The Selfish Spectrum

rainbow-umbrellaNothing has contributed more to human misery than the pursuit of happiness.

It’s not because happiness is a bad thing.

Far from it.

But we’ve made misery a necessary part of happiness.


To understand that, we’ll need to have a look at what I call…

The Selfish Spectrum

Imagine a horizontal stick. One end represents being Selfish and the other represents being Selfless.

[Or if you don’t feel like imagining, look at the graphic below, made by Larry Coppenrath. Thanks, Larry!]

The Selfish Spectrum

In order to pursue our own happiness, we must move towards the Selfish end of the stick.

And if we want to make others happy, we must move towards the Selfless end.

That’s the Selfish Spectrum.

It pits our happiness against the happiness of others and presents a false dichotomy between the two.

To be happy, we must be happy at the expense of others.

To make others happy, we must make sacrifices for the sake of others.

Happiness is tied to misery.

Either be miserable and make others happy, or happy and make others miserable.

When happiness is discussed, it’s often placed within the context of the Selfish Spectrum.

Your own happiness is often justified only as a means to the happiness of others.

“Taking care of your health isn’t selfish, because it allows you to better serve others.”

But rather than explain happiness within the Selfish Spectrum and find a “middle way” between self-indulgence and self-sacrifice, we should abandon this false dichotomy entirely and value our own happiness as well as the happiness of others.

Without the need for sacrifices or score cards.

There Is No Spectrum

Your happiness does not have to be at other people’s expense, and being moral doesn’t demand that you sacrifice yourself for other people’s sake.

You can be happy and make others happy.

Your happiness matters and other people’s happiness matters.

We can only truly appreciate our own happiness when we respect other people’s right to the pursuit of their own happiness.

And contributing to other people’s happiness doesn’t take away from our own, but can enhance it. Provided that we value other people’s happiness and aren’t forced to make sacrifices.

But don’t relationships demand sacrifice?

Only if you hate your partner.

Why would you see your partner’s happiness as a sacrifice of your own?

Why would you demand that your partner make sacrifices so you can be happy?

Don’t accept living within the Selfish Spectrum.

It’s a recipe for misery. If not for you, then for those around you.

And is living with miserable people a conducive environment for your own happiness?

I don’t think so.

As a human being, you have a variety of needs (as the Personal Growth Map illustrates).

You can’t be happy if you pursue your Spiritual goals while ignoring your Physical needs.

And you won’t experience genuine happiness if you don’t work on building your Social relationships, which means that you have to value other people’s happiness in the same way you would like them to value your own.

You may not be able to spend your entire day on Recreational activities because your partner and children need your attention and love.

But that’s not a sacrifice.

That’s healthy, balanced living.

In what ways can you be happy?

In what ways can you make others happy?

You know you’re on the right path when the things that make you happy don’t hurt others, and the things that make others happy bring you joy.

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

4 replies on “The Selfish Spectrum”

Facebook would do me a favor if it changes the ” you like this” button to “LOVE this”..
And another thumb up icon will do some justice..

Dear Haider,

“But don’t relationships demand sacrifice? Only if you hate your partner.”


I’ve been in a very effective spiritual path for some time. However, I could *not* achieve application of certain principles when it came to my mother. After yet another irritating shopping trip with her this evening, I came home depressed and feeling hopeless that I would ever figure out the underlying factor that would change, at the core, the dynamics of our relationship.

I recognized in the store that I was burning with selfishness but just couldn’t contain it (I wanted to be home). Rather than feed the depression, I opted to feed Hope and looked up (for the umpteenth time) ‘selfishness’ and see if anything clicked.

Your article was the first pick. Whoooosh…. All the bells and whistles went off. The underlying current of hatred/anger that I’ve felt toward her since childhood (and felt guilty for feeling because she is a good person) … came into consciousness.

I don’t this minute know what to do next, but I’m sure the Answers will come now, because whatever we are willing to see can be Healed.

Thank you for being an Instrument of His Peace in my life.

Dear Pam,

I’m glad you found this post useful. 🙂

I can’t stress enough on the importance of recognizing and accepting your “self” before you can be selfish in a healthy way.

I’m not going to pretend to understand your relationship with your mother exactly, but the vast majority of child/parent relationship problems stem from the failure to “individualize”, meaning: to see yourself as a person separate from your parents, their values, and expectations. Your mother may not approve of your life choices or is judgmental of your behaviors, but you shouldn’t give these judgments more significance than they deserve. See them as opinions your mother holds that aren’t necessarily true or need a response from you.

If you can accept that you are two independent individuals, your frustrations towards your mother might be diffused. It’s also extremely important to accept your feelings without (initially) judging them. Accept how you feel and be aware of your feelings, then consider whether these feelings are supportive of your ambitions to lead a happy life, and what you can do to replace them with positive ones. Observation (and acceptance) should always precede evaluation. Otherwise we’re objecting with reality, which seems to be a losing battle. 😛

Wish you all the best.

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