As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” If your primary love language is “acts of service,” you likely feel valued and appreciated when someone does something thoughtful and caring for you, such as helping you with chores or other responsibilities.
Acts of service can be helpful in all types of relationships, including among partners/spouses, friends, family members, and colleagues. When we take the time to make someone else’s life a little bit easier—such as by taking a task off of their hands and doing it ourselves—we show the person that they mean something to us and are worth our effort and time.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Providing services, especially without being asked or expecting something in return, displays respect and helps deepen connections.
In this article, learn all about what acts of service are, why some people prefer them over other displays of love, plus the best ways to serve others selflessly.
- For some, the love language of “acts of service” is the primary way they feel loved.
- Engaging in acts of service can be a meaningful expression of care and respect, as long as it’s a selfless act without ulterior motives.
- Acts of service are useful in friendships and the workplace too; they help promote trust and foster deeper bonds.
What Are Acts of Service?
“Acts of service” is one of the five love languages described by Dr. Gary Chapman in his best-selling book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. For people who prioritize acts of service, it means that they feel loved and supported when someone does kind deeds for them.
These services don’t have to be extravagant, overly time-consuming, or expensive—they can be simple tasks such as helping with house chores like cleaning, cooking a meal, giving someone a ride, teaching them a skill, or fixing something that’s broken.
While the basic premise of acts of service as a love language is about actions speaking louder than words, it’s more than just performing tasks. It’s about thoughtfulness and effort. It’s the difference between doing a chore because it’s expected versus doing it because you know it will make your partner’s day easier. To be most impactful, acts of service should be proactive, often involving anticipation of needs before they’re explicitly stated.
Origins of the Acts of Service Love Language
Dr. Gary Chapman proposed in the 1990s that people have different ways that they prefer to give and receive love, and that recognizing and understanding these preferences can lead to healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
Chapman initially drew from his experiences as a marriage counselor. He noticed patterns in couples’ complaints and realized that most conflicts arose from misunderstandings in how love was expressed and received. For example, some people felt that when their partner (or another person in their life) pitched in to help reduce their “emotional labor” or workload, they felt relieved, happier, and more connected.
Aside from acts of service, the other four love languages outlined by Dr. Chapman include:
- Words of Affirmation: This is about expressing affection through spoken word, giving praise, or communicating appreciation.
- Receiving Gifts: For some, love is best expressed through gifts, whether big or small.
- Quality Time: This love language is about giving the other person undivided attention.
- Physical Touch: To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate physical touch, whether a hug, a kiss, or a pat on the back.
Acts of Service Examples + Types
“Acts of service are anything you do for your spouse that you know they would like for you to do. It requires thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love.”Dr. Gary Chapman
Acts of service can take many forms, but generally, they fall into one of these categories:
- Emotional Labor: Acts of service can be intangible, like planning outings, remembering important dates, or putting together a party or celebration to honor someone.
- Personal Sacrifices: Giving up personal time or rearranging one’s schedule to help someone else is a common form of service.
- Longer-Term Commitments: While some services are quick and short-term, others involve ongoing effort and time. For instance, someone helping to maintain a family budget, saving up for their child’s college tuition, or working on long-term house projects are all examples of acts of service.
Below are common examples of acts in service that just about anyone can do:
- Listening actively. Sometimes, the most significant service is lending an ear to someone who needs to talk.
- Preparing a meal for someone after they’ve had a long day.
- Taking over chores or tasks that you know someone dislikes, such as washing dishes, doing laundry, or organizing.
- Assisting with childcare or running errands without being asked.
- Fixing something that’s broken in the house.
- Giving someone a ride somewhere.
- Volunteering at local organizations such as food banks, homeless shelters, schools, or community centers.
- Helping someone elderly or ill with tasks like gardening, cleaning, or grocery shopping.
- Supporting a neighbor by mowing their lawn, shoveling snow, or helping with repairs.
- Lending a hand during emergencies: for example, helping during natural disasters by providing shelter, food, or first aid.
- Running errands for someone unable to do so, like picking up prescriptions for someone sick or buying groceries for someone who can’t leave their home.
- Supporting environmental causes, such as by participating in tree planting events, community clean-ups, or other conservation activities.
- Providing a loving home or temporary shelter to animals in need.
- Assisting refugees, immigrants, or other newcomers in understanding and adapting to their new environment.
