Sustainability and the Healing Power of Helping Others

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Jeff Bell, co-founder of Adversity 2 Advocacy Project
From Glenn Croston

Sustainability means different things to different people.  To some it’s all about protecting for the long term the many ecosystems and organisms threatened around the world by humanity.  It’s a big vision, and one I believe in, leading me to write a book or two about the topic.  An even broader view is that sustainability is also about helping the people we share our planet with, working for the greater good for all of us, as described in my new book Gifts from the Train Station.

Some people claim that this viewpoint runs counter to human nature, that selfishness is the highest virtue.  I disagree.  Humanity evolved as a social species, and there’s abundant proof that we still need a purpose in our life which is greater than ourselves.  We can be selfish at times, and it often comes all too easily, but we also have a deep human need to be unselfish, to have a purpose in our life that is larger than ourselves, connected with a greater good.  Reaching out to help others makes us fully healthy and more fully human.  By emphasizing this perspective, sustainability may better connect with the people it sometimes fails to reach.

My friend Rob was the one who got me looking into this.  When Rob was diagnosed with leukemia, his fight with cancer took him to the edge of death.  When he came back, he had a new perspective on life, grateful for the second chance that he’s been given, and committed to living a life with a greater purpose, helping others facing their own challenges.

Rob and I soon met a great variety of other people who had run up against their own huge challenges and fought their way through to survive. These people emerged determined not to waste their second chance, to do work that matters.  And the only thing that matters to them after going through such a trauma is reaching out to help others.  It also proved to be the key to overcoming their trauma to build a healthier, fuller, and happier life for the future.

We met Alyssa Phillips in theAtlanta area who was told she had a 5% chance of surviving her cancer, but held on tightly to hope as she fought her way through the hardest of times to survive.  Now cancer free, Alyssa is helping others hold onto hope and beat their own cancer.

We talked with Jeff Bell, a San Francisco Bay Area radio personality and OCD sufferer.  Bell had struggled with crippling OCD for many years, feeling his life caving in around him.  Eventually, by working to help others with OCD, he realized that working for the greater good also helped him to manage his own OCD and regain his life.  By thinking of others he achieved what he calls the “Greater Good Perspective Shift”, stilling the doubts that plagued him.  Bell has gone on to co-found the Adversity 2 Advocacy Project, working with people facing a wide variety of challenges to harness the power of working for the greater good.

We connected with Dr. Alice Chan, a successful market researcher who had yearned for a greater purpose, but was anxious to leave her career behind.  A severe car accident gave her the push she needed to finally pursue her true purpose in life, to reach out to help others achieve their calling in life as well through her REACH program.

There is something universal and powerful in the stories these people told us, the stories Rob and I have collected at, and in our book.  By working to help others and to enrich our world, we also help ourselves to build healthier, fuller, and richer lives.

The world of sustainability needs this power of working for the greater good on its side if it is to truly deliver solutions for the massive environmental challenges we face.  Sometimes sustainability is perceived as putting concern for our planet ahead of people unfortunately, and some have even suggested that it works against the interests of people.  I believe that nothing could be further from the truth, that sustainability is at its core about producing a better life for all of us.  The more that this message is conveyed, the better that the sustainability movement will be at connecting with the public and engaging support for the environmental and social progress to build a bright and sustainable future for all of us.

Glenn Croston is the author of “75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference”, “Gifts from the Train Station”, and “The Real Story of Risk”.  You can connect with him through

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