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Be Useful
How doing for others can make a difference for you.

Psychologist Martin Seligman, PhD, once gave his students a task: Do one pleasurable activity and one philanthropic activity, then write about both. "The afterglow of the pleasurable activity," Seligman observed, "paled in comparison with the effects of the kind action." Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, explains why: "Feeling like you've helped someone provides a sense that you matter." Philosopher Thomas Hurka, author of The Best Things in Life, agrees: "Caring about and pursuing things other than your own happiness brings it about as a side effect." Opportunities for good deeds are plentiful. "I'm a proponent of the 'five-minute favor,'" says Grant, "like introducing two people who might enjoy each other. It's easy for you but of huge potential value to them." He also suggests setting up what's called a Reciprocity Ring: "Have, say, 12 people gather and each make a personal or professional request. Then everyone uses their knowledge and connections to try to fulfill it." The takeaway: "Often," says Grant, "the most meaningful contribution you can give isn't money. It's yourself."

—Laura Birek