Acts of Service in the Workplace
“Individuals who use the love language of acts of service are likely to favor employment at organizations that have supportive teams and management, and an even workload.”Maryland University
We usually hear about love languages within the context of personal and romantic relationships, but the same premises can be applied to friendships and professional relationships, too.
Within the workplace specifically, examples of acts of service can include:
- Offering Professional Help Pro Bono: For instance, a lawyer might offer legal advice for free, or a dentist might offer dental services to those who can’t afford it.
- Helping Someone Prepare: This may involve studying or rehearsing with someone for an important task or presentation.
- Giving Constructive Feedback: Offering feedback on a project or helping with editing and optimizing.
- Sharing Valuable Information: This may mean sending someone information that you think could be helpful, such as an article or a contact for someone who can be helpful.
- Teaching a Skill: Sharing knowledge on topics ranging from arts and crafts to financial literacy can be helpful.
- Tutoring or Mentoring: Spending time to help students or younger individuals in areas they’re struggling with, whether academically or in life skills, is a caring act.
How Servant Leadership Benefits Companies and Organizations
Servant leadership is a leadership style and philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve others. It’s different from traditional leadership, where the leader’s main focus is the business success of their company, or worse, gaining power and prestige.
To truly live out servant leadership, a leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible—all of which can be viewed as acts of service. The essence of servant leadership is about focusing on others, especially employees, and making sure they are being served in a way that unleashes their full potential, creativity, and sense of purpose.
Over time, many organizations and leaders have recognized the benefits of this approach, especially in its ability to create a positive organizational culture and foster loyalty and commitment from employees.
Some key principles and practices of servant leadership include:
- Stewardship: Taking responsibility for the leadership role and being accountable for one’s actions.
- Commitment to the Growth of Employees: Believing people have intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions.
- Building Community: Cultivating a sense of community among team members.
- Listening: A commitment to listening intently to others to identify their needs.
- Empathy: Striving to understand and empathize with others.
- Awareness: Being aware of things that are happening around them, including the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and understanding issues involving ethics and values.
- Conceptualization: Looking beyond the day-to-day realities and thinking about long-term outcomes. Foresight, or being able to foresee the likely outcome of a situation, is also essential.
Psychology Behind the Acts of Service Love Language
The act of service as a love language taps into the fundamental human desire to feel cared for. For people who value acts of service, these actions directly translate into feeling loved, important, and cherished. On the other hand, people who prefer acts of service “may tend to feel more upset when people make no attempts to assist them or do not offer to offload any of their tasks,” according to Saul Mcleod, Ph.D.
Acts of service are valuable because they:
Tap Into Needs for Safety and Belonging
Historically, collaborative actions in tribes or communities contributed to group survival, and those who provided support and services to others were seen as valuable members.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after physiological and safety needs are met, people typically seek love and belonging. Acts of service can fall into this category as they often address safety needs (like creating a tidy or safe environment) while fulfilling the desire for close connections at the same time.
From a psychological perspective, when someone performs an act of service for another, it can be perceived as a display of altruism, which refers to the selfless concern for the well-being of others.
Altruism manifests as behaviors, actions, or decisions that prioritize the interests or welfare of another over one’s own interests or personal benefit. In other words, altruistic actions are done without expecting anything in return.
Altruistic actions have been shown to release oxytocin, often termed the “love hormone,” creating feelings of warmth and connection. This explains why serving others makes both the server and the recipient feel good.
Berkeley University’s Greater Good Magazine states, “Though some believe that humans are fundamentally self-interested, recent research suggests otherwise: Studies have found that people’s first impulse is to cooperate rather than compete . . . altruism has such deep roots in human nature because helping and cooperation promote the survival of our species.”
Why Some People Prefer Acts of Service Over Other Love Languages
Compared to the other four love languages, acts of service has certain advantages. Here are factors that can contribute to acts of service becoming someone’s primary love language:
- Upbringing and Early Life Experiences: According to Better Help, “Some suggest that a person’s love language correlates to a main way in which they received love as a child.” Certain people grow up in environments where love and care are often expressed through acts of service. Therefore, when the person becomes an adult, they show others care by helping them to complete tasks, and they often expect the same in return.
- Practicality: Some value practical expressions of love over verbal affirmations or gifts because they make life feel less stressful. For example, gifts may be nice to receive, but they may not be appreciated as much as a service such as cleaning, cooking, or babysitting if it helps to free up time in someone’s hectic schedule.
