Alfred Adler — Doing Things for Others

Alfred Adler, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud are founding fathers of modern psychology. From Understanding Human Nature (247 pages, 1927) and What Life Could Mean To You (1931), I remember Adler for his analysis of birth order on personality and for what Adler called his "Fourteen-Day Cure Plan". At the core of Adler's philosophy lies Gemeinschaftsgefuhl which means "social interest" or "communal feeling".

An excerpt from the book Positive Discipline (384 pages, 2006) by Jane Nelsen:

Adler claimed he could cure anyone of mental illness in just fourteen days if they would just do what he told them to do. One day a woman who was extremely depressed came to see Adler. He told her, "I can cure you of your depression in just fourteen days if you will follow my advice."

She was not very enthusiastic when she asked, "What do you want me to do?"

Adler replied, "If you will do one thing for someone else every day for fourteen days, at the end of that time your depression will be gone."

She objected. "Why should I do something for someone else, when no one ever does anything for me?"

Adler jokingly responded, "Well, maybe it will take you twenty-one days." He went on to add, "If you can't think of anything you are willing to do for someone else, just think of what you could do if you felt like it." Adler knew that if she would even think about doing something for someone else, she would be on her way toward improvement.

In Eastern terms, the idea is "Seva" ("service before self"), which helps in "dissolution of the I".

Anecdote: In January 2008, I visited a friend who is a clinical psychologist in the Los Angeles area. I asked her what she learnt from her patients. One of her first sentences was that 'selfishness' is quite predominant in many people who seek her help.

18 Feb 2008
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