A Selfish Reason For Helping/Giving?

selfish reason for helping“You’re only helping yourself.”

Everyone’s heard it, or even said it, a few times in their lifetime.

The idea that the altruist is not really an altruist at all, but a self serving gratification seeker, is nothing new.. but I fail to see the negative aspect of such a thing. Sure from a moral point of view, it might not be as admirable as truly sacrificing yourself without any reward at all, but the end result is the same.

I would even go so far as to say the byproduct; people getting helped, is much more important than the main goal which may or may not be gratification.

Let me be clear, I am not accusing anyone who is putting their life on the line helping others of being self-serving. Quite the opposite. But I do think that the increased feeling of self-worth, and the positive empathy you feel when helping others could perhaps unconsciously be part of the why for some, if not many of the people who lay down their lives to better the world. Even if that were true, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I mean, the world could use a documented self serving reason for helping others.. what better way to inspire selfish people to truly help out?

And I’m not talking about the occasional donation to alleviate guilt here. I’m talking getting down in the trenches, and doing some hands-on helping.

Helping/Giving Feels Good

It’s time that we admit it. In fact,I don’t think anyone would deny it. Well maybe sociopaths, but in general helping someone out feels good. Even strangers. Even people you don’t like, because you feel like such a big person for not letting your bias stop you from helping.

“You’re Only Helping Others To Make Yourself Feel Better!”

Let’s say that it’s true. That it is impossible to do something selfless.

So what!? How does that translate into an excuse to NOT help someone. Do you somehow prove your character by denying yourself the ability to feel better, while also helping others at the same time?

I don’t get it. It’s the weirdest excuse ever.

If anyone says this to me when I’m doing MTMAD, I will laugh and say: “Yeah, it feels great. You should do it too!” I can’t think of a more positive thing.. such a win-win situation.

Think of a hug. It doesn’t matter who “gives” the hug, in the end both parties have more or less the same positive experience. And sure some people don’t much like hugs, I used to be one of them, and some people don’t like getting help. Then there are countless gray areas where it’s hard to know what’s what. But as a general rule of thumb, it’s more than okay to help people.. even if you’re worried you only do it to make yourself feel better.

Help Me Help You

As part of Month To Make A Difference, I have decided to offer help to anyone who asks for it throughout November. If you want to know about learning Japanese or language language in general, or you need help getting some tiny momentum going for your blog, you need help losing weight or you just want someone to give you honest critiques or someone to bounce ideas off of, contact me.

If you believe I’m only doing this to feel better, then you can help me, by allowing me to help you! Then afterwards we can discuss whether or not my motivation matters…

This is a picture from Arashiyama “monkey hill” in Kyoto, where I lived for over a year as an exchange student. (To clarify I lived in Kyoto, not in the monkey park.) I took it when I was showing my family around, acting as a full fledged tour guide. The monkeys in the picture are not wild. They get fed by the people who run the tourist business there, I have a video of the meal time. It was quite interesting. They played some music and all of a sudden tons of monkeys started gathering around. Hmm.


18 Responses

  1. SJ Scott October 29, 2013 / 3:34 pm

    I agree completely. Even if it is not your primary purpose to help others to feel better about yourself, it is surely a side effect.

    ..and like you, I think there is nothing wrong with it. Results are what really matters. If people end up being better for the help, then the motivations don’t matter. Helping others can be a win-win.


    • ragnar October 29, 2013 / 4:30 pm

      I am glad I’m not the only one who feels this way Steve!

  2. Vincent Nguyen October 29, 2013 / 3:51 pm

    The only time it bugs me is when the person preaches how good of a person they are. “I’m not a bad person because I help…” That’s usually a sign that they’re helping for the sake of the appearance of a good person.

    • ragnar October 29, 2013 / 4:28 pm

      Wow I didn’t think of that when I wrote… Now that’s something I wouldn’t want to run into! I want to do good because I aspire to be better… Although my mtmad project could be misinterpreted as bragging I think, haha.

      • Vincent Nguyen October 31, 2013 / 3:34 pm

        Don’t worry, you’re definitely fine! 🙂

  3. richmiraclefiles October 30, 2013 / 12:05 pm

    Hi Ragnar
    Helping others is a service rendered in a selfless spirit.Any help offered without genuine selflessness is no service at all.Just a barter.
    The ancient Hindus had a term for it called “seva”.Any action for benefiting others was considered “seva” only when accompanied with a spirit of zero expectation in future.
    Interestingly karma always brings the well deserved fruit. .

    • ragnar October 30, 2013 / 9:51 pm

      Like I said, that is an argument of morals which I am not disagreeing with, I am saying that from my point of view, it is irrelevant.

      And I am more arguing that the act of kindness is a reward in itself.. to the giver.

