Have you ever stopped and asked yourself: why do you do the things you do?
Do you do it for yourself? Do you do it for your significant other? For your parents? For your best friend? For your king and country?
As selfish as it sounds, you really should do things because you want to.
Sure, there are many things in life called “chores” that we have to do, whether we like it or not. The very connotation of the term chore indicates that it is an undesirable task, at best.
But these chores should still benefit you, in some way, no?
So in the end, you should do things for only two reasons:
Because you will benefit from doing it, or because you enjoy doing it.
Sounds simple and selfish, right? Makes you swell with guilty glee, doesn’t it?
Either way, you gain from expending and investing your time and effort. You find joy and laughter from a comedy show; you earn money from working on a project; you feel satisfaction from spring cleaning your house. All these benefit you directly.
What about helping the less fortunate? Or paying someone a compliment? Science tells us when we do good deeds, we get a secret shot of dopamine and endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in our body’s stinky factory. Here’s the paper on the benefits of altruism.
So by helping others, we are also helping ourselves. No need to feel guilty about it.
Thanks for the Human Biology 101 session – what’s your point?
Have you ever done something that you believed was entirely for someone else’s benefit? Why did you do it?
Perhaps you gave up your own time and energy to help your sibling do their taxes, not expecting any payment or gratitude. And what if you don’t receive any payment or gratitude or even acknowledgement?
Perhaps you think of this as charity. As something you must do. Because you’re family.
So why do you do it? What compels you to do it?
Because you’re family? And that’s what family does? Are you in a Fast & Furious movie?
Would you nurse your best friend who has no family back to health, even if there is little to no prospect of recovery? How long would you hold out for? What if you burnout? What if you lose your job and your savings helping your friend who can no longer even care for themselves, let alone reciprocate or thank you for your kindness? Would you still do it?
Why do you do it?
Would you sacrifice everything for someone you don’t even know?
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori– Horace, Roman poet
Why do countless men and women throw down their lives in some foreign land in service of their ruling class and country? Would you give your life for thousand and millions of people, most of whom you will never know and never meet?
Is this a higher level of altruism? The highest form? Is there a hidden agenda, a secret motive – a loved one or community that cannot protect themselves?
Surely there is no benefit if you are no longer around to benefit.
Why do you do it?
There are people out there who knowingly sacrifice their energy, their money, their time in order to bring about benefit for someone else, for a greater cause, even if they may not ever benefit from it or see the end result. Is this what we should be doing? Is this what our ancestors demand from us? Is this what our authorities expect of us?
Or should we be selfishly doing what we want, what pleases us? Wallow in wanton hedonism? Focus on what benefits ourselves? Is this the sin of the Millenials? Now that everybody can be famous for a few precious seconds, is that what we yearn for?
I say just be honest with yourself: know why you do what you do. And if it allows you to be at peace with yourself and permits you sleep at night, then to hell with what other people think!
Perhaps you say I get to do the things I want to do because I have the freedom bestowed upon me by my ancestors who toiled and fought for these rights. That they had no choice in the matter, that they were forced by circumstances to do things they did not want to do, to do things they could not benefit from.
I believe they did have a choice. And I do not deny the greatness of their sacrifice in order for there to be freedom of speech and choice in their progeny.
But does that mean I am bound by their decisions?
Bound by feelings of inferiority? By feelings of filial piety? By feelings of guilt and shame?
Let’s put it simply: you’ve got one life, and that life is a gift to you. What you do with it is your choice. So choose wisely, and don’t let choosing your own happiness cause you chagrin.
Why do you do it?
Because you want to.