. Another food program that offers great food discounts is http://www.angelfoodministries.com You can get a big box of food, enough for a few weeks, for just $35. It’s a real bargain, and many places in many towns participate in the program.

    So yeah, there’s lots of help out there, if you have kids.

  19. Amateur says:

    Helping others in small increments and bits can help balance out our insides, the compassion parts, the parts where we feel grateful we are able to help, and the parts of us that may admit we may need the help, too.

    One does not have to go into extremes to help others like this man http://www.anangelinqueens.org/user/bio/ who spends half his salary buying food to feed strangers on the street day in and day out. But there are ways to help someone from time to time when they need it, and it can yield some positive feelings, even if there won’t be any gains from it.

  20. Dee says:

    To Jude #7

    I’m not a single parent so I can’t say I understand what you’re going through, but please hang in there :)

  21. Jeana is exactly right, I believe that only when we begin to put others first and put our own needs aside can we really begin to understand ourselves. So many people are so incredibly focused on things like what makes them feel better and what they need that they really miss the forest for the trees.

  22. Eden Jaeger says:

    Well said. This is something I need to be more aware of and work on practicing regularly in my life.

  23. JenRit says:

    Jude, I want you to know that God loves and cares about you and if there is anything any of us can do to help. Please let us know. Those of us who are “helpers” will be willing to do what we can to help you, there are people who CARE.
    Also, with Dee saying hang in there.

  24. KATY says:

    Jude #7 – Please hang in. Making a plan is not a good sign….please get someone to talk to.

  25. Fairy Dust says:

    Jude #7: “I have a 3-year-plan for my life which will end in suicide.”

    Okay, WHOA! This is some serious sh*t. And I’m thinking it’s maybe not such a good plan, especialy if you’re a parent. Please reconsider the “plan” to make it something more long-reaching, for your kid(s)’ sake if not for your own. And you’re NOT invisible! And I can’t believe there isn’t some organization, help line, community group, etc., that can somehow help you. Sometimes, those who take what you give and seem not to give back may need to be asked. If you need help, it’s okay to ask for it, really!

  26. Damester says:

    Jim asks:
    …but what benefit is there for helping others beyond the idea that it’s the right thing to do?”

    Trent, you did a masterful job giving examples. But I’m not sure how much they would mean to Jim. Because they only reinforce the idea of quid pro quo, getting something back for what you give. That is often not the case and really, not the point at all.

    One gives, to give. To help, to offer assistance, aid, compassion, whatever. Sometimes, we are asked. Many times we volunteer without being asked. It’s about being a compassionate human being and fellow citizen. To know that we have, through the power of choice, an ability to help and make a difference, small or large. A kind word can go a long way. We do this, each in our own way, to help make this a more humane and livable planet and community. Do you seriously need any more reason? I mean really. (And let me just say that I’m no pollyanna. I do use discretion in giving because yes, there are people who take advantage and worse, those who expect and demand with no thought to others.)

    I think it has to do with who we are and how we were raised. Either formally (parents, school) or informally (peers, friends). The kind of people we grew up with and were around. Our community, our tribes, as it were.

    Is it possible, Jim, that you’ve never experienced kindness and help from someone without any expectation from you? Because if you haven’t, then I get that you would raise the question. I hope that isn’t the case.

    We live in a society that has become very self-centered and a spirit of community does not always exist everywhere (although even I, in a major city, known (erroneously) for its lack of compassion, daily witness small and large kindness, etc. offered to strangers–so clearly with no thought to getting anything back.)

    It’s more than a little sad to me that someone has to ask that question. And I’m sure, Jim, that others were thinking it, so it’s not just you.

    Too much “giving” today is all about a future ROI. Such insincerity is often more “rewarded” than actual sincere and unlimited giving, with no thought to a payback.

    What kind of a world do you want to live in? One where people only look out for themselves? Only care about their friends and family? Or do you want to live in a world where you realize that we are all connected, all citizens and all here basically to create, communicate and CONNECT via kindness, compassion, assistance and service.

    If you wonder why the world is as it is, ask yourself what you can do to make it better. EACH of us has the power to make every day better in some way for another. Why wouldn’t we make the effort?

