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Happiness: the Ultimate Egoism?

by Joan Marques,
March 13, 2004

Ever been accused of being a selfish person for chasing your dreams and wanting to achieve them no matter what? Well, I have. And since I always thought of chasing dreams and reaching goals as expressions of determination and perseverance, this bold accusation set me to think. Here was someone telling me that my efforts to achieve my aims were built on egoism!

Suddenly I laid the link between happiness and selfishness. For, isn't everybody ultimately striving for happiness? And doesn't happiness have as many faces as there are people in the world? Isn't happiness tailored to what we expect from life? Think about it: for one happiness may mean being with that one special partner, for another it may consist of being wealthy, and for yet another it may be as much as experiencing peaceful serenity.

And, as I mentioned in previous writings on this fascinating topic, happiness is also a moving target: as things and circumstances change in our lives, happiness becomes defined differently. What used to personify happiness for me at age 19, for instance, is not so anymore. I have an entire different "package" of conditions representing happiness nowadays than in the good old ones.

It is definitely no news either that happiness changes once you have realized one dream. It simply moves on: Another dream replaces the old one, and happiness is once again out of reach. So, the hunt can restart. Hurray!

But to get back to the initial accusation that brought this all about: if happiness is nothing but the realization of our deepest desires; shouldn't we actually cease seeing egoism as something negative and start praising it as the only way progress is being made? After all, it is egoism that drives some people to work harder and longer than they actually should in order to earn the money they need to realize the materialistic parts of their dreams. And it is egoism that drives people to achieve anything they focus on. It is, therefore, egoism that leads to success, no matter what you choose your definition of "success" to be.

To me, for instance, success is nothing more than doing what I like: executing my passion. I love being a university professor, because I love sharing the knowledge I gained through study and through life's lessons with others, while, at the same time, this knowledge gets enhanced by the bits and pieces these others contribute in the process of knowledge exchanging. I see that as success. I do what I like most, and I do it in a setting that does not tie me to a boring daily schedule, which, to me, would be the epitome of unhappiness. So, since I have achieved that, I feel that I am successful. And happy! Now, how selfish is that?

Some may say, "Very selfish!" And maybe they are right. But if that is true, then selfishness should immediately be liberated from its negative connotation. For selfishness, in that case, is nothing else than "what drives people to achieve their happiness." And a happy world is one where people can stand each other so much better. 

The only regrettable note here may be that sometimes the happiness of one person is achieved at the expense of another. Not deliberately, maybe, but still. It may be that two people are striving for the same goal: a desirable partner, or a prestigious position at work, for instance. And unfortunately, this partner, or this position, is one and the same entity. Thus, the one who finally succeeds in attracting that partner or position will be successful and happy. The other will not.

A positive way to end this little write up may be that, fortunately, most of us, human beings, are flexible creatures. That means that we can adapt to change and learn to focus on something new. If one goal turns out to be unachievable, most of us have the suppleness to redefine our desire and go for the newly formulated goal.

So, hurray to egoism, success, flexibility, and happiness!


About the author:

Joan Marques, holds an MBA, is a doctoral candidate in Organizational Leadership, and a university instructor in Business and Management in Burbank, California. You may visit her web site at Joan's manual "Feel Good About Yourself," a six part series to get you over the bumps in life and onto success, can be purchased and downloaded at:


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