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Selfishness is not a wise way to find happiness

By Matthieu Ricard on March 03, 2014

Selfishness cannot be regarded as an effective way to love oneself, since it is the prime cause of our frustrations and unhappiness. It constitutes a particularly clumsy attempt to secure one's own happiness. The psychologist Erich Fromm, in line with Buddhist thinking, sheds light on selfish behavior in this way: β€ŸThe love of my own self is inseparably connected with the love of any other self. Selfishness and self-love, far from being identical, are actually opposites. The selfish person does not love himself too much but too little; in fact he hates himself.” The selfish person is someone who does nothing sensible to be happy. He hates himself because, without realizing it, he does everything possible to make himself unhappy, and this permanent failure provokes an internal frustration and rage that he turns against himself and against the outer world.

If egocentrism is a constant source of torment, it is quite otherwise for altruism and compassion. On the level of lived experience, altruistic love is accompanied by a profound feeling of fullness and, as we will see, it is also the state of mind that activates the most brain areas linked to positive emotions. One could say that altruistic love is the most positive of all the positive emotions.
What's more, altruism is in harmony with the reality of what we are and what surrounds us, the fact that everything is basically interdependent. Common perception of our daily life can lead us to believe that things have an objective and independent reality, but, in fact, they exist only in dependence on other things.

Understanding this universal interdependence is the very source of the deepest altruism. By understanding how much our physical existence, our survival, our comfort, our health, and so on, all depend on others and on what the external world provides us β€” remedies, food, and the like β€” it grows easier to put ourselves in the place of others, to wish for their happiness, to respect their aspirations, and to feel closely concerned with the accomplishment of these aspirations.