Over time, as I practiced sending loving-kindness to myself, I realized that my selfishness is driven by fear. It used to be that I would revert to self-laceration every time I, say, close a conversation because I was compulsively checking where my show stood in the podcast rankings. Now, I can sometimes see this kind of reflexive selfishness as a natural, albeit unskillful, impulse. It’s the organism that tries to protect itself, but I don’t have to obey it automatically. Having a friendlier attitude towards myself has, in turn, helped me be less judgmental of others, which has improved my relationships, which makes me happier.
Talk to other people
Focus on increasing the number of positive interactions you have throughout the day, including with strangers in cafes and in elevators. Studies have shown that these “micromoments” are a powerful driver of happiness. This practice is a powerful corrective to the lack of social connection that so many of us experience.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, loneliness was on the rise. We know from psychological research that the strength of our relationships is perhaps the single most important variable when it comes to human flourishing.
Dedicate your daily tasks to other people
Before you begin any activity, take a second to dedicate whatever you are about to do for the benefit of all beings. Seriously. Before you brush your teeth, take a nap, or eat a sandwich, silently say something like: I do this to be strong and healthy, not just for myself, but to benefit others. As with the loving-kindness meditation, I found it a little tricky at first, but now I see it as a helpful way to elevate my daily activities and activate my latent selflessness. So before I exercise or meditate, I try to remind myself that “I do it not only for selfish reasons, but also to be a healthier, happier, and healthier father, husband, and co-worker. more helpful”. Basically, it’s okay to start this, and all the other practices I’ve listed here, with selfish intent. It is likely that your motivation will begin to change over time.
Take advantage of small giving opportunities
Science tells us that being generous benefits both the receiver and the giver. FMRI scans show that being generous activates the same parts of the brain as dessert. This is called the “helper’s high”. And the gesture does not need to be grandiose. You don’t have to rush into a burning building. It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone, giving a compliment, or texting someone who is going through a tough time.
Change can be a slow process. Our conditioning to individualism and materialism runs deep, which is why it was helpful for me to sit down with the Dalai Lama and be reminded of wise selfishness. I’ve been working on these skills for years, and I still forget and fall into the hoarding, and then the series of self-criticisms that follow. But over time, I learned to turn the dial to altruism.
An example is this article you are reading. Of course, part of me is driven by the desire to promote my work and have my mom see me in the New York Times. But another part of me is motivated to share this information because I know from research and personal experience that it has the potential to improve your life. I’ve come to understand that there’s nothing wrong with deriving pleasure from selfish gratification, especially when it fuels other-oriented work. Why can’t selfishness and altruism exist in a beneficial double helix?