How to Be Selfless in Everyday Life (+ the Benefits)

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Do you want to help people who need it? How can you be selfless and kind to others?

Humans are naturally selfish beings due to our evolutionary need to survive, but there are ways to grow out of this selfishness. Whether it’s performing random acts of kindness or actively listening, unleashing your altruistic side is a great way to give back to others while expecting nothing in return.

Keep reading to learn how to be selfless and make somebody’s day.

The Benefits of Being Selfless

According to The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, a key factor that affects our happiness is the strength of our connections to other people. And reciprocity—the phenomenon by which we treat others as we have been treated by them—is one of the strongest ties that bind society together. 

The reciprocity reflex tells us to repay others when they do something for us. From an evolutionary perspective, it works because it increases everyone’s chances of survival. The reciprocity reflex causes the other members of the group to help you if you have helped them, creating networks of mutual obligation. These are the seeds of altruism. 

Studies have shown that engaging in altruistic behavior does lead to an increase in all measures of happiness. This is especially true for older adults; because they are lonelier and have reduced social networks, altruism widens their circle and gives them new sources of comfort, as well as purpose.

Thus, while morality certainly encompasses far more than just altruism, we should not take that to mean that we shouldn’t be altruistic. By doing good for others, we are doing good for ourselves.

How to Be Selfless

Being selfless is beneficial to everyone around you, including yourself. But how exactly can you help other people in a meaningful way? We’ve listed four pieces of advice that will help you learn how to be selfless and give back to the world.

1. Perform Random Acts of Kindness

In The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma argues that quality of life doesn’t come from a big home or a fast car. You had nothing when you were born, and—no matter how rich you become—you’ll have nothing after you die. Therefore, working only for yourself is pointless. Rather, true quality of life comes from what you give back to the world, and the real reason you exist is to serve others. 

You’re born crying while the world celebrates; you should die celebrating while the world cries. In other words, live a life that you’ll be happy with, and that others will be sad to lose. 

Sharma maintains that you don’t have to give up your job or your possessions. However, you should see yourself as part of the world, not just as an individual living in it. 

Therefore, take some time each day to think about the good you can do for others. These can be very small things, like letting a car pass you during a traffic jam, or giving a compliment to someone who isn’t expecting it. Sharma says those small gestures will add up to increased happiness for yourself and those around you.

One of the best ways to do this is to help your friends and keep your relationships strong. Your friends, in turn, will enrich your own life. Friends make your good times better and your bad times more bearable.

2. Choose a Serving Vocation

There are also ways to be selfless while working. The key is to choose a serving vocation over a career that only benefits you. According to David Brooks’s book The Second Mountain, establishing your career is a key goal of individualism; you evaluate your talents, refine them through education, and choose the job that delivers the best return on investment. By contrast, vocations are found in response to an injustice that demands your attention.

Brooks observes that careers satisfy the desires of the ego. When you have a successful career, you enjoy financial well-being and the respect of your peers. So, it’s unsurprising that the individualist approach to life emphasizes career success.

Vocations, however, are different. Because they involve righting an injustice, vocations often involve serving those less fortunate than yourself. Consequently, they rarely deliver the prestige that careers do. For example, those who dedicate themselves to working in homeless shelters don’t enjoy the same high status as corporate lawyers. 

Given the diminished material benefits, it’s natural to ask why you should prefer a vocation to a career. According to Brooks, the answer is simple: Vocations are central to your identity, so choosing a career over a vocation would amount to forsaking your identity.

Since vocations are oriented around serving others, Brooks concludes that they’re a key part of the relationalist approach to life. While careers satisfy the superficial desires that individualism highlights, he claims that vocations satisfy the deeper desire to dedicate yourself to a righteous cause.

If a vocation is the way you want to be selfless and help others, then it’s crucial to find yours. To do so, Brooks claims you have to find a cause that you care about so deeply that it provides a constant source of energy. According to Brooks, this obsession will point you toward your vocation.

