My absolute favorite weekend in NYC is not Christmas…not Halloween…and gawwwdd don’t even get me started on St Patrick’s Day. That’s the worst weekend ever in the City. While Christmas is beautiful and summer Fridays are holidays of their own, the most wonderful, magical, perfect day in New York is Marathon Day!

I’ve referenced the New York City Marathon on this blog before as an event that really reveals my low threshold for happy tears. There’s just nothing more inspirational and beautiful than watching people push themselves to reach a goal…oh, and watching people push handicapped participants to help them reach their goals, too. My heart just bursts when I see one of those teams running past.

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This year, NYC Marathon Day is more exciting than ever because my brother and sister-in-law are running! They inspire me in so many ways, with their dedication to health being one of them. I couldn’t be more proud, especially knowing that they often talk about how they run in honor of my mom, who was a dedicated runner and triathlete. There’s no way I’d miss this monumental experience in their lives…even if it means Aaron and I have to drive overnight after a wedding in Virginia Beach to get there! (The race will have happened yesterday when you read this!)

Making signs for the race is always a blast. This year we have heartfelt sign about my mom, a Harry Potter reference, a Taylor Swift song, and a Hamilton-themed sign! Aaron wanted to make another one about his favorite new show, Stranger Things, but I had to put a cap on it. Four arms can only carry so many posters!

[Update! Above: My sister-in-law stopping to say a quick hello at Mile 18; Below: A picture after my brother finished yesterday!]

While making our signs, I thought about how fun it was to know that these signs would encourage so many people during their painful (yet exciting) adventure. Despite having to be away from Noma for two nights, and despite not getting much sleep since we’ll be driving overnight, I am really looking forward to it. This joy in lifting up others reminds me of an article that my brother sent me (and his close friends/family) last week.

The Dalai Lama and New York Times contributor Arthur Brooks wrote THIS simple yet insightful opinion piece about how much of the emotional turmoil and discontentment in the United States is tied to a lack of community. We no longer depend on our neighbors, or even know them. We rarely serve others regularly, except for the few who commit to certain volunteer groups. We have every material thing we could possibly need to be happy– but that’s not what creates happiness. The most happy, content, and peaceful people are those who consistently serve the people around them.

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This external focus is not only good for the people you help, but moreso, good for YOU. It allows you to feel needed, which is one of the most important, fundamental necessities of the human condition. If you don’t feel needed, you will sink into a dark hole, leading to depression, loneliness, and even death. As they mention in this article, elderly folks who feel unneeded are THREE times more likely to pass away prematurely. The Western world constantly tries to make you believe that happiness is all about YOU– meeting your own needs, being independent, and being happy alone…but why are we listening to that garbage? Clearly it’s not working, given that we are a country and a world more dysfunctional and depressed than ever.

Your happiness is tightly linked to how much you focus on others instead of yourself. As my brother helped me see, the times we feel the most worried or stressed is when we’re focusing on our own stuff– Will I lose MY job? What about MY status? What about MY identity? Who loves ME? If we externalize our thoughts and energy, those agonies pretty much disappear. It’s not about how much money I have, it’s about what I can GIVE to others. It’s not about how much time I have to relax for myself, it’s about how much time I have to SERVE people. It’s not about making sure I look good, it’s about making sure OTHERS look good. Offering your life as a sacrifice for others will in turn give you joy and happiness that cannot be otherwise matched, nor can it be stripped away.

This is a fundamental truth for Christians, with the greatest example found in Jesus, but even for nonbelievers, this truth remains. It’s not to say that you should push yourself in service so much that your body and mind are exhausted past the point of being useful, but diving head first into the task of bettering the lives of other people is the ultimate reward for yourself.

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As a nation, I hope we get back to a more communal society. Think of all the emotional distress that would dissipate if everyone made it a point to get involved with service. It doesn’t have to be a traditional volunteer group, but instead could just mean dropping off a surprise batch of cookies at a friend’s house, calling someone who has a big project coming up and asking if you can do anything for them, or offering to babysit for free so your mom friend can get some sleep. Volunteer groups are awesome, too, though, because they allow you to meet people and serve together, which quickly creates a sense of community.

Making the effort to support and celebrate my brother and sister-in-law for the marathon this year feels really good– not just for them, but because it makes ME feel great, too. There’s nothing wrong with this sort of selfishness as long as it doesn’t turn prideful or self-centered. But acknowledging the joy you find in making others feel good is an absolute blessing, and moreso, a great source of motivation. I urge everyone reading this to take charge of your own happiness, too, which ultimately begins and ends with finding opportunities to serve!