You don’t want to be rude or stubborn. You’re just a little selfish. So what? Are we not all selfish?
Whatever your habits – whatever your intentions – most of us are inherently selfish beings. Some even claim that we are programmed to be selfish.
âLooking deep into the most primitive ourselves, there is a deep need to survive,â said Dr. Cecily D. Havert, physician with Northern Virginia Family Practice Associates in Alexandria, Virginia. âThis need, when you reduce it to its simplest parts, is based on fear and the need to feel in control of our environment and our resources,â she said.
We do what we need to survive. This does not mean, however, that our selfish actions are always justified.
Selfishness has consequences
Hopping on that juicy pork chop or the last bit of hand sanitizer may satisfy your selfish nature, but these choices impact others, including the ones you care about most.
There is no benefit to being truly selfish, said Sharie Stines, a California-based psychologist, author, and life coach, who believes that the selfish behaviors we see in most people today stem from false notions of selfishness. what happiness means in a culture that tells us at every turn that we must seek ultimate happiness.
People who are happy, who are grateful for everything they have and aren’t looking for more, tend to be less selfish than those who are unhappy. âWhen people are unhappy, they tend to become more self-centered, which in turn becomes self-centered, thus leading to selfishness,â Stines said. “I have often noticed that relationships are ruined because of a selfish person.”
Thinking of yourself first has the potential not only to hurt those you love the most, but can also have negative impacts on society in general (this gas guzzling SUV will also contribute to the destruction of the planet including your grandchildren and children. mine will inherit).
Our actions have an impact on others, we know that. And our actions are the manifestation of our thoughts, which can be selfish or altruistic in nature. Sometimes it really is that simple.
Plus, a selfish mentality doesn’t really work in today’s global society, where we really have to think of the whole and the wider community when making decisions if we are to survive, Havert said. âBeing selfish and looking inward at one’s individual survival doesn’t really work in this context,â she said.
We have the choice in the matter
We can choose to be selfless just as we can choose to be selfish. We can serve our better half the best pork chop on the platter. It’s possible. Nothing is lost by committing these acts of consideration, of altruism.
How to embrace altruism
To break the line of selfish thinking, simple acts of refocusing attention on someone else can help.
âPeople don’t do what is important to them. They do what they care enough about. Therefore, you have to care enough about being less selfish to make the effort to be that way,â said Goulston. Acts of selflessness can be as simple, he said, as handing out a healthy snack to a homeless person or asking someone else what makes them smile.
Recognizing what we have is an important step in becoming less selfish, according to Stines. âWe are most satisfied when we focus on the other person and find ways to improve their life so that we are there,â she said.
The practice of “going out on your own” is also helpful, Stines said. It means actively listening when you talk to someone and performing acts of service to make their life easier or more comfortable.
âRather than making the pursuit of happiness your priority, make the happiness of others your priority,â she said.
In a word
Not all selfishness is created equal. There are, of course, varying degrees of prioritizing oneself over others. Taking the prettiest pork chop at a family dinner isn’t in the same class as, for example, taking an old lady’s last caddy or stomping on someone’s dahlias to get your soccer ball lost. And these acts of selfishness aren’t as bad as cheating on your partner, lying to get votes, or instituting martial law to grab whatever you want.
There is also a distinction between selfishness and self-protection. âSelf-protection, self-care, and personal boundaries are all meant to protect oneself and also the other person,â Stines said.
Maybe it’s even okay to be a little selfish at times, especially if you fall on the other end of the spectrum and default to putting others ahead of yourself with acts of extreme self-sacrifice.
Go ahead, you have permission to shamelessly polish the pint of sherbet in the freezer this time around.
Allison Hope is a writer whose work has been featured by CNN, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, and other media.