Selfishness is not just about getting what you want, but knowing why you want it

I’ve recently been thinking about selfishness. Many would say selfishness is alive and well today in the US. For instance, we consume more than we produce. And although we have more than most other nations on earth, we are the fifth most generous nation, measured by our frequency of helping a stranger.

We do make some sacrifices, but not the ones you would expect of a selfish person: We sacrifice our health: 2/3 of us our overweight, and 1/3 are obese. We also sacrifice financial security: The average American household credit card debt is about $11,000.

Maybe we’re happy in this state. Let’s leave moral judgments aside and see if this is true.

The US ranks 16th in happiness in the world

Unfortunately, studies indicate that most people in the US are not too happy. According to self-report surveys, Americans are less happy than people in many other countries. But maybe our happiness standards are different than the standards of others, and these surveys don’t allow an apples to apples comparison.

Research shows that happiness is correlated with limiting our choices

Dan Gilbert and Barry Schwartz are two researchers who have added to the pile of observations about what makes humans happy.  There’s evidence that suggests that our actual circumstances don’t make us happy, and that more choices don’t lead to a condition that makes us happy. Having more options makes people less happy.  In test after test, subjects who were given more options were less happy than those who were given less options. Even more important, in a related study, people preferred to have more options, although this led to lower happiness. Why?

We want power

Having power makes us happy…until we get what we want.  Yet, we want the freedom to choose.  The freedom to decide. What is this called?

Selfishness.
And so it comes back to that.
That’s what we wanted all along, and in the United States, we have a lot of freedom to make our own decisions.
So why aren’t we happy?

We are not free from the most powerful control mechanism of all: Our mind. 

Our mind convinces us that happiness is achieved by controlling things, when it is truly achieved by controlling ourselves.  Instead of putting our priorities on assessing and improving our mental health, we focus on our material wealth. We most value our power over external variables, like other people or things, when, in the end, control over the material world means nothing if we cannot value ourselves. It seems that selfishness is vital to happiness, but not in the way we expect…

Selfishness is really about being mindful of ourselves

Selfishness is about being empowered and responsible. It’s not just about getting what you want, but knowing why you want it.

Here’s to all of us attaining the freedom of empowerment that is necessary to be happy.

Food is more than fuel

On my way home last week I stopped at Chipotle, a restaurant famous for its burritos. After I got my food, I made my way home, and I passed a Firehouse Subs restaurant, a McDonald’s, a Taco Bell, and a Burger King. The drive-thrus were lined with cars with people waiting for their own quick meals. At home, I ate the burrito, my hunger driving me past savoring the taste to get the food in my stomach. Afterwards, I grabbed a bag of banana chips, and as I snacked, I looked at the ingredients.  The first ingredient read, “Bananas”. The last one read “Banana flavor”. As I sat there on my couch, I felt full and satisfied, and ready to tackle my chores, but I didn’t feel good. Why?

Although the food was real, I didn’t know what I’d eaten

The restaurant workers were nice enough. The cashier even talked to me beyond the usual banter, but all I did was hand over my credit card. A quick swipe and I was done. I had eaten alone, speaking to no one.  I had finished quickly, but usually I am the slowest eater in the dinner party. I chew and talk, while others chew and swallow.

I like picking parsley from my garden and chopping it on my cutting board

From my couch, I looked out my window, and saw the parsley growing in my garden. I liked hearing it crunch under my knife, and suddenly smelling its fresh and pleasant fragrance. I would mix it into the noodles that I had cooked, and the aroma of the tomato sauce and capers and parsley danced together into my nose. I would look at what I’d made, swirl a bite onto my fork, and chew it. It was a good experience. It made me happy.

I knew it would be a long time before I’d have the full and satisfied feeling of a restaurant burrito and  bananas with banana flavoring.

And that was ok by me.