    And no, I’m not advocating a world of Pollyannas and always helping. There are indeed limits, but there are also so many simple things we can do each day, many of which Trent has noted.

    Oh, and sometimes giving/helping will be inconvenient. DO IT ANYWAY. Life is NOT about comfort and convenience. Once you get over that, you may start to really enjoy it. And if you look at what many people have achieved, you realize it was not easy, simple or convenient. NOTHING of value every is.

    Only a child wants that simplistic a life. Perhaps that’s the problem. Too many people don’t want to grow up and learn to “take care” of themselves and the world we live in.

  27. S. says:

    Jude#7 You may not have anyone you can depend on but someone depends on you as a single parent. Please find someone to talk to soon. Suicide, even if it’s 3 years away, is NOT the answer. Hang in there.

  28. Damester says:

    To Jude:
    This being the Web, I’m sorry to say that one does not always know if someone is speaking the truth.

    If indeed you are feeling as you write, you need to immediately seek help (church, family, friend, social worker). There is plenty of it available and for free. There are suicide hotlines everywhere.

    As a single parent, your life is probably very very challenging. But you are a parent and that means your life on this planet no longer revolves around how you feel, no matter how badly, or how “justified.” I don’t know your life circumstances or how old your child is, but you need to think about your child right now and how your actions and plans are/will affect him/her. Suicide is not the answer.

    If you are clinically depressed, as you well may be, you can again get help. You do have to ask for it and that can be hard. But look at what’s at stake.

    If you’re looking to find someone in life to depend on, here is the reality, for all of us: You must first depend on yourself. YOU have to want to be present on the planet. That’s a choice you make. Nobody else can make your life worth living. NOBODY. Your child included.

    Your life has got to be independent of anything or anyone else. That’s hard, but it’s the truth. Yes, we love, we create families of all types. We connect. But we enter alone, we leave alone. It doesn’t however, have to be that way, inbetween.

    Because if you look around, you will see/realize that many people who have loving families and friends also contemplate suicide. You will also see children traumatized for life by their parents death by suicide.

    Clearly you don’t find life worth living if you are contemplating your own death. But clearly you have hope (a three-year plan?) or you’re waiting for something else.

    We all feel invisible. We all feel as if no one understands. And, at times, we all feel as if no one has our backs. But it is then that we must reach out and connect and ask for help.

    No one has to be alone, especially when they feel as you do.

    So, now, what will you DO, right NOW to embrace life rather than focus on leaving? If your child isn’t enough reason to continue, that alone should make you run to the nearest mental health center.

    Finally, putting your thoughts online, the people here, who do not know you, can offer only words. You need far more than that. You need to reach out in the real world. The online community is not a substitute for a therapist, for local aid on a consistent basis and for the kind of real-life connections you need.

    Please don’t let these feelings be your reality. You have the power to change that. For your sake, and that of your child, I hope you will.

  29. Doug says:

    RE: the conversation about ‘the invisible hand.’
    I think both Trent’s non-financial take on it, as well as the financial aspect, are correct.

    Is it in my best interest to be on good terms with my neighbor? Yes. Is it in my self-interest to remove a splinter from her child’s finger? Yes. Is it in my self interest to give my unemployed brother $1000 because he refuses to find a job but wants to go on vacation with his girlfriend? No.

    RE: Self interest.
    I think Zig Ziglar said “You can get everything you want by giving others what they want.” That applies to neighbors, friends, coworkers, and the spiritual side of life (call it karma, the golden rule, whatever).

  30. anne says:

    hey jude- #7- i’m not sure i understand why your 3 year plan ends w/ suicide. i’m imagining you have a diagnosis of an illness or condition which will give you 3 years of relatively good health, and then uncertainty or incapacitation after that? i know absolutely nothing about you and your situation- that’s the only thing that i could think of which makes sense. and then i hope your dr or doctors help you and things get so much better you are healthy and can abandon this plan.

    i hope you’re ok- i really do. i don’t know you, but i’m worried about you. please hang in there.

  31. Marsha says:

    Mostly I agree with you, Trent – but I would think long and hard about helping someone with whom I’m in direct competition. It’s OK for helping to be strategic.

