Be Wisely Selfish

by Tess


Our guest author, Sandra Lee is a writer, thinker, dreamer who blogs at Always Well Within about personal development, wellness, ecology, inspiration, and essential wisdom to help you realize your best self and be part of creating a better world.

In her own words, "I have always been fascinated by health and wellness, especially the interconnections within the body as well as the healing power of mind.  In working with my own health challenges over the years, an inquisitive, analytical mind has proven to be a useful quality.  I’ve learned and continue to learn a great deal about nourishing body, mind, and spirit, which I share on these pages.

My aspiration in life is to live meaningfully with more kindness, clarity, and insight, and to pass on whatever inspiration, knowledge, and wisdom I acquire.  I am on a journey of discovery and would love to share all that I learn with you."

Be wisely selfish 

In these busy times, you might consider loving kindness as an added burden on top of an exponentially growing to-do list. Surprisingly, just the opposite is true. Loving kindness is actually the best approach to securing your own well-being and lasting happiness

How could that be?

The typical approach to finding happiness involves cherishing and protecting yourself above others. This deeply ingrained habit flourishes in modern life with its high expectations and relentless demands.

You can easily see this for yourself. Just observe your own mind for a day. Out of the 12,000 – 50,000 thoughts you have on any given day, how many are focused on yourself? How many are directed towards the needs of others beyond your close inner circle? On another day, observe the conversations around you. You will most likely find the same riveted self-preoccupation.

The problem with self-absorption

What's the problem with focusing on your self? Don't you need to focus on your own life to simply survive and try to get ahead? It's true, you do need to take care of yourself. There's nothing wrong with caring for yourself in a balanced way.

The problem starts when you become overly focused on yourself. Tension, worry, fear and other menacing emotions automatically arise when you focus too much on yourself.

An off-hand remark gets blown out of proportion and you feel hurt. The success of a co-worker triggers envy or self-doubt instead of joy for their success. You don't get your way and frustration ensues. You ruminate about being treated unfairly or chew on any one of an endless stream of self-oriented thoughts and emotions.

Life becomes all about "me." My work, my health, my success, my family, my struggle, my happiness, my terrible childhood, my fitness program, my horrible boss, my possessions, my likes, my dislikes. It's the nature of any perception to grow stronger the more it's repeated. Thus, the more you focus on yourself, your problems, perceived needs, and feelings, the more they will occupy your mind. Then the smallest troubles start to take on gigantic proportions.

This self-engrossment doesn't produce happiness at all, just outright misery.

Instead, be wisely selfish

As a counterpoint to harmful self-preoccupation, The Dalai Lama advises us to be "wisely selfish" by cherishing others. In a compelling twist, he counsels that putting others first simultaneously fulfills your own self interest. How does that happen? Thinking of others and acting on their behalf:

1. Takes your mind off your own worries

The mind can only be engaged in one focus at a time. When you are thinking of others, you automatically find relief from your own problems. Ironically, it's precisely when we take a break from our own worries, that new solutions pop up and problems sometimes seem to magically solve themselves. Helping others usually brings a genuine feeling of self-satisfaction too.

2. Puts your own troubles into perspective Your small, tight world opens up as you see that you are not alone in whatever suffering you may have. In fact, your own woes may even pale in comparison to the troubles of others. Your heart softens and you feel more in touch with yourself and others.

3. Kindness, love, and tolerance bring you more happiness When you focus on others by expressing kindness, love, tolerance, and respect, you usually receive the same treatment in return, which brings you more joy and happiness. Expressing anger, disdain, prejudice, and other negative emotions—the one's that stem from self-cherishing—will typically spark like responses and only bring you unpleasantness.

In short, acting selfishly not only harms others, but it also harms you. Constantly thinking of yourself actually blocks the sense of happiness that you are wishing to achieve in the first place. As the Dalai Lama points out, the trick to finding true happiness is to be "wisely selfish" by thinking of others first.

Kick start loving kindness

Remember cherishing others doesn't mean neglecting yourself or being a martyr. It's impossible to love others if you don't care for and love yourself. Here are two simply ways to kick start loving kindness.

1. Look at others with an open, loving heart

Often, we are so embroiled in our own inner world, that we hardly notice others or only glance at them superficially. A simple, yet profound way to shift the focus from yourself is to consistently look at others with a kind and soft gaze. This is easy to do wherever you might be. Make it a point to practice smiling and looking at others in an open and loving way throughout the day. You'll be amazed by the flow of positivity that greets you in return.

