October 10, 2012

It’s All About Me

No one likes to be told they are selfish, but most of us are self-interested. The Association for Psychological Science recently reported on just this idea. The article stated that through three very in-depth studies, researchers at The Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania found that “people are happier when a self-benefiting option is imposed upon them because it frees them from having to take responsibility for the outcome.” The studies showed that people were more interested in self-benefits than they were in charity, but they also preferred to not seem selfish. They wanted some other entity to choose an outcome that benefited them personally because then they wouldn’t seem as selfish to the outside.

Basically, what this study showed was that people like looking out for number one, for themselves, but they do not like to seem like they are looking out for number one. People want to seem charitable and giving and kind to others, but they really just want what’s best for themselves. The study found an interesting dynamic.

I mean, we all probably knew that we were selfish. Even in our charitable works, most people do them because they make us feel good. Our altruism goes only so far. We want to help people, but a side outcome of that help is that we feel better about ourselves. Still, if we choose something that benefits us first, we feel guilty because we’re told to share from the years of toddling.

This study supports the idea that “it’s all about me” and that people are weighted down with guilt from that selfishness.

What interests me most about this is that the study gives people an out to just be selfish. Though it does not come right out and say that it’s okay to be selfish, it does provide us all with a few commonalities—most of us are selfish, think about ourselves first, yet want others to see us as giving. If most are like this, it seems that the study gives people permission to feel that way. It does not apologize for the guilt; rather, it tells us that many of us have that guilt. So, if we have that guilt in common, doesn’t it stand to reason that we should maybe move beyond it? Sometimes it is okay to be selfish.

I’m not advocating that every person in the world just looks out for themselves. I’m not saying that we should no longer share ever. What I am saying is that shouldn’t we sometimes just be selfish without any of the guilt leftover? I mean, there are parents in the world who haven’t been on a date with each other for years, and I’m talking many years, because they feel so guilty for leaving their kids with family or a sitter. They sacrifice their own happiness because the guilt is so overwhelming.

Sacrificing our own happiness for the happiness of others does not make us better, more altruistic people. It does, however, mean that we constantly feel unfulfilled. This study shows that even in moments of fulfillment we feel guilt because of how we might be perceived by others. This is simply not healthy. We must find a balance between sacrificing and selfishness. We must be both charitable and self-interested. We must share but also demand that others allow us our own time, our own experiences of happiness, guilt-free. Only through the dichotomy of sharing and selfishness can we help others while also helping ourselves.

Image Credit: Leah-Anne Thompson / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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