Selfishness doesn’t have to leave a legacy of angry people and damaged relationships. You can be selfish and selfless at the same time.
I deliberately took several weeks off from writing because I felt a need to realign and recalibrate. I’ve been doing a lot of that this year, but the most recent episode was a real doozey. I quite literally felt silenced, and I wound up putting all of my projects on hold as I recalibrated.
As I said, the pause was deliberate. I admit it was a selfish move on my part, but it was a selfish move born out of a simple question: “What can I do that serves the highest good?”
For a while, serving the highest good meant pulling back. Now, serving the highest good means doing what feels good for me, which at the moment is writing… and that brings me to this idea of mindful selfishness.
To provide some context, I’ve spent the past couple of years sharing five tenets that I originally called The Principles of Joy, which then evolved into The Tenets of Joy, and which I now refer to as The Tenets of Joyous Living.
The Tenets have remained essentially the same, but I’ve refined how I describe them to better align with where we are as a society and to allow people to connect with them on an emotional level. I’ve always seen the Tenets of Joyous Living as foundational guidance for raising one’s emotional intelligence—it just took me a couple of years to find wording I could connect with.
The whole idea of “mindful selfishness” is born out of the First Tenet of Joyous Living: You are not responsible for anyone else’s “good feelings” but your own. Make the decisions that bring YOU the greatest joy… and discover the freedom to do your greatest good.
The First Tenet addresses a very human tendency to equate selflessness with sacrificing one’s dreams and desires in order to make other people happy—and that tendency is born out of another human tendency to want to control everything.
As I mentioned in a previous post, control is an illusion, but that’s discussion for another time.
Thinking that we’re being selfless when we respond to someone telling us, “I need you to behave this way (or do this thing), in order for me to feel good,” is another illusion.
Trying to gain the approval of someone who is always disapproving of us practically guarantees that we won’t live joyously. Why? Because the criteria for “pleasing” other people always changes. You can never cross the finish line because the finish line always moves. Being “selfless” to gain the approval of the disapproving person isn’t being selfless. Instead, you’re feeding the other person’s illusion that their happiness depends on how you behave.
Virtually every human on this planet has a “disapproving” someone in their lives. For a lot of us, it’s a parent or some other perceived authority figure. That was certainly the case for me… and that’s where mindful selfishness enters the picture.
When I stopped trying to please the people who would never be pleased, I discovered the freedom to do my best work. What I mean is that was free to act in ways that felt right for me, and I made decisions that allowed me to share my talents selflessly and joyously.
Mindful selfishness is the art of saying NO to others so you can say YES to you—and doing so in a way that builds bridges rather than burning them. Mindful selfishness frees you to do what feels best for you. Mind you, I say what feels best rather than what you love, because what feels best and what you love don’t always align.
In most cases, what feels best does align with what you love, but not always. An example comes from the show Dirty Jobs, where people who became millionaires doing dirty jobs did so not because they did what they loved, but because they took advantage of opportunities that felt best for them.
Remember that there will always be naysayers who criticize your decisions. You’re not responsible for making them feel good—and they’ll never feel good as long as they put the burden of feeling good on other people or outside circumstances. You’re only responsible for you.
Be mindfully selfish, do what feels best for you right now, and be assured that you are laying the foundation for joyous living. When you live joyously, you find infinite ways to be selfless.
About the Author
Appio Hunter is an author, speaker, spiritual guide, and a guy dedicated to raising our collective EQ. He uses his seminars and workshops to facilitate conversations about authenticity, alignment, awareness, and the experience of community, connection, and joy. Appio is also a weekly columnist with The Good Men Project and co-host of the Real Men Feel Show along with his good friend Andy Grant.