2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes

When someone does act in a way that you perceive as harmful, instead of focusing on your own emotional reaction, take a step back and try to understand where they are coming from. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. See if you can understand their motivation. Are they acting out of their own pain and hurt or misconceptions? Cultivating patience, understanding, and tolerance has tremendous power to transform difficult situations into harmonious ones.

Boldly and consistently practice loving kindness and, I promise you, your own happiness will grow by leaps and bounds.

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    { 34 comments… read them below or add one }

    Karl Staib - Work Happy Now August 4, 2010 at 8:03 am

    Other people need to be acknowledged and loved, it’s possibly the best thing we can do for each other. By looking to help other people we are also helping ourselves.

    I’ve recently been changing my habits to focus more on others and less on myself. I am much happier. I don’t think this occurrence is a coincidence. When I focus on helping other people I can take swift action. It’s an external problem that I can’t sit and worry about.

    When I first started blogging I worried about how I looked to my readers. Now I worry about giving the most value and my readers have responded. They are more willing to contact me and forward WHN ideas to their friends.

    I still have a long way to go. I’m not fully off the worry wagon yet, but each day I get a little better. Thanks Sandra, for a great guest post.


    Jay Schryer August 4, 2010 at 9:16 am

    This is sooo true! I have found out that in my own life, the more I focus on loving others, the more I focus on developing my servant heart and helping others, the happier I become. And I also find that the converse is true as well: Whenever I start to focus too much on my own troubles and worries, my happiness decreases significantly.

    I just have to be careful not to give too much of myself away. I have a hard time setting boundaries sometimes, and that can cause problems, too. My current “growth” or personal development phase is centered around learning the difference between giving, and giving too much. Ahh well. I’ll learn :)
    .-= Jay Schryer´s last post…Love- Me =-.


    Uzma August 4, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Hi. This is so true. Loving kindness or unconditional compassion does help us rise above ourselves. It also helps to know that we are all connected, all coming with our own stories and baggage , so we learn to accept the troubles of others and not get hurt by them. You say it wisely, thank you for this reminder to care for others, to move into that place of self-lessness. It is what a Buddhist friend taught me, and I am trying to practise. To not say so much ‘i’ and watch the ego self, to live from the soul. Thank you so much for the wisdom. God bless


    Caroline August 4, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Such a great post…much to think about. I agree with Jay…when I focus on others and am open and kind, my happiness is over the top. There is a fine line though…you have to know when you are giving too much. You must also learn to RECEIVE kindness from others. That’s where I have problems. I can give give give…but when it comes to taking, I feel selfish and unworthy.
    .-= Caroline´s last post…Stranger 4 =-.


    Sandra Lee August 4, 2010 at 10:04 am

    I want to thank Tess from the bottom of my heart for giving me the wonderful opportunity to write a guest post on The Bold Life. I am awestruck by Tess’s beauty, generosity, and uplifting spirit. I learn so much from every article on the Bold Life! Thank you, Tess.

    P. S. I wish I could have posted this comment first, but being in Hawai’i I’m a few hours behind the rest of the U. S. at least.
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last post…The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 =-.


    Sara August 4, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Tess — Thank you for having Sandra Lee as a guest writer. It is nice to get to know her and how she thinks.

    Sandra — When I was a young woman, I tended to focus more on myself. I think partly because I was self conscious and afraid of rejection and the other part was simply that I didn’t “get it.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that there’s no better high than when you do something for someone else or you are gentle with other people, even if they’re not being nice.

    For me, this “high” is best when I’m behind the scenes and the person doesn’t know I’m trying to help or they don’t know me at all. I’m remembering one time I did something and the person I helped had no clue it was me, but it did help her. It wasn’t a big thing, but it made me feel wonderful. I was on a high the rest of the day.

    You know how they’ve proven that when you exercise, you release endorphins which make you feel good. I wonder if endorphins increase in the same way when you do something helpful, kind or giving. I imagine they do:~)

    Thanks for this post.
    .-= Sara´s last post…Story Photo- End the Story =-.


    Keith August 4, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Hello Sandra and Tess,

    Sandra, this post is fantastic. Seriously! Isn’t it wonderful how this works; if we put others first, serve, love and help others, our own lives become better and therefore happier! I never cease to be awestruck by this. And if everyone did this, what a different place the world would be.

