11/07/2011 01:36 pm ET | Updated Jan 07, 2012

How to Make Yourself a Better Person, and the World a Better Place

"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."
-- Albert Schweitzer

Recently, my wife Diane had a conversation with her 90-year-old mother. When she told me that her mom expressed a need to connect with hospice my first instinct was to react with a bit of panic. I said, "Oh, my gosh, what has she been keeping from us... is she not well? Diane smiled and said, "No honey, you don't understand; she wants to be trained to serve as a hospice volunteer." With that, I took a deep breath and chuckled. Then I began to reflect on the deeper meaning of her mom's desire.

This was really a statement about my mother-in-law's intention to announce to life that even at 90 years of age she is still alive and has a gift to share with the world that makes a difference. I know that she has been in more than a fair amount of emotional and physical pain since she lost her beloved spouse of 60-plus years to Parkinson's disease. Ever since his passing nine years ago, I believe she has been feeling a bit lost and possibly a sense of purposelessness and some unhappiness. I trust that her deeper wisdom self was sensing the essence of what Gandhi meant when he said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Sometimes when we are in pain the simple act of extending ourselves to others brings with it some instant relief, happiness and, more so, a re-discovery of purpose and meaning -- an understanding that who we are and what we do with who we are matters. Serving others lifts us up and opens a portal through which we can step into a new awareness of what brings us happiness, meaning and purpose, irrespective of our age.

Speaking of the irrelevance of age when it comes to serving others and the happiness it brings, several months ago I received a call from my 14-year-old granddaughter, Cailin. She and my 16-year-old grandson, James, even at their tender ages, have discovered the profound meaning of service to others. They were inviting me to come and watch a baseball game in which they were involved. They both hold black belts in Taekwondo and excel at sports, so I went expecting to see some spectacular "action" on the field, but what I saw take place at this game literally took my breath away.

There is a local sports program called the Little League Challenger Division in which special needs kids play baseball. Ballplayers range in age from 4 to their early 20s, and they are challenged by a multitude of mental and physical disabilities. For each child on the field there was a "buddy" playing near them, assisting them if needed, but what is more important, cheering them on. (In actuality, it appeared that the buddies were having as much, if not more, fun than the kids they were serving.) James and Cailin were two of the buddies on the field and, along with some other teen buddies, assisted at every game of the season. James and Cailin were there because they asked to participate. No one mandated their presence. I believe they were called to be there by the same inner voice that silently whispered to their great-grandmother, saying, who you are matters -- you have a gift to share, irrespective of your age... that gift is your presence, your caring, your compassion and your love.

The lesson for me was it is never too soon or too late to learn how to serve. Whether you are 14 or 90 years of age, know that you matter. Find a way to extend yourself and give back to life today and don't allow your age, either young or old, to be an excuse for sitting on the sideline. Believe that you are able to make a difference and seek an appropriate place to do so for the sake of humankind as well as your own. In the words of Emerson, "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."

Help yourself by helping others -- you'll be amazed at how connected, vital and alive you feel. Schweitzer was right: Seek to serve and you'll be a happier person. That alone will make the world a better place to be and, in this day in time, that's a very good thing.