To achieve greater happiness you must learn how to act and react to people and situations. The trick is to learn self-interest without selfishness.
One avenue to healthy self-interest is first to trust in yourself. It’s wise to assume that you are a person with good intent. To assume anything less will achieve nothing of worth.
Accept yourself for who you are, with all your strengths and weaknesses. When inclined, attempt to change what you don’t like about yourself and enhance those qualities that you do like. Remember that you have a right to be yourself and to like yourself.
True self-interest is being able to take care of yourself without causing another person harm in the process. This requires that your beliefs be congruent, a near impossibility without much reflection and focused consideration.
Striving to get more out of life is our responsibility. To achieve is good. But to achieve when it costs another unnecessarily is morally questionable. “Narcissism, like selfishness, is an overcompensation for the basic lack of self-love,” says Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom.
Self-love (and therefore self-interest) is fused with social interest. The reason you may choose not to drive drunk is two fold: You have a love for yourself and don’t wish to negatively interfere with your health or future; and you don’t wish to harm others. In fact, all self-interest contains social interest as it promotes your interests and beliefs.
You may choose not to litter because it doesn’t promote the type of culture you would like to live in or because it will eventually create higher taxes. You also might get fined or it would model a type of behaviour that you don’t want others to emulate. Self-interest, by definition, includes social interest. Selfishness does not. Self-interest looks at short-term goals and long-term goals. Selfishness is narrow in scope and often interferes with the achievement of your main long-term goal, happiness.
Whether you adopt the philosophy of self-interest for benevolent reasons or simply to advantage yourself, this concept benefits both you and society.
We know that the “give, give, give” philosophy doesn’t work, nor does “take, take, take.” If we wish to have ethical relationships with others and ourselves, it is important to be socially interested, considerate, kind, warm and compassionate of another person’s wants, desires and interests.
Our decisions affect our intimate partners, our friends, our acquaintances and our society. Like the pebble dropped into the pond, the ripples of the water flow outward from self-interest to social interest.
Some people give all they have to give to others. Some people have been almost entirely self-reliant, not trusting or allowing others into their lives to help. I believe that the ideal state is one of interdependence, a mutual give and take, a sharing, a trust. This requires a strong sense of self, emotional stability and the desire to risk intimate involvement.
Think about this concept of self-interest and how it applies in your life. It works beautifully. Try it and you’ll see.