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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

When It’s Good to Be Selfish

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 26th 2013

I love meOne of the primary virtues in life is feeling joy for someone else’s happiness. In this virtuous state, you may be driven to do good things because making them happy also makes you happy. 

We are neurologically wired to be selfish even when it comes to altruism. This inclination doesn’t have to be a bad think, in fact, it may just open up our preconceived judgments on the word selfish. But not everyone’s brain lights up when they see other people happy, even their loved ones. When other people are happy it may highlight our own unhappiness and so we wish them to be unhappy. 

Wishing others to be unhappy because their well-being inspires a thought of deficiency in us is a mind trap that fuels social disconnection and depression. 

This mental and emotional processing is more common than not and it’s worth highlighting so we can begin to redress it. 

While the brain is wired to be selfish, it is also wired to compare ourselves to others so that we know if we’re safe and if we belong or not. However, when we notice the brain veering into those darker places about wishing failure of some kind upon another, we often don’t feel well. 

While some have different set points than other when it comes to healthy selfishness, we can all train our brains to be happy for another’s happiness. 

Try this:

Imagine someone who you know who has had a joyful moment, maybe on a vacation, the birth of a child, some accolades at work, or perhaps someone who is feeling content with their life. See the joy that is there and imagine now joining with this person approaching the world together, overcoming obstacles, connected and experiencing joy together. 

Connection fuels happiness and resiliency, disconnection fuels to anxiety and depression. 

Practice this from time to time, it’s like working out a muscle in the brain that will be more likely to incline itself in this direction in the future. 

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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