Have you been accused of being individualistic, self-centered, even selfish? It didn’t bode well with you, not so? On the other end of the line, have you ever put yourself in line for others, making sacrifices for them, only to end up hurting yourself? You will not be willing to do so again. The two situations above can result in personal and inter-personal conflict. This is because as social creatures, sharing means caring, and we are expected and have been brought up to give priority to others over the self. Yet, you cannot eat your cake and have it. You cannot lose your self-interest and hope to pursue your personal goals at the same time.In order to lead more fulfilling, happier lives, when can we, you and I, draw the line between placing the interest of others above our own self-interest?
Why is this important?By the way, why is the above question important? If we do not satisfy our inherent prosocial desires, we are creating an environment for internal conflict. Internal conflict can result in unexplained or even excessive feelings of guilt for everyday actions. The father of economics, Adam Smith, acknowledged that while markets and commerce function because humans collectively work together, beneath the scene, the invisible hand of self-interest, or the desire to attain something for ourselves, to have a personal advantage, makes this prosocial market interaction beneficial.
Want self-interest without guilt – have it imposedWe often hear reports that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer; that the world’s resources are in the hands of a few rich, influential men while the rest suffer abject poverty. If you are very rich, should you feel guilty about this? No matter what the argument, which the author of this piece will rather put aside, most rich persons feel guilty when faced with this statistic. So they have resorted to philanthropy and immense acts of generosity. There are numerous foundations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, that would gladly turn the tables, as well as numerous economic forums that wish to address this problem. This altruism even in the face of selfism and greed is due to the internal conflict we face when the above questions are broached; as mentioned earlier. Psychological scientists Jonathan Berman and Deborah Small of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in a recent work, “Self-Interest Without Selfishness: The Hedonic Benefit of Imposed Self-Interest”, believe that to feel accomplished and happy even when pursuing personal advantages, it is beneficial that the desire should be “imposed” on us as individuals, and should not come from our volition. That is, people should see it as a duty, an obligation, that you pursue such a course for the benefit of yourself because it will benefit the common good.
In other words, what Bernard and Small are arguing is that if you desire the perks and advantages of life, you should allow others to confer it on you, to make you want to go for it, and not your initiating the action so that you do not lose your happiness and make yourself guilt-ridden. Phrases like “I want it now!” will only make you guilty.