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


25 Tips To Becoming A Human Learning Machine


One of the reasons why schools can often contribute to making kids dumber instead of smarter is that they focus on what to learn without helping students develop the skills of how to learn.

Since I’ve set out some fairly ambitious goals for the new year, I’ve decided to invest some time in learning more about… well, learning.

These are some tips on how to enhance your learning abilities and become a Human Learning Machine.


Rational or Emotional? The Truth About Your Decisions


There’s been a longstanding debate about the nature of decision-making and whether we base our decisions on rational reasons or emotional impulses.

Some say we should consult the mind and ignore the heart if we want to make the right decision.

Others say that we should follow our hearts and ignore the paralyzing calculations of the mind.

And still others say that there’s always a blend of rational and emotional elements to decision making.

I’ll save you the suspense:

All your decisions are driven by your emotions.

Sounds insane?

Then we need to revisit what “rational” and “emotional” mean, and what role they play in our lives.

The Role of Reason

Have you ever smelled something with your hands? Saw something with your nose? Tasted something with your ears? Touched something with your eyes? Heard something with your tongue?

I’m willing to bet the answer is no to all these questions.

You don’t smell with your hands. That’s not the purpose they serve in your life.

And when it comes to understanding the importance of reason to our survival and happiness, it’s essential that we identify the role it serves in our lives.

Reason allows us to make sense of the world.

We use our senses to gather data, and our rational faculty helps connect the pieces together and form an understanding of how the world functions.

We use past experiences (and other people’s experiences) in developing our understanding of the world and what we ought to do to make progress in life.

But reason only sets the destination.

It is emotion that drives us to action.

The Motion Of Emotion

You can “know” that junk food is bad for you and still eat it with pleasure.


Because reason has described the landscape and your destination. But if your emotions are set on a different direction, you will go in that direction.

Emotion is the ring that connects reason with action. Without emotion, we won’t feel compelled to do anything, no matter how much information we know about the importance of that action.

To be honest, the question of whether we decide rationally or emotionally is flawed in itself.

It assumes that reason and emotion are at war with each other, and you must choose between them.

But emotion is an extension of reason and it serves an equally valuable – but essentially different – role in our lives.

“Hold on!” I hear you shout (yes, I have good ears).

“If emotion is an extension of reason, then why are they in conflict? Why does reason pull us in one direction and emotion push us in another?”

A very sensible question and the answer is a very interesting one…

Mixed Signals

Just to recap:

There is absolutely no inherent conflict between reason and emotion.

So why do they often pull us in separate directions?

Because every emotion has its own reason, which we often neglect.

The conflict isn’t between reason and emotion, but contradictory reasons, each with a different emotional value attached to it.

What we tend to do is look at the “rational” factors and overlook the reasons that drive our emotions (because we consider emotions to be irrational).

But every emotion stems from a reason, and the cause of the conflict between reason and emotion is the mixed mental signals we’re giving our bodies.

Since reason doesn’t drive us to action (that’s the role of emotion), we go by what we feel most inclined to do.

Every time.

Anger doesn’t develop out of thin air. It’s the result of a thinking process. When you feel angry and want to lash out at those who have caused you to be angry, you don’t think – there and then – that your anger is uncalled for.

You believe that you are justified in feeling angry and those you lash out at deserve what they get. Somewhere inside you, you don’t believe that your anger is irrational. It makes perfect sense.

But there’s another reasoning thread – with a lower emotional charge attached to it – that asks you to consider the law, social etiquette, other people’s feelings, etc.

Which “reason” do you believe you will act by?

That’s right. The emotionally charged one.

Making The Right Decisions

If you’re not happy with the decisions you’re making in your life, don’t blame your emotions.

They’re on your side.

They deserve to be loved and respected.

But you need to identify their root and resolve the conflict between contradictory reasons.

Conflicts often arise when you were brought up to live by certain beliefs and values without questioning them. While you were developing your own reasoning, you were acting according to the values you were taught to accept.

You value your own happiness, but are taught that selfishness is a bad thing.

You believe having fun is good, but are taught that it’s irresponsible.

You think that you can be moral and wealthy, but are taught that money is the root of all evil.

Such conflicting opinions will naturally lead to mixed signals.

If you want to make the right decisions, you have to consciously address all your beliefs and listen to what your emotions reveal about the beliefs lurking in your psyche.

That’s the only way you can dissolve the false dichotomy between the rational and the emotional.

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC

Personal Growth

The Countdown – Day 1: Resources For Your Resolutions

OK, I know this may sound disgusting, but I’m drooling right now.

I just completed a couple of resources that I think you’ll find insanely useful to…

*Wipes drool*

… achieve your resolutions.

Before you hunt those precious resources down, I’d like to thank you for reading The Countdown posts, and hope that you found them useful! 😀

But as useful as they may be, they’re nowhere near as useful as these resources I’m telling you about.

To download them, head over to the New Year, New Life page.

Personal Growth

The Countdown – Day 2: Create Your Rituals

Resolutions look very cute on paper. You might even feel like pinching their cheeks.

But when you begin to realize that there’s an enormous gap between the desires your resolutions convey, and the lack of results you’re seeing, you start to feel like punching those resolutions in the face!

To bridge the gap between resolutions and results, you need to create rituals.

Rituals are activities performed on a regular basis, for a specific reason.

In this case, your rituals help to give physical expression to your resolutions.

It’s very cute to want to “be healthy”, but what does that even mean? What does it look like? How will you achieve it?

Rituals are specific ways you will achieve your results. They’re not done once and forgotten, but repeated in the most meaningful way possible, given your goals and your circumstances.

Some rituals are performed daily, some every other day, some every week. The possibilities are endless.

What rituals do you need in order to see your resolutions through?

What kind of schedule do you need to have to be able to cater for all your goals?

What kind of food will you be eating, and where will you buy it from?

How regularly do you wish to exercise?

How many hours would you like to spend reading? Where will you find the hours?

Think of as many specific ways you can achieve your goals, and stick to them as rituals that appear on your schedule and have a presence in your life.

Without rituals, resolutions can quickly turn into distant hopes that never materialize.

If you haven’t noticed already, I’m running a day late in my countdown, since I skipped a day while traveling. I’ll publish the final post in this series tomorrow on 1 January 2011, and will continue to offer some resources for you to make the most out of 2011. Wish you a happy and enriching new year, full of growth and success. 😀