How selfish roots bore happy fruits

I am selfish by nature. While I’ve read and believe this is at the root of alcoholism, I’ve become convinced it is the baser root of all human nature.

Copernicus discovered heliocentricity 473 years ago.

My sponsor is fond of asking me: is it lonely at the center of the universe? Thanks to Paul (@nachoricardo) for the image.

My sponsor is fond of asking me: is it lonely at the center of the universe? Thanks to Paul (@nachoricardo) for the image.

I discovered an other-centric life, a life of service to others, 7 years ago. But the discovery is like the explorers who discovered the Arctic. I don’t exactly live there, although I’m free to visit from time to time. And upon visiting, I trip over a few Eskimos to realize that I didn’t really discover anything new.


How I flipped my selfish script

If you are selfish AND insecure, as I often am, think about this. The way you are constantly thinking about yourself is the way others are constantly thinking about themselves. People are far more concerned with themselves than with you. I was put at ease to realize that people aren’t obsessing over me the way I obsess over myself.

This may seem a silly realization to have as an adult, and it most likely is. But this is where my happiness began.

I have felt great joy in helping others, which I do professionally as a teacher and coach. It is immensely fulfilling. I’ve experienced the bliss of helping others through their addiction too. I do my best as a husband to think of my wife’s needs, and as a father, my children’s.

It has brought me true happiness—not that ignorance is bliss stuff, or taking a vacation to lie at the beach, or that rush when a post is shared or our thought re-tweeted—I’m talking about that deep-rooted contentment and satisfaction.

When University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson hooked up 256 sensors to Buddhist Monk Matthieu Ricard’s brain, the happy part of his brain lit up like a Christmas tree. 

Ricard is identified as the happiest man in the world on the internet as a result of this study.

Ricard is identified as the happiest man in the world on the internet as a result of this study.

How? Through his books, a Ted Talk, his personal website, the message remains consistent: the road to happiness is paved by thoughts and actions for others.

I am by no means a monk or advocating cloistered life. What I want to share with anyone who reads this is that

I have tasted what it feels like to be selfless and that alone has made me happier than I have ever been in my life.

I have discovered a new peace. Much like the “discoverers” of the Arctic, I don’t stay there, and there is an indigenous population like Ricard who call it home. But when I need it, I know I’ve travelled there—explored it.

I would recommend the same for anyone suffering from alcoholism, addiction, depression, or even a mean case of the Mondays. To quote one of my favorite musicians Alexi Murdoch, “My salvation lies in your love. Oh brother, oh sister.”

If it is as simple as that, why aren’t I happy more often? If the key to life fits into a common lock, why aren’t more copies being made? It is because it is HARD.

We would all feel better if we ate broccoli in every meal and skipped dessert, or if we sacrificed some time on the couch to exercise. There is a simple paradox that proves (to me) there is a benevolent creator and a higher-order of justice in this life:

What feels good often makes us miserable. Doing good is what brings us happiness.

This is a truism I only learned in experience: I am happier when I give than when I receive.

8 Responses to “How selfish roots bore happy fruits

  • Oh my goodness….this is the perfect response to my last post! You know how we hear what we need when we need it….well, here it is. I always tell my husband when we go to a social event…ask questions, see how they are doing, how are their kids, what is going on in their life? People love to talk about themselves….so let them! That way we don’t have to be in the hot seat! LOL

  • This is great. First, yes, huge relief when I first realized and now remind myself that no one is thinking about me (ha!). The giving to others is much more a work in progress. I have mostly been finding quiet ways to fit this into my day, but I like knowing I can only continue to build and grown in this particular area as a sober person. I agree the tendency to be self-centered is a human trait, and somehow I never gave it much worry while drinking. Terrific read to start the day, thanks for this.

    • I’m so glad you read and enjoyed! I’ve enjoyed byebye beer very much. It’s hard to get out of self. But like you commented, at the very least I have the knowledge that it’s what we need to do.

  • I so enjoyed reading this! I still struggle with the realization that it’s really NOT always about me. I’d love to have my brain light up like a Christmas tree! I’m not monk who does good all the time, I’m grateful for just one bulb to light up every now and then. This was a wonderful reminder of how to stay in the solution.

    • Thanks Leslie! A friend gave me a prayer to recite when I went to family get together one weekend–“it’s not about me.” I said it to myself and man did it give me some piece of mind. Wishing you a good journey–on the road and in recovery!

  • I think what’s really telling is that more often than not, our stories have been positively affected by our poor choices that have been “converted” to good ones. A pleasure reading, as always, my friend.

    • What a fascinating paradox you’ve cracked open here Dan. You’ve got me thinking…(and in this case, that’s a good thing).

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