John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you... ask what you can do for your country.” In other words: don't ask what you can get from others, but ask what you can give to others. It would do us good to remind ourselves of this sentiment regularly, especially in today's society. Nowadays, people are encouraged to love themselves first and to put others on the back burner, so to speak. But when self-love is pumped up and promoted at the expense of selfless love, there are consequences. When we put a premium on our own happiness, we find that we are anything but happy. And instead of being content with what we have, we feel entitled to more.
Forgetting that joy and fulfillment can be found in serving others, we put our own wants and needs first. Caught up in our search for satisfaction, we bypass opportunities to help those who could really use our help. We are so busy about our own lives that we fail to notice others' needs. And the busier we are, the more we convince ourselves that our daily routines are important and necessary. We tell ourselves that we are making sacrifices for our children and for others, even as we fail to give them the one thing they crave the most: the gift of our time.
We easily get caught up in our own hectic lifestyles, believing that we are doing the best we can. We think that this is what making a living is all about. And we end up focusing too much on the “making”, and not enough on the “living”. We fail to notice how much we already have, and when we reach one milestone, we quickly go on to the next.
We Americans have a lot to be grateful for. Yet too often we forget that. We are not satisfied with what we have, because we could always have more. Our country is the home of bigger and better, and we are the courted consumers. So we consume, telling ourselves that we have earned it; after all, we work practically all the time. Still, no matter what we have, we are bothered by what we do not have. Of course, deep down we know that we may never keep up with the Joneses. Still, we find no harm in trying to reach our individual imaginations' versions of the Joneses.
As we continue to pursue our dreams, we find an emptiness within ourselves that unnerves us. How is it that our pursuit of happiness comes down to just that: a pursuit of something that continually manages to elude us? We think that if we try harder or believe in ourselves more, we will reach the place we want to be. But as we increasingly focus on ourselves, we find that our discontent only grows. Maybe one day we will learn that self-love isn't all it's advertised to be. Maybe we will ask ourselves what we can do for others. And as we help those less fortunate than ourselves, we just might finally learn what true happiness is.