    I wanna make it happen, so I’m gonna be bold (as my friend Tess always says) and do my part!

    I take this quote from your post with me “Boldly and consistently practice loving kindness and, I promise you, your own happiness will grow by leaps and bounds.”

    Thank you so much


    Sandra Lee August 4, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Karl – Thank you so much for sharing how you have been changing your habits to focus more on others and less on yourself and how much happier you feel as a result! Congratulations! It’s so inspiring to hear this!

    Jan – I agree with you wholeheartedly – we also need to have healthy boundaries and know how to take care of ourselves in order to truly be helpful to others. That was a given in a culture like Tibet, but finding the right balance seems far more challenging in the West.

    Sara – You mention some really great points! First, just how rewarding and meaningful it can be to truly help. How strengthening it is to be able to do so even when the other person isn’t nice to you. And how even greater it is when your service is done quietly behind the scenes. Thanks for adding these points.

    Uzma – I’m so glad this article resonated for you and am inspired by how you also try to practice unconditional compassion in your own life.

    Caroline – You echo an important point about the “fine” line of balance we each need to find and how it can sometimes be so challenging to receive. It’s sad how so many of us feel unworthy in these modern times, but through awareness we can slowly overcome this. The Buddha once said that if you search far and wide you will never find anyone more worthy of your love than YOU! This is something I have to remind myself of again and again too.


    Evita August 4, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Hi Sandra

    Very wise and important message!

    I see many, many people around me, so busy, with no true time for themselves. Instead they don’t fully give themselves to others, or themselves. In our society being “selfish” is considered a “bad” thing, and yet, most people as you describe are overly self absorbed without even realizing it.

    When I learned to take proper care of myself…. be wisely selfish, what actually happened is that I was there more for others. I was present, I was able to help, I wasn’t preoccupied with only myself.

    So your points are fantastic and I thank you for giving this topic such great attention :)
    .-= Evita´s last post…Essential Energy with Cyndi Dale- Throwing Back the Walleye – Living From The Heart =-.


    suzen August 4, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Hi Sandra and Tess! Love this post! I’ve found over the years that by being an observer takes the “all about me” aura away cuz I’m not emotionally involved or reacting so much to whatever chaos or drama is around me. It actually produces a loving kindness attitude and I’m also being kinder to myself by not getting all rattled, hurt or frustrated. It’s the zen in Suzen :)


    Wilma Ham August 4, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Dear Sandra and dear Tess.
    I heard once that we can only have one thought in our mind at any given time. I had never thought about that but once I realized I am extremely thankful for that. Because as you say Sandra, when I feel worry coming on I can simply replace it as I cannot have two thoughts running the show at the same time.
    Then to think of others is a fantastic way to relieve myself from negative thoughts, I get love back reflected to me and everybody wins.
    Much love to you both, xox Wilma


    Jannie Funster August 4, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Dearest Ladies, I am very grateful for this post.

    This thought… “When you are thinking of others, you automatically find relief from your own problems” That is so true! If I get a little down feeling I do a little something for someone else and that always picks me up.

    Like forgiveness — forgiving is often more of a gift for the forgiver than the forgivee.

    Only one thought at a time, eh? I guess that probably is true. Never thought about it before.

    Wonderful post! Thank you both so much.

    .-= Jannie Funster´s last post…18 More Amazing Things I’ve Done Lately =-.


    Simon Hay August 4, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Tess, thank you having Sandra as a guest today. Loving others is the same as loving yourself. Mindful thinking and being compassionate to thers and the earth is soaking in a warm tub, and I love those bubbles. Peace and love ladies, Simon.
    .-= Simon Hay´s last post…Healing or Remote Control Bodies =-.


    Sandra Lee August 4, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you to everyone for your insightful and loving comments.

    Keith, Thank you for your kind words!I I am awestruck by your commitment to take this quote from the post “Boldly and consistently practice loving kindness…” and go for it. Fantastic.

    Simon, There is so much wisdom in your insight when you say that loving others is the same as loving yourself. In the end, “me” is just a label and we can actually decided that “me” is everyone!

    Jannie, I wonder about the one thought too! Sometimes the thoughts are so thick that it seems impossible that there could only be one at a “time.” Another analogy is that where there is light, there cannot be darkness. That is easier for me to grok sometimes. :)

    Wilma, you have a terrific win-win approach! I like it.

    suZen, I really like your point about the “observer” ~ it does create space doesn’t it? Just like you say, when there’s space loving kindness naturally arises.

