Asserting Positive Selfishness

Dear Integral Meditators,

For most people the word ‘selfish’ has exclusively negative connotations. The article below explores the important idea of ‘positive selfishness’ & how using it mindfully is a really important life-skill!

In the spirit of the journey,


Asserting Positive Selfishness

What is positive selfishness?
Positive selfishness is the recognition that you have a right to:

  • Pursue your own happiness and to be happy
  • To be fulfilled & pursue your life goals/interests
  • To rejoice in and derive pleasure from being alive, and inhabiting your own creative, expressive space as an individual

With positive selfishness, you are simply recognizing your right to the above three experiences. You are notsaying your happiness is more important than anyone else’s, in fact if you are a ‘positive egotist’ you would tend to vigorously uphold the rights of others around you to happiness, fulfillment and healthy pleasure.

Negative selfishness
Positive selfishness needs to be separated from negative selfishness. A negatively selfish person sees their happiness/desires (etc…) as being far more important than anyone elses. They are prepared to use any means possible to get their way. For such a person the welfare of others is insignificant. In contrast, the positively selfish person sees the welfare of others as an innate right, to be defended with the same passion as one’s own rights.

What is your ego?
A useful definition of the ego is ‘our unifying center of awareness’. It is the point of consciousness or self-awareness around which our habitual thoughts and feelings arrange themselves. Having a strong, healthy center of self-awareness (ego) that is able to make conscious choices, assert needs and take responsibility is essential for living a successful life. One of the main points of a mindfulness practice is to build a strong, healthy, functional ego.
Many people enter a spiritual path, or a path of meditation saying they ‘want to give up their ego’. Since most people haven’t really developed a healthy functional ego in the first place,  ‘giving up their ego’ is a strategy that is hardly destined for success.

The hidden paradigm: Bad = the selfish egotist, Good = the selfless sacrificer
One of the unconscious ideas that we inherit from many of our cultures and religions is that  “Good people ‘sacrifice’ their happiness for the benefit of others, whilst bad people are selfish egoists”. Positive selfishness asserts that it is possible to pursue your own fulfilment, whilst at the same time encouraging and enabling others to become happy and grow in their own way.
For example, in a romantic relationship, you can enjoy and derive pleasure from the other person, in a ‘positively selfish way’. In fact, what could be more insulting to the other person than to say to them “I am only here for you, I am not getting any pleasure from the experience myself!!!” Mutually satisfying joy and pleasure can be derived by each partner being ‘positively selfish’, whilst at the same time practising care and concern for the other person.

A positive selfishness mindfulness practice: Creating a win-win relationship between your own and other people’s interests.

This week as a fun exercise, in different situations you might like to ask yourself the questions:

  • What might it mean for me to be positively selfish here?
  • How can I assert my own needs and desires in a way that is complementary to the needs and fulfilment of those around me?

Have fun and see what answers arise from these questions. Enjoy being positively selfish!

© Toby Ouvry 2017, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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