It’s (More Than) OK To Be Selfish

Dr. Jamie Richards's picture
on July 1, 2019 - 6:35pm
Think By Design

You’ve probably been taught that being selfish is a less than virtuous character trait, but I’m here to tell you…it’s (more than) OK to be selfish.

I’ll even make the case, it’s required for you to fulfill YOUR requirements for a happy life.

  • To this point, the lessons you’ve learned from your parents, teachers, friends and every other institution have been:
  • To value others more than yourself
  • To not rock the boat and to not speak up
  • To not question authority
  • To help others is good but to help yourself first is bad
  • That there’s no “I” in team
  • To be humble and not take too much pride in your accomplishments

The reason that you likely have an aversion to the words ‘selfish’ and ‘ego’ is because they invoke the vision of a pompous jerk who will sell out the poor, the sick, and their mother to get what they want (which is usually money and power). 

Let’s redefine selfish.

It’s true, being selfish does mean putting you and your desires above everything else, while not getting in the way of anyone else chasing after their desires. But being selfish does not mean that what you want is evil or harmful to others.

If you choose to help and support your family because you love them and they are of value to you, that’s being selfish and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you choose not to because family is not a value, there’s nothing wrong with that either.

Selfishness means deciding what is important to you and what is not.

If you decide to do charity work as a life goal, you’re acting selfishly because you chose that value.

If you choose to build a successful corporation as your life goal, you’re acting selfishly because you chose that value.

Rudeness, brute force, aggression, arrogance, lust for power, willfully harming other people, stealing, lying, etc., are completely unrelated to acting in a rationally selfish way and are, in fact, harmful to anyone who chooses to practice them. Those characteristics are anti-self.

Since selfishness has been lumped in with these and many other horrible qualities, it’s no surprise you are scared to openly embrace it. Consider this your warning: it’s a huge mistake.

Being selfish does not mean or require becoming a horrible human being. It means structuring your life to rationally pursue the things that you choose to be important to you.

Not everything and everyone is going to be important to you, and that’s ok. Just because someone or something is not on your list of priorities or life goals doesn’t make it bad, and it doesn’t mean that you wish them harm. It means that you’re not willing to give any of your time and attention because you are so busy going after your own values... the result of which will make you happy.

Many people simply cannot move beyond this idea that in order to live an extraordinary life they need to fully embrace and focus their lives relentlessly around their values.

If you can’t, that’s ok. But it will drastically impair your ability to be successful.

Here are 3 actions steps you can take to help you become more selfish:

1. Identify Your Values

How can you expect to pursue what you want most if you don’t know what those values are?

2. Make Value-Based Decisions

Choosing your values over lesser ones or even values that are non-existent can get really difficult. This is especially so when it comes to friends or family.

Start making decisions based on your values, even when quilt or anxiety creeps in. Over time, you’ll be rewarded with a feeling of happiness and joy because your time and energy will be allocated things you value most.

3. Pay Attention to Your Emotions

While emotions are NOT a cause, they are a tremendous indicator and barometer of the alignment between your actions and your values.

Being more selfish may very well require a new perspective and even a fundamental change in your thinking but it will also eventually yield an experience of deep happiness that is impossible to artificially manufacture and sustain.

You deserve to be happy and live the life you want…take this step and watch what happens.

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