3. Give Others a Chance to Speak

One of the most important ways to be selfless in a conversation is to give your conversation partner room to contribute by listening well to them and not monopolizing the conversation. Many people view conversations as simply a way to state their own opinion or tell their own story, and they feel no obligation to listen to the other person, writes Patrick King in Better Small Talk. This makes for an unrewarding experience for the other person, who feels unimportant and unheard. 

Allow yourself to be a person other people can vent to or celebrate their accomplishments. It makes people feel like you’re interested in their lives. To listen well and share the conversational space, King recommends the following: 

  1. Don’t craft your response while the other person is still talking. Listen actively with an open mind and only formulate your response once they’ve finished. 
  2. Show the other person that you’re listening. You can do this through engaged facial expressions, verbalizations, and body language
  3. Don’t stick to your point or story if the other person takes the conversation in another direction. Be willing to let go of what you wanted to say. 
  4. In general, try to talk less. People probably aren’t as interested in your life as you are and don’t care to hear about it endlessly. 

Another way to be selfless and ensure your partner feels good in conversation is to offer thoughtful compliments. King writes that the compliments that ingratiate you most effectively with the recipient target something the recipient can control or something the recipient has actively decided to do. Such compliments feel more meaningful to the recipient than compliments about things they can’t control (like looks) because they validate a person’s choices and lifestyle. 

For instance, a person will be happier if you tell them you’re really impressed with the garden they’ve worked tirelessly to cultivate than if you compliment them on the size of their hands, which is something they have no control over. 

Consider complimenting others on choices they’ve made to stand out from the crowd because these deliberate decisions reflect their identity and how they want to be perceived. A unique choice might be a nonconformist opinion, an unusual garment, a particular spiritual interest or affiliation. 

As an alternative to a traditional compliment, King suggests noticing people’s behaviors, habits, and idiosyncrasies and non-judgmentally drawing attention to them. This makes the other person feel noteworthy and seen. For instance, if a friend often uses an uncommon turn of phrase, you might inquire about it. This will make them feel unique and interesting and might lead to an intriguing explanation of where they picked up that phrase. 

4. Defeat Self-Destructive Habits

Only people who understand their true self may act selflessly. The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran says that wise people recognize that they are in all things and that all things are in them. Understanding who you truly are means understanding that truth, which means understanding the habits that are destroying your sense of self.

The three gunas are some of the hardest things to overcome on one’s quest for selfless action. Guna can be roughly translated as “attribute” or “property.” There are three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva is the guna of goodness and wisdom and the only one of the three that’s desirable. Rajas is the guna of passion and anger; it often drives actions, but it traps the one doing them deeper in karma. Tamas is the guna of darkness, destruction, and depression.

The three gunas drive every action that people take. However, the gunas are a thing of prakriti, or physical matter, and they trick people into egotism and obsession with the results of those actions. 

Though every action comes from one of the three gunas, someone who understands the gunas’ true nature and isn’t distracted by them can perform actions selflessly—concerned only for their dharma and the world around them, rather than seeking any material rewards for their work. Don’t be ruled by your gunas; they’re tricks that keep you focused on your selfish interests and therefore bound to karma. 

Finally, ask yourself what binds people to selfish actions; why do people keep serving their own self-interest, sometimes seemingly against their will? It’s the guna of rajas—passion, desire, and anger—that drives people to act selfishly. 

Rajas and the selfish desires that arise from them are found in the mind and the senses. This guna tricks people into pursuing their own pleasures, rather than working to help others in need. Alternatively, master your senses and rise above selfish desire. Your true self must be in control: Not your physical body or even your conscious thoughts, but your true, unchangeable, divine self. This is what you must do to free yourself from self-destructive habits that prevent you from performing selfless acts

Final Words

Learning how to be selfless goes a long way. Even if you can’t dedicate your whole life to a cause, spending time every day to compliment someone or helping hand is good enough. These small moments could mean everything to someone who doesn’t have much.

What are other ways you can learn how to be selfless? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Be Selfless in Everyday Life (+ the Benefits)

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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