Help – I think I’m selfish

There’s something that’s been on my mind for the past few months, something that has made me constantly second guess my own intentions. I’ve said many times over that I believe in the inherent good of all people, myself included. Regardless of our upbringing, our monetary income, etc., we all have the capacity to do good works. Whether we actually act on those good impulses are our own choosing, but the point is that potential is there.

So…good is directed outward, correct? To be what most consider “good,” we have to work for the benefit of others, not just ourselves. There is self-care and rest for our own bodies and minds, sure, but if someone does a “good deed” it’s meant for somebody or something other than themselves.

This is what has been discouraging me lately – I’m not entirely sure that I do what is “good.” I believe I’m a nice person, who treats everyone fairly and goes out of his way to help others quite a bit. I’d like to think that my blog posts are helping at least a few people get by, and writing words of encouragement on others’ blogs is helping them as well. I’m fairly certain I’m kind to others, whether it be at home, work, or elsewhere. But am I doing these “good” things for others, or for myself?

I feel satisfaction when I’m good to others – but not the kind of satisfaction I want to feel. It’s a perverse kind, like a mental pat on the back, saying to myself, “I’m good because I did this thing.” Almost as if…this “good” I’m doing isn’t for the benefit of others, but instead for self-validation; something to make me feel better about myself – the happiness others receive from me being good isn’t necessary, but a side-benefit to my own satisfaction. I don’t like this feeling. At all.

As a Christian, I live my life for God, and Him alone. Everything I do is in His name, I tell myself. The book of words I try my best to live my life by directly says be good to others before being good to yourself. But when I have this lurking feeling that everything I do may be for my own happiness, it’s more unnerving than you may think. Even for non-Christians, I don’t think an instinct that everything you do may be for yourself can’t feel that great, either.

I’m not saying I’m bad – I’m not bad. I know that. I’m just not sure I’m “good.” Or, if I am good, is it a “side-effect” of fulfilling my own need for self-validation? I can do all of these good things and say all of these good words, but if, in the end, it’s for my own contentment, does it really count?

Do you struggle with this, or is it just me? Or does everybody, and do I just need to suck it up and accept it for what it is? Is this some weird side-effect of my depression? I don’t know. Advice would be appreciated.

Stay strong.

  • Ryan

“Success”(the real kind)

I tend to talk a lot about how I compare myself to others based on my “successes.” When I say that word, success, I’m generally talking about outwardly achieving something – careers, relationships, acquiring material goods, etc. But looking back, it’s odd that I would use the word “success” in this way, as none of those things are what I consider propelling me to success. (Oh Lord, I feel like I’m going to use that word at least 30 times before this post is finished…) However, I think it’s fair to say that society sees achievement and (sigh) success as being directly linked to those things, especially things acquired with money. High school teachers and parents push us to do well in school, so we can apply to a good college and get a good job and turn it into a great career, therefore being “successful.” Young adults in many countries are encouraged to find the love of their life and marry them and have children soon after, so that you’ve done your part to contribute to the continuation of the family line and therefore are “successful.” If you make a good amount of money at your job you can buy a nice house and nice furnishings in a nice neighborhood, so that you’re “successful.”

Per society, it seems that there are many paths to this so-called success, but almost all of them involve having a good amount of money. Now, practicality-wise, I get it. If you’re a young adult entering the world, planning on getting by on food stamps and schmoozing off your parents, you probably don’t have the right goals in mind. To say that money is completely unimportant would be an unfortunate lie. But does that necessarily mean that we must base whether we’re doing life “right” on it?

I’m sure that many people have heard this spiel before. Money isn’t everything, love is what matters, give hugs not war, etc. etc. There isn’t anything wrong with these opinions, believe me. Many of them are just different versions of saying the same thing: life is more than materialistic things. In a perfect world where everyone was provided with what they need to have a good life, these lessons would be far easier to take to heart. The fact of the matter, though, is that it isn’t a perfect world. There are social and economic classes, hierarchies, monopolies…unfortunately, “equal footing” is a rare thing nowadays (speaking purely on tangible goods and possessions).

Success is directly linked to happiness, yes? Simply put, if you’re “successful” you didn’t fail, therefore you did things right, therefore you have no reason to be upset, or depressed, or guilty. …right? That being said, I try putting myself into society’s success scenario. I picture myself with a career I love in which I make plenty of money. Each night I come home to my wife and kids, my perfect American family. We live in the best neighborhood in the area, buy only the highest quality foods, and everyone we know loves us. So, Ryan, you’re happy, right? You have no reason not to be.

Now I can only speak for myself here, but no matter how many $100 bills I throw at my head, my depression is unfazed. My anxiety doesn’t care either. You can certainly make the argument that more money pays for better treatment, such as the most reputable outpatient counseling or one of the most renowned psychologists. This is true, however, unless those expensive methods have some magic trick for getting inside your head and pulling the mental illnesses out like you would the funny bone in Operation, the fact is those illnesses will never fully go away. I’m not saying this to be morbid; there are many tried and true methods of getting depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses under control, I’m just trying to illustrate the fact that, in the end, money honestly doesn’t make that much of a difference when it comes to treating mental health.

So, going back to this scenario I picture myself in, and I genuinely don’t see myself as “happy.” Content? Probably. Grateful for what I have? Absolutely. But free from worry? No longer picturing myself in the worst possible scenarios? Not a chance.

We all know that money can’t buy happiness; it clearly doesn’t buy sound mental health either. So, what does give us relief from our own minds? If there’s a good answer, then I couldn’t tell you, as I’m still trying to figure that out myself. Again, there are many reliable, health-conscious methods for keeping these illnesses under control, but what eradicates them for good? (Seriously, if you know, tell me. While you’re at it, tell everyone you know. Call up all the world leaders and tell them too, because I think most everybody with a mental illness asks that question at one point or another.)

Putting society’s definition aside, I truly believe that success comes not from outward achievement, but instead from the comfort of our own minds. If you’re content in much that you do, no guilt, sadness, hurt…in my eyes you’re already successful. As someone who suffers day-to-day with something as simple as accepting myself for who I am, being able to look at your life and say “that’s okay,” seems like a fairy tale to me.

And how does combatting our mental illnesses directly lead us to successful lives? Does it even count as success if we’re only temporarily holding it at bay, and not wiping it from the board completely? Once again, these are questions I have no good answers for. Society already has their multiple definitions of success all figured out – good grades lead to good college which leads to good career which leads to good money. “Success.” Or: significant other leads to wedding leads to happy marriage leads to children. “Success.” Please, I don’t want to sound like I’m demeaning any of these things at all. If you worked hard to get to where you are, be it a happy marriage or successful career, truly, good for you. Be proud of yourself for that, and be grateful. I’d only like to stress that true happiness lies in much more than what society defines as life achievement.

I don’t really have a “lesson” here per say, this is just something I’ve thought about since examining my own tendency to compare myself to others based on “successes,” and it got me thinking. Let me know if you agree or disagree, either in the comments or reach out via email or Facebook. Is “success” being content with your life, regardless of your monetary or materialistic circumstances? Or is it something else entirely?

Best wishes, everyone.

  • Ryan