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When I was younger, I would speed towards the parking space to get it before the other car. I was selfish. Even now, I experience impulses to gratify and soothe myself before considering the needs of others. I still have seeds of selfishness.
What I’ve learned is that I am better off if I put others first. When I let someone go in front of me in line, I feel good. Last week I canceled a meeting and went to visit my mother-in-law, who is recovery from an illness. It felt good to do this.
I’ve heard of research where subjects are given money to spend. Half the subjects were instructed to give the money to someone else. The other half were instructed to spend it on themselves. At the end of the day, the subjects who gave the money away were happier. Giving is good for us.
Putting others first is a form of enlightened self-concern. It is in our best interest to do so, because living to love others is far more fulfilling than living to gratify ourselves. Just look carefully at your own life experience to see that this is true. Many of us experience this for the first time when we have children. In putting our children first, we experience the truth that putting others first is best for us. When we extend this practice to everyone in our lives, we realize great fulfillment.
This is not to say that we necessarily expose ourselves to harm or sacrifice our vitality. In general, we benefit the world the most if we take good care of ourselves. As a rule, you must be good to do good. It is also true that we need to honor the callings of our souls. Self-concern is different from selfishness. To be concerned with our own well-being is good. In fact, it is out of self-concern that we put others first, because it is so good for us to do so.
Obviously, there are exceptions in extreme circumstances. We all make sacrifices, large and small, for others. There are sleepless nights caring for a loved one. There is helping a child with their homework when we’d rather watch TV. We might even sacrifice our lives to save the life of another person. We hear stories of soldiers doing this in combat. Yet even when we give our lives in putting others first, we do so because it is in our best interest to do so.
See that compulsively wanting to selfishly gratify yourself without regard for others leaves you feeling empty, disconnected, and unfulfilled. Note the fulfillment of putting others first. Your awareness and insight will trigger a natural falling away of selfish self-gratification. It will cause you to naturally embrace the practice of loving.