Nobel Prize winning philosopher, Albert Camus, said “Heroism is accessible. Happiness is more difficult.” Upon reflection it becomes evident that any supposed heroic effort is an attempt at achieving personal happiness and that there is no such thing as a selfless act. Literature is filled with examples of apparent heroic endeavors but if one looks deeper it becomes clear that the rewards offered by internal gratification, reputation enhancement, and legacy are often primary motives.
One example from literature can be found in Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mocking Bird.” The protagonist, Atticus Finch, finds himself in the situation of defending an unpopular case he knows he cannot win. There is no money in the case for Mr. Finch, but fortunately for Mr. Finch, this case pays in rewards that far outweigh greed. The gravity he placed on doing what his conscious demanded was far more valuable to Atticus than the difficulties he and his family were forced to endure. Specifically, Atticus was able to gain immense internal gratification, and in the end tremendous adoration, from doing the work of his conscious. The work he himself agreed was of primary importance.
Another example can be found in the children’s story “The Gift of the Magi.” Recall the young married couple who neither had money to buy the other a Christmas gift. The lady had long beautiful hair and her husband wanted to buy her a silver hair clip. In order to buy the clip he had to sell his prized gold watch. Unbeknownst to him, his wife had cut her long beautiful hair and sold it to a wig maker to get money to buy a gold band for his gold watch. This is certainly a romantically sweet gesture from both parts of the couple. Why would each one of them give up something so important to them to buy a gift for the other? The answer is simple; the joy each expected to get from the gifts they purchased was far dearer than what was given up. Again we find the true motivation to be internal gratification for the person performing the supposed selfless act.
Finally we come to the age old saying of “I would do anything for my kids.” The Creator put in each of us an instinctual desire to reproduce and thus reason dictates parents would also have the instinct to put the child’s welfare ahead of their own. All the work that went into the design of the reproduction system would have been lost had parents not persevered to get children to reproducing age themselves. This necessitates that putting children first, is in fact, in the parent best interest. It’s simply coincidence that the offspring’s best interests are served as well.
Naturally, one may point to any number of good deeds not unlike those outlined above and find evidence of a selfless act of heroism. The good will bestowed on others might be all that is considered when viewing the circumstances. Newton’s third law of motion explains that for every force one body exerts on a second body, the second body exerts a force equal in magnitude back on the first body. When we apply this universal law to human phycology, we see that it is impossible to perform a selfless act of heroism.
Undoubtedly, the joy received is greater than the sacrifice. Specifically, internal gratification, reputation enhancement, and legacy are all factors in creating happiness. Satisfying the conscious is paramount. Think of your goals. Do they line up with your values? Look for ways to improve your happiness in serving others and thus serving yourself.
If you want to learn more about the idea of selflessness, check out Mark Twain’s Book, What is man?