Home » Blogs » Mentoring and Recovery » Selflessness Versus Selfishness

Selflessness Versus Selfishness

Sometimes, having a great day may ask us to give. Other days, it may ask us to receive. In many days, we will receive the opportunity to do both.

As we arrive at #8 on the list of “15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently,” it is crystal clear that the issue of selfless versus selfish behavior has never been more clouded than it is in today’s culture, with its me-first-run-rife mentality and obvious, gaping inequalities in places and between people who really ought to know – and do – better.

If you just so happen to inhabit the world of recovering and recovered people, like I do, then those discrepancies can get even more confusing.

In the course of my work, for instance, it is not uncommon to encounter a “recovery martyr.” This is an individual who is hell-bent on helping others, but seems to have somehow exonerated themselves from ever actually having to endure the awkward process of accepting any help for themselves in return.

It is nearly as common in recovery work to encounter the individual who is all out for themselves – typically, this person has either spent the preceding years mired in quicksand on the recovery martyr trail, or is only just emerging from a pattern of unkind treatment from self and others that is too unacceptable to be born for one moment longer.

Somewhere in the middle, at various points along the continuum, the rest of us are usually hanging out.

I personally have inhabited either end of the spectrum and have also been a tourist at many of the other rest stops in between. Today I pretty much try to place myself as near to whatever spot my mentor has picked out as possible, trusting that anywhere she is is always some place I too will want to be.

One of the many things she has taught me is that there is such a thing as “healthy selfishness” and “unhealthy selfishness.” In the same way, as I have continued to navigate my often winding and sometimes downright uncomfortable road towards full body-mind-heart-spirit health, I have learned that there are both healthy and unhealthy aspects to selflessness as well.

Thankfully, my mentor is continually pointing out that, despite all the vagaries, the only important thing here is to find the unique balance that works for me. My balance seems to revolve around making sure that before I offer a bit of advice or assistance to someone else, that doing so doesn’t require me to hide some aspect of how I’ve been (mis) treating myself before or as I do so. In other words, before I dot your “i” I need to cross my own “t” (and I need to take care of my “i” first too, just for the record.)

I love this line in “15 Powerful Things”: “They [happy people] look for ways to give and to share the best of them with the world and to make other people happy.”

Here we see evidence of somebody’s (I presume the authoress’) unique balance. Maybe even many somebodies – certainly I can see evidence of mine here as well. What is left unsaid that might complete my own personal perfect selflessness-to-selfishness-ratio is the acknowledgement that making other people happy, sharing the best of myself with the world, and giving to others also makes ME very, very happy.

In fact, some of my finest moments and most precious memories to date revolve around trying to find a way to do something nice for someone else (or, as Byron Katie, another one of my wonderful mentors and teachers, often says, “Always try to leave a place nicer than you found it”) without being detected. The idea of “paying it forward” is like a narcotic to my endorphin system, so many feel-good waves can it set off within me at just the thought of it.

My mentor has also taught me to use gratitude as my barometer and my guide. When I am not sure whether or how much to give or receive, when I am not sure I am getting an inner “yes” or “no” to offer a spontaneous kind word or gesture, I can tune in to gratitude to find my answer. In feeling gratitude for my own life and growth, I naturally gravitate towards what I want to offer and can offer to others as well. In feeling gratitude for the gifts of life all around me and for the lives of others, I naturally feel which gifts to receive which will make those who give to me truly happy as well.

Today’s Takeaway: How can applications of gratitude assist you with finding your own unique balance between healthily selfish and equally healthy selfless behavior?

Selflessness Versus Selfishness

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Songwriter. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2013). Selflessness Versus Selfishness. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Oct 2013
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.