- Tangibility: Services and helping others out are observable ways to see someone’s effort and dedication toward another’s happiness. For some, words can be empty or hard to trust, but actions, because of their tangible nature, can be easier to believe.
- Selflessness and Building Trust: Acts of service help foster trust. When someone consistently acts in your best interest, it solidifies the belief that they can be selfless and reliable, which are key traits that people seek out in partners and close friends.
Tips for Performing Acts of Service
“To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.”Pearl S. Buck, author
Acts of service are often valued not for their monetary worth but for the time, effort, and love that are put into them. Crated With Love explains, “The most powerful acts are those that are done spontaneously or without asking. They are acts that supersede expectations.”
Even small gestures can make a significant impact on someone’s life. In order for acts of service to be genuine and meaningful, keep these tips in mind:
- Pay Attention to the Recipient’s Preferences: It’s essential to know what acts of service your partner values. What one person sees as helpful, another might find invasive or unimportant. Dr. Satira Streeter Corbitt explains in Oprah Magazine, “To fully engage in acts of service, pay attention to your partner and figure out what they need. The question to ask yourself is, ‘How can I ease my partner’s stressful day?’”
- Give Willingly: If you’re performing an act with visible reluctance or complaints, it can feel insincere. Try to find joy in helping others so your attitude remains positive.
- Don’t Have Ulterior Motives: Acts of service shouldn’t be done with the expectation of something in return. Aim to give freely without needing praise or favors from the recipient.
- Avoid Overdoing It: Continuously performing acts without being asked or against the recipient’s wishes can come across as smothering or controlling. Remember, you don’t have to go overboard on someone’s love language to make them feel valued.
- Don’t Make It a Competition: Avoid comparing your acts of service to what others are doing or expecting equal reciprocation from your partner. Remember, everyone has their unique love language. You might perform more tangible acts for someone, but they may be more affectionate or offer more encouraging words of affirmation.
Improve Your Relationships by Learning About Love Languages
Understanding the concept of love languages offers tools to strengthen, enrich, and mend personal relationships, leading to more fulfilling and harmonious connections with others.
Here are tips for using love languages to form bonds that can stand the test of time:
- Practice Self-Awareness: Recognizing your own love language can help you understand what you need from your relationships and how you naturally express love to others.
- Avoid Misunderstandings: If you think you’re showing love by doing acts of service, but your partner values words of affirmation, they might feel unloved because their primary love language isn’t being addressed. Talk openly about your expectations and preferences to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
- Foster Better Communication: Once you and your partner (or friend or family member) understand each other’s love languages, it opens up channels for clearer communication about needs and feelings. Focus on communication skills, including active listening and receiving and giving feedback.
Want to learn more about communicating your needs within various types of relationships? Check out this article:
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- Hardy, A. (2017, April 21). LOSING YOURSELF IN THE SERVICE OF OTHERS. Greenwood College. https://www.greenwoodcollege.org/news-detail?pk=1102265
- What Are the 5 Love Languages®? 5 Love Languages. https://5lovelanguages.com/learn
- (2019, September 4). 65 Acts of Service Love Language Ideas. Lovely Lucky Life. https://www.lovelyluckylife.com/acts-of-service-love-language-ideas/
- 5 Love Languages for Work: Find Your Perfect Career Path. Maryland University. https://online.maryville.edu/blog/5-love-languages-for-work/
- Stavraki, I. (2023, August 18). How To Use Acts Of Service Love Language In Your Relationship. Reviewed by O. Guy Evans & S. Mcleod, PhD. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/acts-of-service.html
- What Is Altruism? Greater Book Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/altruism/definition
- Mcleod, S. (2023, July 26). Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs. O. Guy Evans. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html.
- BetterHelp Editorial Team. (2023, June 29). What It Means If You Or Your Partner’s Love Language Is “Acts Of Service”. BetterHelp. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/love/what-is-the-acts-of-service-love-language/
- Jean-Marie, B. (2022, June 9). Everything to Know About the Acts of Service Love Language. Oprah Daily. https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/relationships-love/a38955361/acts-of-service-love-language/
- (2019, April 11). Acts of Service Explained – The 5 Love Languages®. Crated with Love. https://cratedwithlove.com/blogs/relationship-tips/acts-of-service-love-language-explained