My fiancé’s favorite book is Atlas Shrugged. After 2 years of hinting that I should read it, he finally made a deal with me: “If you read Atlas Shrugged, I’ll read any 2 books you want!”
He figured out the one thing that would make me read it, and I had to take him up on it. It’s been a frustrating and fascinating read, and has me thinking deeply.
One aspect of the book that I can’t get out of my head is the theme of selflessness and selfishness.
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In Atlas Shrugged, all pursuits with a personal gain are considered selfish. If you own any business, any desire for profit is selfish. One character suggests that her son hire people because they need a job, not because they can actually do it. The legislation prizes selflessness and service: one proposed law is to decrease train capacity so you have to run more trains (and thus hire more workers), rather than carry more freight per train.
It made me wonder – how much should our actions reflect our own personal gains vs the public good?
In Atlas Shrugged, they take the desire for public good to a logical extreme….True selflessness is doing things that are actually *bad* for you. As an example, if you were competing against a friend for a job, you would purposefully quit during the interview process, so that your friend could get it (even if you were better suited to the job).
It sounds crazy…but it’s a fallacy I think we can find in our own world. Some people would call this martyr syndrome. We create “either/or” scenarios (either my happiness or yours) instead of “yes, and” scenarios (we both can win!).
We think that if we’re doing something for ourselves it must not benefit other people, or that if we are doing a public good, it can’t benefit ourselves. And so in the name of “self-care” we don’t show up to something without telling the other person, or we do show up and complain about it afterwards.
The extremes of selfishness and service are unsustainable. Without taking care of ourselves, we aren’t able to fully serve: we don’t have the energy necessary to! But without thinking about the public good, we justify actions that harm others.
I believe the sweet spot lies in the middle, in the “yes, and”. The sweet spot is where we are doing good for ourselves AND others. We are taking care of our own needs and walking lightly – making the world better by our presence.
This a concept that Deepak Chopra brings up in his Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (coincidentally, one of the books Shaun is reading because I’m reading Atlas Shrugged (:D ). In his section on Karma, Deepak talks about spontaneous decision making, and how the right answers can just arise in your body. How do you find what these right answers are? Ask “will this action bring happiness to myself and others?” If the answer is yes….DO IT.
This “yes, and” mentality is one of abundance. It’s one where you can give to others because you also give to yourself. We can have both!
Most of us have trigger points where me move from “yes, and” to “either/or” (or from abundance to scarcity). We fear that there’s not enough goodness to go around, and act accordingly.
Where we find true joy and sustainable living is when we find the “yes, and”. And so I invite you to look at the decisions you make today. Do they bring happiness to yourself AND others? If not, where do you tend to lean (towards selfishness or service?) Notice, and see if you can start to use Deepak’s question: which choice will bring happiness to myself and others? Find abundance by saying yes, and.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.