One night, while stargazing near Brian Head, UT I noticed an especially bright star in my right periphery. Stunned by its brilliance, I shifted my gaze to admire it directly. It disappeared. Black space existed where the star had been. Thinking that I was mistaken, I looked elsewhere only to have it appear again, shining brightly once more in my peripheral vision! Time and again, when I looked right at it, the star vanished. When I focused instead on the surrounding stars, it reappeared.
Lesson From the Disappearing Star
It turns out that the “disappearing star” phenomenon is well-known in the scientific community (it has to do withhow your eyes adjust to light). The experience got me thinking about humanity's universal search for happiness. I saw a clear parallel: the more we focus on our own happiness the more it eludes us, much as the star proved evasive when I tried to find it. However, when we shift our focus to the needs of others we find brilliant joy, much as looking to the surrounding stars unveiled the beautiful luminescence of the disappearing one. Gandhi understood this principle. He taught that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Of course helping others, like any virtue, can be carried to harmful extremes. I'm not suggesting that you enable others to become dependent. Nor am I promoting “being a doormat” or, worst of all, taking personal responsibility for another person's happiness (a choice which is largely theirs).
The Way to Joy
What I am saying is that looking for ways to help others, to lighten their burdens, to ensure that they feel loved and not alone, is the best way to give your life meaning and fulfillment. It will help you to escape the self-centered living that ultimately proves hollow, to build meaningful relationships, and to establish self-confidence. Einstein understood this. His wisdom extended beyond science when he stated: “Only a life lived in the service of others is worth living.”
Focus on the stars around you and yours will shine all the brighter. Try to help others feel happy, or at least stand by them when they're sad, and you'll find your own happiness. If you focus only on yourself, joy will elude you. This was the lesson taught to me by one of nature's marvels on a clear night in Brian Head.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.