    Also, as Meg suggested (or as I inferred from her post), you have to figure out what really is “help.” Sometimes it’s just enabling someone else. Sometimes it’s at the expense of draining your own reserves.

  32. Makes sense to me!!

    Of course, this can’t be applied to every situation… But it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to fall back on.

    Typically, you can tell which people are worth helping and which aren’t… Use that instinct and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll end up more of a floor mat than anything else.

  33. Anne says:

    Really great post, Trent. You always give one food for thought.

    To #7 Jude: I was a single parent, too. It’s the hardest job in the world – no doubt about it. I don’t know anything about your circumstances but I will tell you what helped me.

    I set out to create a “circle” of friends who would serve as a de facto family. I enrolled my son in soccer when he was 4 years old. He loved sports but the principle is the same whether it’s music/dance/whatever. Through soccer, we met other the kind of healthy families I wanted to be surrounded with. Parents who were involved with their kids. It’s sad to say that few of them were single parents. It’s just really hard to do that stuff on your own. But the rewards were tremendous. We traded babysitting – though I was usually on the receiving end of that. And formed lifelong friendships.

    I also found a church community. More people who were “there” for us. And I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with God in the process.

    I’m not saying my way of doing things was the best way or only way. But it was the way that worked for me. There is hope and there are people who care. You can create a better life for you and your child(ren); the life you want. It’s hard not to get discouraged, I know, but you can do it.

    And I really want to echo the comments of #14 Damester. Help is out there. You can do it.

  34. brooke says:

    #7 Jude,
    You have one person that depends on you in a large way- your child. You matter to that child, and THEY will love you no matter what. As the previous poster said, create a circle of friends. YOU have to make your place in this world,and then you’ll have a sense of belonging and being appreciated. But no matter what, if you don’t have a single friend, that child will still love you. Put your child first.

  35. Bell Neice says:

    >>>if you can help someone out without disadvantaging yourself, do it

    Can you expound on “without disavantaging yourself”? I generally try to be kind – but some people are out there to take advantage. We have generations that believe that kindness is weakness. I work with some of these people. Just sharing information with them could be a disadvantage – they won’t reciprocate.

  36. Carole says:

    I think that people who help others when they can attract positive things to themselves. It’s an unwritten law at work in the universe.

  37. Andrew says:

    Robin (#5) and Jennifer (#11) are right. Trent misinterpreted the Adam Smith quote. Adam was saying pretty much the opposite of what Trent is saying. He is saying that by pursuing your own self interest others benefit indirectly. Trent is saying that by pursuing others interests you benefit indriectly. Both of those may be true but Trent and Adam are saying two different things.

  38. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Mostly I agree with you, Trent – but I would think long and hard about helping someone with whom I’m in direct competition. It’s OK for helping to be strategic.”

    I help people I’m in direct competition with all the time. I link to tons of other personal finance sites through my weekly roundup, and the sidebar of every page links to tons more.

    And for those who say I “misinterpreted” Adam Smith, I think you should re-read it with an open mind. The “invisible hand” pushes a person to act in their own self-interest. My argument is that one’s self-interest, properly enlightened, might not be the move of pure self-interest in the moment. In fact, I argue it often isn’t.

  39. Kate in Canada says:

    Jude – I know first-hand how hard it is being a single parent, but please don’t give up! More people than just your child will miss you, believe me.
    First and most important – see your doctor! Clinical depression is not something that just goes away on its own; it IS treatable and you WILL feel better.
    Next – you feel “invisible ” – you can change that! Just get out there and talk to people – any people – neighbours, library workers, parents of your child’s friends, and so on. Volunteer somewhere – church, your child’s school, animal shelter, food bank. MAKE yourself visible and you’ll be surprised at how warm & welcoming people can be if you give them a chance.
    And do come back & let everyone know how you’re doing :-)

  40. spaces says:

    Dear Jude #7 —

    When I was 9, my mother decided to suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning. I came home from school early, discovered her passed out in her car, which was running. I pulled her out, called 911. That was the first day of dealing with my mother’s suicidal tendencies, which I can only describe as a massive mind fuck. I would say I’m scarred, but I don’t think it really counts as a scar if it warps you so badly that it affects every aspect of the rest of your life.

