In Émile ou de l'education, Jean-Jacques Rousseau distinguishes between self-love (the desire to have a satisfying life and the contentment we experience when our aspirations are accomplished, a desire which is entirely compatible with benevolence towards others) and self-love. which dictates that we systematically place our interests before those of others.
The fact of feeling joy in doing the good of others, or of reaping additional benefits for oneself, does not, in itself, make a selfish act.
Authentic altruism does not require one to suffer while helping others and does not lose its authenticity if it is accompanied by a feeling of deep satisfaction. Moreover, the very notion of sacrifice is very relative: what appears to some as a sacrifice is felt as an accomplishment by others.
Some people readily declare, “I have helped others a lot and got immense satisfaction from it. They are the ones I have to thank. The Anglo-Saxons speak of the "warm glow", the soft inner warmth that accompanies the accomplishment of acts of kindness. Some have concluded that this makes a seemingly altruistic act selfish. But do not confuse the primary cause with the side effects. The fact of feeling satisfaction by accomplishing an altruistic act does not make this act selfish, because the search for this satisfaction does not constitute the main motivation. Truth be told, if you're making a selfish calculation like, "I'm going to be selfless with this person, because I'll feel good afterwards," you won't be happy.
Altruistic love deflates the ego bubble
Satisfaction comes from true altruism, not calculating selfishness. Herbert Spencer, a 1th century English philosopher and sociologist, had already remarked: "The personal benefits which one derives from the accomplishment of the good of others […] are only fully profitable if our actions are truly devoid of 'selfishness. » (XNUMX)
Moreover, the pursuit of selfish happiness seems doomed to failure for several reasons. First of all, from the point of view of personal experience, selfishness, born of an exacerbated feeling of self-importance, proves to be a perpetual source of torment. Self-centeredness multiplies our hopes and fears, and feeds ruminations about what affects us. In the bubble of the ego, the slightest annoyance takes on disproportionate proportions.
The second reason is that selfishness is fundamentally at odds with reality. It is based on an erroneous assumption that individuals are isolated entities, independent of each other. The egoist says to himself in essence: “It is up to each of us to build his own happiness. I have nothing against your happiness, but it is none of my business”. The problem is that we are not autonomous entities and our happiness can only be built with the help of others. Even if we have the impression of being the center of the world, this world remains that of others.
“Satisfaction springs from true altruism, not from calculating selfishness. »
If egocentrism is a constant source of torment, it is quite different with altruistic love, which is accompanied by a deep feeling of plenitude.
It is also the state of mind that triggers the greatest activation of brain areas associated with positive emotions. One could say that altruistic love is the most positive of all positive emotions. Moreover, altruism is in line with reality, namely the fact that we are fundamentally interdependent. By understanding how our physical existence, survival, comfort, health, etc. depend on others, it becomes easy to put ourselves in their shoes, to respect their aspirations and to feel concerned by the fulfillment of their aspirations.
Love, affection and concern for others are, in the long term, essential to our survival. The newborn would not survive more than a few hours without his mother's tenderness; an invalid old man would die quickly without the care of those around him