    Evita ~ You really hit the nail on the head when you observe how so many are such busy bees with no “true” time for themselves – not truly able to give to themselves or others. Yet, we may not realize how self absorbed the busyness can be. That’s the twist!
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last post…The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 =-.


    Tammy August 5, 2010 at 12:16 am

    I have certainly found that this is true where my children are concerned (or maybe it is best to say that being a mother taught me this). I can get really wrapped up in my own issues and then something happens with one of my kids (e.g. needing help in school, a project, an aspiration) and bingo, I’m so out of my self-absorption and nothing else matters.


    Arts web show August 5, 2010 at 2:30 am

    We are built as social creatures.
    So i feel helping as well as destroying is part of who we are.
    The more we help others the more we grow inside.
    But we should always make sure that we are doing ok first.
    Just throwing that out there. lol
    .-= Arts web show´s last post…Drawing and creative writing- ‘camped around the guitar’ =-.


    Bill Gerlach August 5, 2010 at 5:23 am

    Just beautiful, Sandra. Just beautiful. Will leave it there. No need for anything more. Be well.
    .-= Bill Gerlach´s last post…Deep Living 101- My Personal Journey of Discovering Life’s New Pursuit =-.


    Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord August 5, 2010 at 6:06 am

    What a beautifully written post. Thank you, Tess, for featuring Sandra and stirring my heart with her words.

    I find that when I’m able to see myself in others, it sort of softens me by reminding me that whatever I dislike in them is something I also dislike in me, and whatever I like in them is also something I like in me. I am them; they are me. The barriers are removed and love flows more freely.

    Loving kindness has been near and dear to my heart for awhile now, and I love the way in which you’ve written about it, Sandra. ~ Namaste ~


    rob white August 5, 2010 at 6:51 am

    Hi Sandra,
    I love the concept of “wisely selfish”… I had not heard it put that way before. Yes, a little selfishness goes a long way. Great artists, writers, musicians etc. are “selfish” because their only concern is expressing their passion. In doing so they lift humanity and inspire countless others. Whenever we selfishly express ourselves authentically it is a contribution the world at large.


    Phil - Less Ordinary Living August 5, 2010 at 7:33 am

    Hi Sandra -

    I love the buddhist philosophy of compassion and generosity. For me you hit the nail on the head that when we help others we put our own little problems into perspective. It is humbling to realize the capacity for generosity from others infinitely less fortunate than ourselves and it unleashes our wisdom to connect to the bigger hole. More reminders please!

    .-= Phil – Less Ordinary Living´s last post…What’s it like to set up your own business =-.


    Ali Dark August 5, 2010 at 7:57 am

    I find that looking at others with an open and loving heart is really important. How I see others reflects how I see myself and vice versa. I’d hate to be that smartest guy in the world who is so aware of everyone’s crap but oblivious to his own.
    .-= Ali Dark´s last post…More Action =-.


    Lynn Fang August 5, 2010 at 10:19 am

    I try to be loving and open to others. I’m not sure, that is just my default status. I am nervous upon first meeting people, but I try to give them my open mind and heart because I think everyone deserves that. Great post, Sandra!
    .-= Lynn Fang´s last post…Defining Sustainability =-.


    Jan August 5, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Wisely wonderful! I loved reading this and learning about Sandra. So nice to meet you.

    As Tess knows I am a student of the Dalai Lama (took Refuge vows with him in 2008) and metta (loving-kindness) is my passion. (I offer programs/retreats on it.) And what you say is so true. The practice of generosity to self opens us up in unimaginable ways to the hearts of others. As we cherish ourselves, we (by osmosis) begin to cherish others. I never thought this was possible. At first, it did feel selfish. Now I prefer to think of it as being highly self-aware. Doing so, transforms us in miraculous ways. I know you know of which I speak.

    Thank you for this lovely post and reminder. So nice to know you, Sandra. I’ll bookmark your blog/site!


    Sandra Lee August 5, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Lynn, I also tend to be nervous when I first meet people. It’s beautiful how you try to still have an open mind and heart. My aspiration is to relax from within so that the initial nervousness eventually dissolves entirely.