    Get help. You chose to have and keep your child, and now you owe it to your child to be the best (living) parent you can be. Unless you want the major take-home point of childhood to be that they, also, can’t depend on anyone — especially not their mother.

  41. Marsha–“Mostly I agree with you, Trent – but I would think long and hard about helping someone with whom I’m in direct competition. It’s OK for helping to be strategic.”

    I can certainly see your point on this, however there’s a difference between being in competition with someone as opposed to being at war with them.

    Hopefully we can rise above our differences as competitors and embrace the fact that we’re all part of the human community and sharing space on the same planet. We should never forget that we’re human beings first and competitors (or whatever else) as a secondary consideration.

  42. Katie says:

    I really agree with the pay it forward principle based on the fact that if everyone acted that way, the world would be a much nicer place. The world can be pretty harsh, so I appreciate anyone’s efforts to make it slightly gentler. Not gumdrops and ice cream, just nicer than the status quo! Great post.

  43. Here’s the thing: You can never know how a seemingly charitable act may pay off in the future.

    I volunteered for two years at my church as a small group leader in the youth department. One of the kid’s in my group has a couple of great parents who I have befriended. The kids dad deals in mergers and acquisitions. This may help me out sometime in the future (I am in the finance field).

    This is just one small example of many that I have experienced from taking part in a “charitable” act whose purpose was first and foremost not to benefit myself.


  44. Sharon says:

    “Pay it forward” is a philosophy I grew up with, and one that the Masonic organizations espouse. Aside from the future contacts, possibility of repayment or return help in another way, etc., I just like to lend a helping hand because it is fun!

    My father was out on a date with my Mom, and he came upon a car in the ditch (early 1950s). He was all dressed up, but he stopped, put on some coveralls and pulled the guy’s car out. The man handed him a $20 bill, which was REAL money in those days, (and which he really could have used) and Dad handed it back and just said, “help someone else out instead.” They guy put away the $20 and said, “Hell, I wouldn’t do that!”

    I am absolutely amazed that Dad didn’t push his car back in the ditch! But Dad knew that he was a happy man, and the other guy was living a miserable life.

    That’s my bottom line on helping and paying it forward.

  45. Todd says:

    It’s interesting that so many of these posts have focused on children. I think that’s the most “giving” act that most of us every do, and we do it only for the good of society in the future when we’ll be long gone.

    If you raise children expecting to get back from them financially what you put into it, you’ll most likely be very sorely disappointed. (Did you see the recent statistic that it takes more than $200,000 to raise a child to the age of 18?) We get back their happiness, fun, and love, if we’re lucky, and grandchildren (another huge expense) also if we’re lucky. Primarily, though, the only real reason to put money and energy into raising children is the satisfaction of contributing to the future of the human race. That’s enough for me.

    Jude–I’ve struggled with dark times, and I’ve always told myself that if I could find no hope of making myself ever feel happy, I could at least devote myself to making someone else’s life happier.

    Sorry, there’s no way to give unsolicited advice without sounding preachy, so here it goes: Get help and make a difference in the lives of others. Your comment obviously affected many people who read this site. That should give you some idea of the potential you have for making an impact in the world.

  46. Juli says:

    FYI – Adam Smith was a moral philosopher as well, so while I haven’t read the Wealth of Nations, I wouldn’t be surprised if I came up with the same conclusion if I ever do.

    Also – as a Christian, I feel compelled to help those I come across in life. I felt the same while an atheist for 25 years, but now there’s a moral component to it.

    Finally, I donate monthly to modestneeds.org . You can decide where to give your donation from pages and pages of applicants. This has to be one of the best returns on $20 a month ever!

  47. KED says:

    Jude- My heart stopped a beat when I read your comment. I was a single parent for a long time, worked multiple jobs, etc. At times it can be overwhelming but I am convinced there are alternatives to your 3-year plan. Writing in a journal nightly after tucking in my little one allowed me to “let go” of alot of my worries, anxiety, concerns.

    There is not doubt in my mind you are not invisible to your child and I am sure many others.

    I also volunteered twice a month for 4 hours at a time during that tough time period, it helped me connect to others and see myself as competent and valuable. It did my heart good and I think others as well.

    Please be good to yourself and your child.

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