Happiness Through Service

By contributing writer Jung Woo Bae for KidSpirit's Happiness issue.

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There is a widespread view that happiness is obtained through reciprocity. In other words, happiness is dictated by how much we receive in any given exchange. But what happens when we give without an expectation of anything in return? Will we be left feeling empty, or left feeling full?

My Catholic faith has shown me that, in fact, our desire for happiness can be fulfilled through service. From an early age, my parents taught me the importance of service. As a Catholic, I grew up learning the act of serving through understanding and love. The Bible encouraged me to fulfill a duty to avoid acting selfishly, and to think not just about myself but about others. As a human being, I cannot be perfect in my way of conduct so I realize that I can only strive to fulfill this duty. Yet one thing is clear to me: every act of service gives me an ineffable feeling of happiness.

What is service? Service is giving without wishing to receive. Service is the lowering of oneself for the benefit of others. Service is an act that demonstrates how understanding and humility quench our thirst for happiness.

I reflect on an episode in the Bible when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus humbled himself for the benefit of his disciples, which, to me, is both an inspiring and revolutionary act, because it defies the notion that happiness comes from receiving. This selfless deed was also performed by Pope Francis, who washed the feet of people around the world regardless of their faith.

The washing of the feet evokes a universal message. Though this particular act may not be done in all cultures and religions, the message it portrays -- that to serve is to give without a desire to be given something in return -- resonates with everyone. This fundamental principle has led me to realize that we are able to feel true happiness once we break away from the parochial mindset that we must be rewarded for our actions.

I follow in the footsteps of my mother, who used to volunteer her time at the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic home for the elderly. Every Saturday I help serve afternoon tea to the residents. I will concede that serving tea is neither a demanding nor an incredibly impressive task. However, I know that what I believe to be small is significant to those whom I serve. I know this because every time I go into an elder's room, I am always greeted with a smile and a "thank you."

Just as the tea I give them satisfies their thirst, their smile is enough to quench the happiness I seek in my life.

Perhaps this is the salient reason I have continued to serve at the Little Sisters of the Poor -- to experience and savor that ephemeral moment of happiness when I know that, deep in my heart, I have put aside any desire to be rewarded, and that I have acted with integrity to make a positive difference for the people who need it.

Happiness is what enables me to continue to fulfill my duty, as defined by my faith. I liken it to a beautiful star that, when I leap, can only be touched briefly with the fingertips, but is enticing enough to make me jump and reach for it again. True, there are times when serving can be arduous, requiring an almost testifying endurance of the body and of the mind. It is often difficult to maintain the strength to continue to give without return. However, the greater the hardship, the more satisfaction and happiness we will feel once that hardship is over.

My faith has helped me realize the incredible value of service and has illuminated a path that I will always walk on. It will continue to satisfy my hunger for joy, my perennial thirst for happiness.

Jung Woo Bae is 15 and in the 11th grade in New Zealand. His hobbies include playing basketball, playing the violin and piano, and being in the beautiful outdoors of his country. He has a passion for both music and literature and hopes to study medicine and fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor.