Life Lessons Served After the Kung Pao Chicken

By Sheryl Green

A closeup of Kung Pao Chicken served on a white plate

I rarely put much stock in the wisdom of fortune cookies… okay that’s not entirely true. Fortune cookies know everything! I’m positive that there are 5 ancient, wise Chinese men sitting at the edge of a rice field scribbling nuggets of brilliance onto ancient scrolls. Anyway, I recently received a fortune cookie with the following message, and it got me thinking about life, being prosperous, and about ordering a bowl of pineapple.
“In finding happiness for others, you’ll likely find it for yourself.”

You already know that prosperity doesn’t have to mean financial wealth. You can be prosperous in your family, your friends, and with a couch full of rescued puppies, it just depends on what makes you smile. It sounds to me like prosperity is just another word for happiness.

So the question stops being “how do I become prosperous” and becomes “how can I be happier”, and that’s where the wisdom of the cookie comes in. If you want to be happier, do something nice for someone else. As a little child, my friend would complain to her mom that she was sad – and she always got the same response. “Go do something nice for someone else.” Whether you write a thank you letter to a friend, pay the bill for the person behind you in line at the coffee shop, or help a little, old lady across the street (just make sure she actually wanted to cross), doing good things for others, brings us joy.

There’s actually a ton of science behind this. In The Hidden Gifts of Helping, Stephen G. Post, a professor of preventative medicine and director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University said,

“Rx: help others. This little prescription has the side effect of benefiting the helper, so long as one does not become overwhelmed. Research in the field of health psychology, and all the great spiritual traditions, tells us that one of the best ways to get rid of anger or grief is to actively contribute to the lives of those around us. Science supports this assertion: giving help to others measurably reduces the giver’s stress: improves health and well-being in surprising and powerful ways, renews our optimism about what is possible; helps us connect to family, friends, places, and lots of amazing people; allows the deep profound joy of our humanity to flow through us and out into the world; and improves our sense of self-worth.”

When you are sad, stressed, angry, or just need a happiness boost – follow the fortune cookie. Do something nice for someone who needs your help. Volunteer some time at an animal shelter, read to a child (or even better, let them read to you), deliver food to a senior citizen who could use a meal and some company, or drive a veteran to a medical appointment. There are endless opportunities to make someone else smile.

And just remember, when you help others, you help yourself. Hey! Wait just a minute. That should be in a fortune cookie.

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2017 issue of CHOICES Magazine



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