Is being selfless the smartest way to be selfish?


This study shows doing volunteer work increases happiness — not just correlation; they demonstrated causation as well.

So if you’re being self-centered and thinking only of how you can increase your own happiness, well, you may want to go help others for nothing in return:

Here, we directly address the issue of causality and take advantage of a natural experiment: the collapse of East Germany. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the German reunion, the first wave of data of the GSOEP was collected in East Germany. Volunteering was still widespread. Due to the shock of the reunion, a large portion of the infrastructure of volunteering (e.g. sports clubs associated with firms) collapsed and people randomly lost their opportunities for volunteering. Based on a comparison of the change in subjective well-being of these people and of people from the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, the hypothesis is supported that volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction.

Source: “Is Volunteering Rewarding in Itself?” from Discussion Paper No. 1045, March 2004

“If you would like to be selfish, you should do it in a very intelligent way. The stupid way to be selfish is … seeking happiness for ourselves alone. … the intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.”

– The Dalai Lama, The Way to Freedom: Core Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism

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