I think by nature we’re all pretty selfish beings – at least I am. It makes sense because on some level we have to be selfish to survive. We need food, water, shelter, etc. Our instincts drive us to self-protect. The problem I’m discovering is that in the long run self-interest leads to a pretty unhappy life.
I’ve posted in the past about how hard it is to be selfless and I’m compelled to write about it again because it really is that hard and it is still a day-to-day struggle for me.
I really want to be selfless, to put others first, but more often than not I find myself slipping back into thoughts of self-interest and even self-pity. Worst of all this applies most intensely to my closest relationships.
I get frustrated when “my needs aren’t met” or someone doesn’t consider me first. The problem is I don’t think anyone can fully meet our needs nor can any situation make us fully happy.
A few weeks back I read the following quote from John Maxwell that really challenged me :
Change your thinking from ‘what am I going to receive’ to ‘what am I going to give’ and your life begins to turn around.
Even though his advice can be excruciatingly hard to follow I’m more and more convinced that John is completely right. We’re simply not meant to live just for ourselves and our own fulfillment. That kind of life quickly becomes empty.
The Prayer of St. Francis is another good reminder of this:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
Obviously this wisdom is really old and has proved true and useful over centuries. But as with so many other subjects I write about, I am right in the middle of learning it and re-learning it.
I truly want to live a less self-centered life. I want to give first and not worry about what I’ll receive in return. I want to love with no regard as to whether or not that love will come back to me. I want to focus on others and less on myself.
I think when we’re able to do that something interesting happens – we find that our needs are being met much better and more fully than when we were so focused on them. We may also will discover some of the needs we thought we so important really were not. And most importantly, we probably find that our lives are much more fulfilling and happy in the end.