Self-interest vs. selfish; there is a difference

Self-interest is essential for your happiness and well being.  It enables you to provide food and shelter for you and your family.  Self-interest is necessary for your economic and career success.  If you are not concerned about yourself, who will be?

Selfishness is different than self-interest.  Selfish people tend to be exclusively concerned about only themselves.  They don’t care about anyone else and have no regard for other people.  Selfish individuals may act in a manner that’s detrimental to others.

Having a healthy self-interest doesn’t preclude caring about others.  Actually, a strong self-interest is a core component of those who are most concerned about other’s welfare.  If you don’t care about yourself, how can you care about others?

There is often confusion because the terms self-interest and selfish are erroneously used interchangeably.  As a result, you may feel guilty about acting in your own self-interest.  The reasoning is that taking care of your needs will invariably have a negative impact on someone else.

When you feel guilty about taking care of your self-interests, you wrongly assume that someone else’s situation will somehow improve by your deprivation.  Making sure that you are OK does not cause anyone else to suffer.

A common example is doing well financially.  Some try to assign a stigma to economic success, incorrectly asserting that economic success can only occur at the expense of others.  If you are acting in your own self-interest, you are compensated financially for providing a desirable service or product.  Therefore you prosper as the result of helping other people.

Selfish people don’t care what they have to do get money.  They have no ethics, morals, or standards.  Their main focus is only what’s in it for them.  Although selfish individuals may at times appear to profit, it’s only in the short term and not sustainable.

If you find you have been selfish, now is a good time to change.  Past behavior does not have to dictate your future actions.  You have free will and can improve at any time.  If you are not happy with how you have been acting, make corrections.

When you act in your own self-interest you help others not only by what you produce but also by what you consume.  Whenever you spend the money you earn, it gets spread throughout the economy causing a positive ripple effect.  The more you spend, the more many others benefit.  Conversely, if guilt prevents you from living as well as you would like, you have much less of a positive impact on others. 

Construct a list of what you want from life.  Think big.  Dream big.  There’s nothing wrong with reaching all of your dreams.  Your success is good.  There is nothing to be ashamed about.  The more you give out, the more you get back in return.

Don’t listen to those who disparage your motives.  Their situation won’t improve if they are successful in discouraging you.  Life provides limitless opportunity for all.  Whether or not someone avails them self of this potential is their choice. 

It’s good to act in your own self-interest.  Have high aspirations.  Work hard.  Apply yourself.  Ignore any criticism implying that you are selfish.  Some will be jealous of your success.  There’s nothing you can do about how they feel.  So focus on your needs.

NOW AVAILABLE:  "Dare to Live Without Limits," the book.  Visit or your bookstore. Bryan is a management consultant, motivational speaker, author, and adjunct professor. E-mail Bryan at or write him c/o this paper.  2010 Bryan Golden

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