The Chinese are famous for their proverbs—little sayings with a profound meaning. And I came across one the other day: If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else. Simple enough—but how many of us really care about the other person?
Not many it seems. Selfishness is rampant. From the moment of our birth, we are encouraged to look after ourselves. After all, aren’t I the centre of the universe? Self-centred people talk about themselves—they don’t want to hear your opinion. They even look down on you—out for what they can get.
Unfortunately our culture pushes us towards self-centredness. Good definition of selfishness: devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, or welfare, regardless of others.
Many years ago there was a family that consisted of a father, a mother, and two brothers. One day the parents brought the brothers into the family room, sat them down on the couch, and showed them two gifts on the coffee table. School had just ended, and the parents said they wanted to give each son a gift to celebrate the end of the school year. One gift was wrapped in a big box with a beautiful bow, while the other gift was in a much smaller box with no bow. The parents said, “The two of you get to decide who gets which gift.”
The older brother said to the younger brother, “I don’t really care—I’ll let you decide which gift you want.” So the younger brother got to choose, and it was a tough decision. He really wanted the big, beautiful present, but should he choose the best present for himself or let his brother have it? After a few moments, the younger brother decided to take the big, beautiful gift instead of letting his brother have it.
Selfishness—The Best Option?
But when they opened their gifts, the younger brother was very disappointed. Inside the big, beautifully wrapped box were three spiral-bound notebooks for the next school year, but inside the smaller, less attractive box was a $50 bill. Being selfish—thinking of ourselves before others—is not usually the best option. You probably already know that!
A study was conducted several years ago on the principle of the Golden Rule—the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. In the study, the participants were asked to make a list of ten people they knew very well. Once the list was complete, they were then asked to label each person as happy or not happy. The final step was for the participants to go through the list again and label each individual as selfish or unselfish. The results of the study showed that the happiest people were always the unselfish people—those who put others ahead of themselves.
A Generous Rich Man
There have been some very generous people—promoting an unselfish attitude especially when it comes to money. Andrew Carnegie is one such man. He is credited as one of the men who literally made modern America—from its skylines to its domination as an industrial and world superpower. Carnegie sold his Carnegie Steel Company to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for $480 million and surpassed John D. Rockefeller as the richest American for a short while (that is, until he began giving away all his wealth).
From 1901 until his death in 1919, Carnegie gave away $350 millions ($80 billions as a share of today’s GDP), leaving the last $30 millions to several foundations and charities. In that time, he single-handedly created the public library systems within the US, Canada, and the U.K. by building over 3,000 public libraries so that the public could access a wealth of knowledge and better themselves and the world.
He also founded or supported dozens of universities and acted as a benefactor for many scientists and researchers. He truly was a remarkable man—truly unselfish. He believed in helping others. He was not selfish. If you live as if everything is about you, you will be left with just that—just you. Don’t become so self-absorbed you forget about others. I know it’s easy to put my own interests first.
Christianity’s basic teaching is about putting others first. That may sound a bit strange. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 23:11-12: “Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured”.
C.S. Lewis in his wonderful book Mere Christianity wrote this: “Look for yourself alone and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look to Christ and you will find Him, and with Him, everything else is thrown in”. C.S. Lewis then says: “The happiest moments are when we forget our precious selves, but have everything else .. God, our fellow humans, and the earth”.