Kindness makes your life happier. Life is a constant choice to be selfish or kind. How we navigate those choices has a direct impact on our own mood and emotions. I suspect everyone feels a sense of happiness and self-satisfaction when they do something nice for a fellow human being or animal. The great religions tell us we need to to do it out of selfless giving to be truly holy. Is this true, through? I would suggest that an act of kindness done for any reason, selfish or selfless, is still an act of kindness. I would further suggest that the receiver of the gift of kindness is still blessed, no matter what the giver’s motivations.
Why, then, do so many spiritual practices command that we be selfless in our acts of kindness? Is it possible that they are right in their deepest reasoning, even if pious in their posturing about it? Thus, the real question is, what can we as individuals learn from our motivations even if the acts we do are kind to the receiver? In other words, we can free ourselves of some of the emotional suffering we cause ourselves unnecessarily if we examine why we are doing any particular random act of kindness. And by knowing ourselves and our motivations, we can live a life richer in Joy, Peace, and Contentment.
Why our motivations for acts of kindness matter.
Let me build an imaginary situation to try and show why our motivations matter in the the act of kindness we perform. Let’s say you have a rich, older-aged neighbor. You know that this neighbor has no family. In the beginning, you visited them because you felt bad as you imagined their loneliness. As you discovered their financial status, though, you started visiting with the thought of being the recipient of all that money once your neighbor passes away.
From the neighbor’s perspective, the kindness you show the neighbor is kind, no matter what . Even if the neighbor suspects your motivations, you are still blessing them with your kindness. However, did you know that as you bless them, you’re probably also punishing yourself? As you grasp onto the idea of that money coming your way, you glue your idea of happiness to the future idea of receiving that money. Those emotional bonds become straps that tie your life, dreams, and happiness to a perceived end result. You are living in an unknowable future while ignoring this present moment. Your neighbor is blessed by your kindness and you suffer in a small way by not living the only moments you absolutely know you have. Later, when your neighbors life passes on and they leave the majority of their money to nonprofits, you suffer further because you didn’t get as much money as you had expected to receive.
There is a solution. It does go against what many of the religions teach, though. What if you just enjoyed the pleasant feeling of self-approval you experience while performing your random act of kindness for your rich neighbor? That’s selfish, you might say. Yes, I suppose it is. Yet, from your neighbors perspective, they are still blessed whether it be selfishness on your part for perceived monetary gain, or real emotional pleasantness now. Either way, aren’t your motivations selfish? However, if you are honest about your motivations now, you are being truthful to your neighbor and to yourself. It’s a win/win scenario. In other words, selfishness isn’t all bad if it’s honest and compassionate. In the scenario I just described, it’s both. This, of course, leaves open the question of, “What about the negative emotions I feel wrapped around being selfish, honest or not?” For that answer, you’ll need to write me or wait for a future blog post.
May your day be filled with Joy, Peace, and Contentment.