What Motivates You to Help Others?

What Motivates You to Help Others

By Lissa Rankin MD

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

When I got back from the World Domination Summit this summer, I wrote a post about what motivates visionaries to try to change the world. The conference was full of well-intentioned do-gooders trying to make the world a better place. Amazing things were being birthed as a result of this impulse to do good. But I couldn’t help wondering whether this impulse to be of service came from a pure, noble intention or whether it came from some sort of underlying sense of unworthiness or ego-driven motivation. Or both.

In other words, why do we do what we do?

A few people argued, “Who cares why? As long as the world is benefiting from these impulses, why question it?”

Yet, as one of those self-help author do-gooder types who is committed to getting my own ego out of the driver’s seat and letting the Divine take the wheel, it matters to me.

Is Your Self-Worth Tied To How Helpful You Are?

I have a theory about all of this. I think those of us who commit to acts of altruism on behalf of making the world a better place do so because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Something within us doesn’t feel good enough/ valuable enough/ worthy enough unless we’ re devoted to helping others. We don’t believe that we’re good and valuable and worthy not because of any external action but because we all have within us a spark of the Divine which makes us inherently worthy. So we go out and help people, and people tell us how we’ve saved their lives, and then we feel more worthy. We matter because we matter to someone else. Then our worried, scared, “never good enough” egos feel better.

So what would happen if someone waved a magic wand and all the do-gooders suddenly woke up and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we were worthy – without all the accolades and applause and love letters from those we’ve helped. Would we lose all ambition to help others? Would we just sit on a park bench and bask in our awakened worthiness?

I don’t think so.

The Pure Impulse To Serve

I think it’s part of human nature to feel the impulse to ease the suffering of other living beings. When Eckhart Tolle woke up and realized that everything he had ever desired existed right here in the present moment, he spent months sitting on a park bench, basking in the bliss of his awakened state. He suddenly knew he was a valuable, worthy child of God who didn’t have to do anything to earn that grace. But Eckhart didn’t stay on that park bench forever. At some point, a pure impulse to share with others the bliss of what he was experiencing in the present moment motivated him to write The Power of Now and A New Earth. I don’t think the sharing of this message was motivated by ego. I think it was motivated by this pure impulse to ease the suffering of others who were missing the bliss of the present moment by living in the past or the future.

This is all just my theory, but I now think we’re often motivated to do good things because we’re trying to feel more worthy. But it’s possible to know we are worthy and still serve others from a pure, clean impulse to ease the suffering of others. (Read how Martha Beck helped me learn to tell the difference here.)

I Can’t Do It

So as I get ready to speak to an audience of people I hope to help with my words, I am doing a worthiness meditation so I can get my ego in the backseat and let the Divine use me in service to those who might be suffering. I remind my ego (I call her Victoria Rochester) that she is already good enough / valuable enough / worthy enough without gushing fans or long lines at my book signing or getting to sit next to Louise Hay at dinner. I am asking for Divine guidance. I am realizing, ironically, that I am speaking at an I Can Do It conference, and yet, perhaps, as Tosha Silver suggested, “I Can’t Do It.” Or rather, I Choose Not To Do It- because I want to let the Universe do it instead.

That’s what I hope to relay to those I serve at this conference. I don’t want to just feed their scared, worried, “not good enough” egos. I want to help them remember that they don’t have to do it – that if they get their egos out of the way and let the Divine take the lead, all will be well and they will finally find the peace they’re seeking.

Do You Yearn To Serve?

Generosity, altruism, charitable acts, and self-help teaching are all great. Don’t get me wrong. But if you find yourself compelled to be of service, I invite you to examine your motivations. Are you trying to feed the hungry ghost of the ego, which never gets filled no matter how many people you help? Or are you motivated by that clean impulse to ease the suffering of others? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Knowing I can’t do it alone,

Previous articles by Lissa Rankin:

About the author:

lissa_rankinDr. Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and healthcare providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.

Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities – HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a speaker, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Lissa on Facebook and Twitter, or visit LissaRankin.com


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  • Twinkle Parekh

    It is your inner self that keeps on pinging you for doing some deeds. You got all the money in the world, you got people around you, but nothing can get you that inner peace, which you get by helping others. Perhaps, reason for a human birth is indirectly getting satisfied by this deed.

  • Kevin Abraham

    What Motivates You to Help Others?
    A very good question, and one which has been of interest to me for a long time. I believe however that the answer is very simple.
    We are all ‘selfish’, and cannot deviate from this impulse, which is ‘hard wired’.
    The perceived differences in peoples’ behaviour are, however, a consequence of what we feel our ‘selves’ to be.
    Someone we might normally call ‘selfish’ is actually someone who feels themselves to be limited to, and stop at, their body boundary. Everything else is seen as not self, suitable for exploitation in service and in support of this small self.
    However, a healthy parent will recognise and include their child as ‘self’, and instinctively exercise the same nurturing and protection of this enlarged ‘self’, sometimes to the point of risking and even loosing their own life.
    If a person has develops an appreciation that they and their biological family cannot survive in isolation, they will extend this level of care and protection to their tribe members. The ‘tribe’ can take any form, eg political, ethnic, cultural, species specific etc.
    If a person further develops an appreciation that the self is indivisible from their environment, the protective and nurturing motivation will then extend to include those things in the environment which are considered essential for the survival of this enlarged self.
    Those who come to understand that they, their family, their tribe, and their environment are actually part of the body of mother earth, will then extend the protective impulse further to include ecosystems and other species which form part of that system.
    An example of such an appreciation might be found in environmental activists.

