The philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said that “every man is presumed to seek what is good for himself naturally, and what is just, . . . accidentally.”
This is what’s known as the “axiom of self interest,” which is the belief that self interest guides everything that we do in life.
However, if this idea is true, then how does it explain those who help and cooperate with one another?
Well if you look at all of the people who work for big companies, most likely they’re not cooperating with each other solely to help the other person succeed.
In the book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect,” Matthew Lieberman, a social cognitive neuroscience professor at UCLA, says,
“The theory of ‘who we are’ suggests that we cooperate in order to ultimately achieve a better end for ourselves.”
In other words, acts of kindness and cooperation may appear to be altruistic, but it may just be selfishness in disguise.
For example, when you’re walking down the street and you see someone give a homeless person a few dollars, very rarely would you look at that person helping and think that she’s just helping the homeless person because it makes her feel good.
But this may be the case.
Look at the reason why people eat food. Most people love to eat food because it feels good.
The evolutionary motivation for eating food is survival, but our psychological motivation is pleasure.
The same applies to altruistic behavior.
A group of individuals will have a higher chance of surviving if they cooperate and help one another, but the psychological motivator that makes us selflessly help others may be the intrinsic pleasure we get when we do it.
If we help another person because it gives us intrinsic pleasure, is this selfish or not?
Truth is it doesn’t matter.
If you help someone because it makes you feel good, it doesn’t really matter to the person that you’ve helped.
It’s like the Dalai Lama said,
“If you would like to be selfish, you should do it in a very intelligent way. The stupid way to be selfish is the way we always have worked, seeking happiness for ourselves alone and in the process becoming more and more miserable. The intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others” because doing so is intrinsically pleasurable.
If you want to find happiness, if you want to find success, it is best to act in a way that is altruistic. Whether it’s you being altruistic or selfishly altruistic, it doesn’t really make a difference.