      Let’s say that a guy saves 10,000 people just to get publicity for himself and his new book… does that make it any less of a good act? It might not have been selfless, but to me the moral implications would be less important than the 10,000 lives that got saved.

      Although of course the story of a guy that saves 10,000 lives with “purer” motives is more compelling, the end result is the same.

      Are you going to tell people who will only help for selfish motives not to help because it disagrees with your moral standards? Are you going to tell the people who get helped to turn them away?


    • richmiraclefiles November 5, 2013 / 1:30 pm

      Hi Ragnar,
      You make an important point there.
      I guess helping anyone,for whatever motive,is HELP still at the end of the day.
      Just because a professional medical doctor earns a living from his service doesn’t make his service any less of a help.
      Ulterior motives can only be attributed, to the helpful action,in hindsight analysis.Not when the chips are down and when the actual operations are on.In any case any analysis done with the intent to take the wind out of anyone’s sails is no noble action either.
      So lets be gracious enough to the guy who’s extending help.No matter what.

  4. Winifred Reilly October 30, 2013 / 2:06 pm

    As someone in what’s known as a “helping profession” I think often about what I get from doing service to others. There’s no denying that my life is made richer by seeing my clients learn things and feel better about their lives.

    Is that whyI do it? I agree with you: impossible to separate. My job as a couples therapist is really challenging and sometimes emotionally painful. If offering help didn’t give me any satisfaction or support my purpose in life I don’t know if I would do it.

    Fortunately it does enrich my life. I cannot imagine any other life for me.

    • ragnar October 30, 2013 / 9:54 pm

      I am glad you have found a nice balance and I am sure the people you help wouldn’t mind whatever your motivation is!

      • Winifred Reilly October 30, 2013 / 10:00 pm

        Reading yr comments and thinking about the question you’ve raised there is a great reminder that going black and white can obscure the true nature of things…
        I prefer both/and.

  5. jamie flexman October 30, 2013 / 4:27 pm

    I have often though about the whole ‘altruism’ being selfless thing many times. It boils down in my opinion to the essence of free will. Or more accurately, if we truly have free will.

    For example, If I decide to voluntarily lend a friend some money – of course I am doing it to help them out, but what if my subconscious worked out a way to plant a seed that I could reap in the near future?

    They do say that you get back what you give.. so maybe I only gave because my subconscious gave me the nudge?

    Who knows, but like you say – so what? Both people will benefit from the action so it’s a win-win in my book.

    • ragnar October 30, 2013 / 10:04 pm

      See this is my issue with altruism. Even if you’ve convinced yourself that you are being selfless, that might not be the case. Especially in the context of spiritual beliefs. For example where it’s believed that acts of selflessness will get you closer to nirvana.. but the only way you could do a selfless act is if you were completely unaware of that.

      At least that’s how it seems to me.

      But yeah I don’t think it matters.. if there really is no selflessness that’s definitely not a reason NOT to help.

  6. Steve October 30, 2013 / 4:29 pm

    That’s really cool of you to give that assistance to anyone who wants it. It would be interesting to see what kind of response you get. You might get some really interesting replies.

    As a teacher, I can say that I like helping people. But at the same time, I get paid to do it. Does that diminish my effort? I still like the act of helping people. It’s hard to find truly selfless acts of altruism.

    • ragnar October 30, 2013 / 10:17 pm

      Yeah helping people is one of my favorite things to do in life, although I don’t seem to do it nearly enough. I think there’s nothing wrong with a balance where both parties are helped out. Besides, to be a good teacher you pretty much HAVE to like to help. All my favorite teachers growing up were the ones that would go out of their way to help and really cared about how everyone was doing… not just worried about whether or not the grades poorly reflected on the teacher..

  7. cj October 31, 2013 / 1:49 am

    Ragnar! I meant to say last week that I love the logo. Well done! It is refreshing to see that someone is not holding themselves prisoner to the delusion of altruism and I love the “so what” point you make. If we help someone and it feels good, great. If we feel good, great. But suffering is so lauded in our societies while feeling good and fun are made ot be frivolous matters. ALL WRONG. Marvy post, man.

  8. Tammy R October 31, 2013 / 7:27 pm

    I like your take on altruism and love the comments it has created. It feels good to help people. Somehow I think we’ve evolved to be like that or else our species would have died out. So, however it came to be about, I think it works as long as you help because you want to and not because it will make you look good. If so, you’ll probably just be angry with yourself for over-committing. In that case, it may be best to say no politely. Thank you, Ragnar!

  9. Randy November 9, 2013 / 9:32 pm

    Hi Ragnar…you couldn’t be more spot-on with this. I agree completely. If someone says that their giving is totally selfless and they get nothing from it at all they are probably not being completely truthful.


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