Be Happy, Feel Beautiful
“Healthy” selfishness—is there such a thing, or is selfishness always negative? Teenage years, especially those bridging the gap between high school and university, tend to be associated with egoism or self-centeredness by older generations. At some point one faces the question: is self-interest healthy or narcissistic?
All babies that burst into the world between the 1970s-90s fell into the category of Generation Me, labelled by author and psychology expert Jean M. Twenge, PhD. Twenge explains Generation Me as having “never known a world that put duty before self, and believes that the needs of the individual should come first.” Twenge claims that this value of self stems from phrases that have been fed to us since infancy like, “believe in yourself” and “you must love yourself before you can love someone else”.
While some may view Generation Me as selfish, the more accurate term to describe them would be self-interested—concerned for their own advantage and well-being but not necessarily at the expense of others. Another fitting description for Generation Me is narcissistic—love and esteem for one’s self. In her studies, Twenge observed that the scores of Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) tests have steadily increased over the past few generations. This means that college kids today are more narcissistic than university students in, say, the 1950s.
Yet while this new-found narcissism is on the rise, why do so many consider the concept of self-love to be negative? Should we be ashamed of the fact that we love ourselves and establish goals in life according to what we—not others—want? Is self-interest truly selfish, or is it simply regarded as such by past generations whose mindset is limited to the “serve others” mentality? Most importantly, should one set out to achieve what is best for society or what is best for one’s self?
Author and founder of Objectivism Ayn Rand re-defines selfishness and offers a new angle to the term—rational selfishness. In Atlas Shrugged she wrote that man is a being “with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute.” Rand’s argument justifies Donald Trump’s tendency to name all he creates after himself. As egotistical as naming everything “Trump” may seem, the tycoon has earned the privilege of naming his projects through hard work and a talent for business.
Self-interest can be healthy for young people in a competitive world. Wanting what’s best for one’s self promotes assertiveness, confidence, and self-worth. You don’t go into a job interview thinking, “I won’t mention my unique skills and abilities because I don’t want to seem arrogant.” Similarly you wouldn’t slow down in a race just to let your fellow runner win. Altruism isn’t courtesy, and it certainly won’t allow you to advance.
Having a sense of self or personal identity—which is only achieved through a time of focusing on the self and understanding it—enables you to give more to others without compromising your principles and needs. But where must we draw the line between healthy self-interest and selfishness—concentrating on one’s own advantage without regard for others?
As young adults, use this time in your life to explore your wants, needs, and personal limits. Are you giving enough thought to what is necessary for your own happiness? Are you learning to be aware of the point at which your self-interest may undermine the self-worth of others?
*Photo Credit: Fabio Sabatini