    All of these levels of inclusion have the same root, but the tree and branches will extend to encompass an ever widening circle of manifest being.
    The ultimate development of this process of inclusion is an understanding that the small body self, and the universe itself are actually indivisibly one being, and at this level of awakened state, all things are precious and should be nurtured and protected without exception.
    That the small self cannot survive without the sacrifice of other forms of being is understood and honoured, and nothing is consumed without a humble acknowledgement that a sacrifice has occurred to support the small self. Many so called ‘primitive’ cultures, and so called ‘spiritual’ cultures have retained this awareness, and take care to take the least necessary for their own survival while humbly acknowledging the debt that is owed to that which has been taken, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral.
    An example of such enlightened cultures can be clearly seen in the way the Kogi civilisation in south America conduct their lives and farming.
    (check them out if you have not yet done so, YouTube “From The Heart Of The World-The Elder Brothers Warning”)
    The mess the western culture has made of the planet can be attributed to the loss of this wisdom, and the descent from big self to small self. A fall from grace perhaps.
    As far as personal motivation and action are concerned, I do not think navel gazing about “why am I doing such and such” serves any purpose.
    Clearing the mind of ‘thought’ will naturally result in purification of the motive force, and decisions on how to respond to any situation will be unnecessary, and not be driven by ‘principles’, which are structures made by the mind.
    A healthy mother does not refer to her principles to decide whether to save her baby from harm! Her response to threat is instant, and occurs without reflection or thought.
    For one who has arrived at a wordless understanding of their true self, daily actions arise spontaneously from the compassion heart which is freed of mental artifice.
    One ‘problem’ is that until we are free of small self, we fluctuate, and although we might naturally do a compassionate thing, the small self can come back into the driving seat and become self congratulating and proud, taking credit for an action which it did not initiate!
    But if that, too, is observed without judgement, as it arises, it will progressively cease to be a problem.

  • Lisa Wallace

    I think some people really like the feeling of helping others ,as it does uplift the person that is helping.I have been a massage therapist for over 25 years and I get satisfaction for being used as a channel for healing and pain reduction.I know that I am being used for the purpose of helping others and that gives me joy.Thats why I am motivated to help others thru empowering others we naturally uplift our own lives.

    • Pauline Broughton

      Well said Lisa Wallace. I’m constantly amazed by peoples ability to share painful parts of there lives with me and I love their honesty. It creates a link of humanity that tells us we are not alone.

  • Siv Sunday

    This is an important question. The Drama Triangle (put in a Google search if interested) gave me some of the deepest insight on this. The Triangle is the Rescuer, the Persecutor and the Victim. The Rescuer may cause harm, because he/she truly need help for themselves, and project their drama/pain onto the Victim. From my own experience, a healer, a helper or a friend can make someone (more) sick from acting out their Need to Help! When you act from love and respect to yourself and others, you are in contact with a true way of helping.

  • Name (David Kantz)

    What came to my mind & heart by way of answer to “What motivates you to help others?” surprises me a bit. Wat came for me is Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. In all things, there is a balance in every person to be determined between each of these sets of extremes :
    1) care/harm
    2) fairness/cheating
    3) loyalty/betrayal
    4) authority/subversion
    5) sanctity/degradation
    6) liberty/oppression.

    Inherently (I think), helping others is not about feeling self-worthiness nearly as much as it is an expression of selecting the positive values in each of these 6 (with the exception of #4 usually not being applicable; there’s valid criticism that the distinction between authority/subversion and loyalty/betrayal is not valid).

  • Gregory Dodge

    This motivates me to serve others –

    “He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
    Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
    Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
    Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
    Who has left the world better than he found it,
    Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
    Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
    Whose life was an inspiration;
    Whose memory a benediction.” – Bessie Stanley

    or this version…

    To laugh often and much;
    To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
    To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
    To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
    To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
    To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
    This is to have succeeded.
    — inaccurately attributed to
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Name (required)Shannon Lea

    I feel driven constantly to help others. I do not want accolades, and do not feel that I am driven by ego, any longer. There was a time in my life when I was younger that I do believe ego played its part in my helping. I have had many circumstances and time to evaluate that point. My drive now, is to help those I am connected to. My belief is that we are all one. All connected. Each, a piece of the puzzle, that makes up the whole. I will say that it may be selfish of me to help others, as by doing so, I am actually helping and healing myself, because each entity on this planet is a piece of me. And I, a piece of them.

  • Patty Palomo

    Buddhism diferentiates between different act of kindness and depending on its intention, the merit or good karma gained. An act of kindness which is done, expecting to receive any ego inflation, has little merit. same with an act done expecting a reward from God when we die. Or acts of kindness in order for others to admire me……the truest objective for a Buddhist is to be able to do acts of kindness and compassion totally devoid of ego and /or reward. Yes, all of them are good, but some are much better than others….and by far.

  • Gema

    I don’ believe that people that don’t feel worthy enough go out there and start helping people just to feel better about themselves. People that have low self seem are greedy and do not want to share anything with the world. To be altruistic there has to be inner peace in you already. Is not possible to go out to the world to give something you don’t have. you can’t help anyone of you are not at peace with yourself, you would not be doing the world much good. This is why the world is in desperate need of kinder people, because not everyone can achieve this kind of inner peace and pure desire to help this world. I believe everyone is capable of this. But most of us let ourselves forget the real purpose of why we are here and we keep living our lives like we are all not connected. Because we are connected and what happens a world away, affects us too.