“The most selfish thing you can do is to help other people”

I always argued Mother Teresa — one of the world’s great “altruists” — was, like us all, a selfish woman because she would have felt miserable doing anything other than ministering to the poor and sick. (Though she acted “selfishly,” in the broadest sense of the word, Mother Teresa nevertheless lived an incredibly noble, admirable life.)

So I loved this quotation — “The most selfish thing you can do is to help other people” — by SmileTrain.org founder Brian Mullaney, who “was a successful advertising executive, driving a Porsche and taking dates to the Four Seasons, when he felt something was missing and began volunteering for good causes. He ended up leaving the business world to help kids smile again — and all that makes him smile, too.”

In the same excellent article on happiness, Nicholas Kristof comments, “while charity has a mixed record helping others, it has an almost perfect record of helping ourselves,” a secret formula for happiness I hope will remain a secret no longer.

Bankers whose greed cost ordinary people trillions of dollars and ran the world economy into the ground should beware the corollary: Acting like a selfish pig with an unquenchable thirst for money — no matter how many people’s lives one ruins — makes one less happy. (Of course, this applies only to those of us possessing consciences. I suspect more than a few executives running our megabanks — and the politicians who bailed them out — are amoral sociopaths.)

Posted by James on Sunday, January 17, 2010