15. Service: To help and benefit others in whatever ways we can 


What would you do?

In 1998, a young college student called Nipun Mehta decided to counteract the negativity of mainstream media by emailing an insightful quote to five of his friends every day. This simple act of service has blossomed into a volunteer-run website called Daily Good that curates uplifting news stories on its website and delivers them to over 100,000 inboxes around the world each day. The core team describe their three major organizing principles as: “First, be volunteer run. Second, serve with what you have, without asking for anything. Third, focus on small acts. It kept us simple and human, raw and authentic”.See www.servicespace.org

The benefits of service

Service has the potential to:

  • Make someone else’s life a little bit easier or nicer
  • Distract ourselves from an exclusive and exhausting focus on ‘me me me’
  • Find satisfaction, purpose and joy through building warm-hearted connections with others 

A 16 Guidelines view on service

Service is the outer expression of a wish to benefit someone – to increase their happiness. At its best, it is an expression of caring, sharing, and delighting in each other. When it arises effortlessly and spontaneously, it is beautiful to watch. Service can also be experienced as a duty. Instead of being light and joyful, it feels heavy and burdensome. For most of us, learning how to serve - and to be served - is a lifetime task. 

In every moment there is an opportunity to make someone else’s life a little bit easier or nicer. Every thought, word and action that flows from us in a loving way has the potential to create happiness. Are we willing to find within ourselves the sensitivity and intelligence, the clarity and conviction that this will take? 

The rewards are huge. As we discover and deepen our wish for other people to be happy, we also find the key to our own happiness. Nobody gets left out of the equation. This is the golden rule of heart-felt service that underpins the great spiritual and wisdom traditions of the world. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto yourself.”

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing service


Did you know?

Research conducted with 15-16 year old students concluded that, compared to the non-volunteers, the controlled group who volunteered showed a steep drop in risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including cholesterol levels and body mass index, at the end of 10 weeks. These benefits were even more pronounced for students whose empathy and altruistic behaviors increased the most and whose negative moods lessened over those 10 weeks. 

Another study concluded that service during university years substantially enhances student’s academic development, life skill development, and sense of civic responsibility. 


J. Sax, A.W. Astin, A, Juan: Long-Term Effects of Volunteerism During the Undergraduate Years, The Review of Higher Education - Volume 22, Number 2, Winter 1999, pp. 187-202 

Zakrzewski, V., Teens Who Help, Help Their Hearts, Greater Good the Science of a Meaningful life, University of California Berkeley, 2013.



Life’s persistent and most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?” urged the human rights activist Martin Luther King Jr, who gave his life in service, right up to his assassination in 1968. 

The principles that underpinned King’s life were grounded not only in his Christian faith but also in his vision of a common humanity. As he said in his 1963 ‘Strength to Love’ speech: “The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human, and therefore brothers.” In his speeches we can sometimes sense his frustration at the inability of others to follow his example of collaboration and service. “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools!

For more on Martin Luther King Jr., see:

  1. www.thekingcentre.org: set up by Mrs Coretta Scott King as the living memorial and institutional guardian of her husband’s legacy
  2. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Claybourne Carson, 2000 
  3. Martin Luther King by Godfrey Hodgson, 2010
  4. Selma: film starring DavidOleyowo, 2015, Academy Award Nominee for Best Picture


A short reflection on service from '16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Find a quiet space where you can relax. Sit comfortably. To help you settle, focus your awareness on your breathing. Let go of any thoughts, images or feelings that arise. Whenever you become distracted, bring your awareness gently back to the sensation of the breath going in and out. Spend a few minutes enjoying the experience of coming to rest. 

Call to mind all your close “friends.” You can do this either by listing their names silently in your mind, or visualising them one by one; whatever method works best for you. 

Is it possible that our “friends” are simply the people who do what we want? Ask yourself why you consider these people to be “friends.” Explore the possibility that “friends” are the people who behave in the way that is most comfortable for you. If you experience some resistance to this idea gently acknowledge and identify it. 

Next, call to mind the people who are your adversaries – the people who make you feel a bit itchy when you think of them. What is it about them that makes them so challenging? Is it because they don’t do what you want? Again, you may notice some resistance to this idea: gently acknowledge it and identify it. “I’m resisting this.” Stay very soft and feel where the resistance is in your mind and body. 

Now, scan all the “neutral” people in your world – those who have not had a personal impact on you yet. Why are they neutral? Is it because you have not yet classified them? Pick one of these people and ask yourself, “Would she do what I wanted if I asked her?” Notice what happens. 

Reflect on the way that you divide people into “friend”, “adversary” or “neutral person.” How well does this serve you? How does it affect the way that you relate to them and offer them service? What would happen if you related to everybody with an open heart instead? Run through the scenario in your mind. Imagine yourself relating to people daily with a totally open heart, unconditionally, without expectations, without judgement. What would this be like? 

If you arrive at any conclusions, sit with them and let them deepen. 

Close with the wish “May all beings be happy!”


Quotes on service

  • The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Gandhi
  • Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you. – Mother Teresa
  • Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. – Desmond Tutu
  • How marvellous human society would be if everyone added his own wood to the fire instead of crying over the ashes! – Alain 
  • If one is to do good, one must do it in the minute particulars. General good is the plea of the hypocrite, the flatterer and the scoundrel. - William Blake
  • Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation. – Aristotle
  • What really matters is what you do with what you have. – H. G. Wells


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