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Everyone Loses or Everyone Gains

By Matthieu Ricard on March 10, 2014

Seeking selfish happiness seems doomed to failure for several reasons. First of all, from the point of view of personal experience, selfishness, born from an exaggerated sense of self-importance, turns out to be a constant source of torment. Egocentrism and excessive self-cherishing multiply our hopes and fears and makes us brood on what might affect us. Obsession with ‟me,” with the ego, leads us to magnify the impact on our well-being of the slightest event, and to look at the world in a distorted mirror. We project onto our surroundings judgments and values fabricated by our mental confusion. These constant projections make us not only miserable, but also vulnerable to external perturbations and to our own habitual thoughts, which lead to feelings of permanent malaise.

In the bubble of the ego, the slightest annoyance becomes overblown. The narrowness of our inner world means that by constantly bumping up against the walls of this bubble, our states of mind and emotions are magnified in a disproportionate and overwhelming way. The slightest cheerfulness becomes euphoria, success feeds vanity, affection freezes into attachment, failure plunges us into depression, displeasure irritates us and makes us aggressive. We lack the inner resources necessary to manage the highs and lows of existence in a healthy way. This world of the ego is like a little glass of water: a few pinches of salt are enough to make it undrinkable. On the other hand, one who has burst the bubble of the ego is like a great lake: a handful of salt does not change its flavor in the least. Essentially, selfishness makes everyone lose: it makes us unhappy and we, in turn, pass that unhappiness on to those around us.

The second reason stems from the fact that selfishness is at odds with reality. It rests on an erroneous postulate according to which individuals are isolated entities, independent of each other. The selfish person hopes to construct his personal happiness in the bubble of his ego. He says to himself basically, ‟It's up to each of us to construct our own happiness. I'll take care of mine, you take care of yours. I have nothing against your happiness, but it's not my business.” The problem is that reality is quite otherwise: we are not autonomous entities and our happiness can only be constructed with the help of others. Even if we feel as if we are the center of the world, that world remains the world of other people.