    Ali, Your comment really gave me a hearty laugh when you said “I’d hate to be that smartest guy in the world who is so aware of everyone’s crap but oblivious to his own.” I think I lived a lot of my life that way (although I’m not the smartest person in the world)!

    Phil, I love your emphasis on how generosity connects us with the bigger whole!

    Rob, I agree with you that simply being real is at the heart of contributing to the world.

    Megan, I found this point in your comment very interesting: “whatever I like in them is also something I like in me. I am them; they are me.” I never thought of it that way before. Thank you for the new insight. I’m glad my article resonated for you.

    Bill – Thank you. :)

    Arts Web Show – Such an important point!!! – “But we should always make sure that we are doing ok first.”

    Tammy, children are such a great example of how this all works!

    Jan, I rejoice in your wonderful connection with the Dalai Lama! I’ve also done the practice of loving-kindness for myself and then extending it to others. As you say and know so well, the change that comes about through sitting on the cushion and doing loving kindness for yourself is mind blowing.

    Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to comment. I feel wrapped in your love and kindness.
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last post…My guest post at The Bold Life =-.


    Liara Covert August 5, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    To reconnect with loving kindness within is to know the limitless potential for being involved and expressing such compassion. Ego is always trying to achieve new levels of spirituality. The soul is not hunting. It knows what is.
    .-= Liara Covert´s last post…Connect with living experience =-.


    vered August 5, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    “Remember cherishing others doesn’t mean neglecting yourself or being a martyr.” This is important. Some feel that it’s a choice – you’re either self-absorbed or caring and giving, and this is simply not the case.


    Belinda Munoz + The Halfway Point August 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Sandra and Tess, this post is so resonant because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how so much of what we’ve been trained to believe as “either-or” scenarios are false. We don’t have to deny ourselves love and kindness to be kind and loving toward others. There’s so much wholeness that becomes realized when we expand our minds and our hearts beyond the limiting beliefs that there’s be nothing left for us if we give, give, give. In fact, a give-give-give way of life ends up generating more for all.


    Sandra Lee August 6, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Hello Belinda and vered ~ how synchronous that you raise the same point that loving self and other is never an either/or proposition. How true!

    Liara ~ limitless compassion is truly the ideal.

    Thank you all for taking the time to comment. I feel deeply appreciated and happy to know you.
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last post…The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 =-.


    Hilary August 6, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Hi Tess and Sandra .. well what an amazing post with some wonderful answers putting other ideas forward .. it’s so great to receive this kind of information in ways that we can understand and ‘easily’ absorb .. I’d never have this kind of advice in my normal life .. but here we get all kinds of wonderful thoughts …. a great post and comments to come back to ..

    So pleased I’ve visited and read .. despite being late .. now I know to come back for more input and thoughts and wise advice about learning to become wisely selfish .. Hilary
    .-= Hilary´s last post…Could this be a sitcom – or a break out sitcom Ever had a one word – at a time – conversation Fish and Chips – how do you spell it =-.


    Angela Artemis August 6, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Sandra Lee,
    This was beautiful and full of truths.
    I think most people have good intentions of practicing loving kindness, but the busy and frantic pace of life today gets them of course.
    Thank you for this wonderful reminder.
    .-= Angela Artemis´s last post…Develop Your Intuition- It Could Save Your Health =-.


    Nea | Self Improvement Saga August 6, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    What a heartfelt post! I’m absolutely in love with the phrase “wisely selfish.” It’s all about balance–taking the time to love yourself as well as sharing your deepest love and compassion with others.
    .-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last post…How to Let Your Guard Down =-.


    The Exception August 8, 2010 at 9:45 am

    This is a wonderful post. It is all about opening the heart, seeing with love, and demonstrating empathy and compassion. The magic that happens within and without, when one opens the heart… it is wonderful.


    Houses in Panama City August 13, 2010 at 12:31 am

    This is surely a wonderful post and is about opening the heart, love, empathy and compassion.


    Sandra Lee August 20, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Angela, Nea, Exception, and House in Panama City – I didn’t want to miss acknowledging your comments and saying thank you. So a big thank you for your kind words and validation of the power of love and compassion.

    Angela, I agree that most people are kind at heart and want to express loving kindness but it can just get lost in the chaos sometimes.

    Nea, “wisely selfish” is a pretty cool phrase. Easy to remember.

    Thank you all again. Guest posting at the Bold Life has been so enriching and fabulous.
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last post…Expert advice on writing faster blog posts =-.


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