The Value of Selflessness | Meaning, Examples


What defines being selfless?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, being selfless means to be more concerned with the wishes and needs of others than with one’s own.

When we look at the word selfless, the word tells us all we need to know.

You have the first part of the word, self, and you have the second part of the word, less.

If we flip those words around, it’s less self. In practicing this trait, we take some time to think of our self less, and we think of everyone else more.

We see a lot of selfishness in this world with people only focusing on their own desires and feelings. Not showing concern for others and only for one’s self.

If we lived in a world where everyone was only out for themselves and never acting selflessly, arguably no one would be happy.

On the other hand, in a world where we all spend some time focusing on other people’s needs through true selfless behavior, there’s the potential for everyone to be happy. The importance of this trait cannot be understated.

What are the qualities of being selfless?

There are many qualities that tie together with being selfless. As mentioned before, generosity is a part of acting selflessly. Along with generosity, there’s kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense of humility also ties with being selfless.

To be selfless is about going out of our way to do kind acts for others. It’s keeping people’s feelings in mind when we say or do things, and it’s recognizing that we’re not better than anyone.

That everyone should be able to receive some form of happiness in their lives too.

What is an example of acting selfless?

One of the most common examples of acting selfless is donations to charity.

You have rich people who’ve given millions of dollars to charity, and ordinary people who just give what little they can to help support a cause.

Another example of acting selfless is those who put themselves in the line of danger when maybe most of us would run away from it.

People who are firefighters, police officers, or members of the military exhibit this kind of unselfishness of putting their life on the line to help save someone else.

The same can be said of nurses, doctors, and surgeons who dedicate themselves to making sick people well and helping to save lives.

Then you have the everyday selfless acts we can all do:

  • Letting someone pass first at an intersection
  • Allowing someone to walk in the room before us
  • Letting someone have the last slice of pizza

All of these example are ways we can choose to be selfless in our own lives.


Is being selfless a good thing?

Being altruistic is a good thing because we not only are more helpful to others, but others are more helpful to us. There’s a universal good that spreads when we’re all selfless.

Everyone can potentially have enough of their needs and desires fulfilled when we’re all helping each other try to get them.

Altruism is a necessary good required within families, friendships, and marriages. Think about your relationships with others in your life.

If someone close to you was only thinking about their desires and their needs, you probably wouldn’t keep them in your life very long.

Being selfless can accomplish two things for us. It can help us feel good, and it can influence others to do good for us. There’s research to back this up too.

Researchers in Switzerland found that those who are more generous, which we would all probably agree requires an altruistic nature, were happier.

This study is far from the only one that’s proven that. Countless others have shown acts of kindness make us happy.

Being selfless also has the effect of influencing others to do good for us. It’s what’s referred to in psychology as the reciprocity principle.

The idea is that when people receive something from others, they feel obligated to return the favor in some way.

When we do selfless acts for others, it can potentially influence others to display those same acts back to us. All of this is how acting selfless can be good thing for everyone.

Related: Treat Others How You Want To Be Treated

Is being selfless a weakness?

Not only is it not a weakness, but based on the reciprocation principle, it can be a superpower if you use it right.

Ultimately in life, we all have to give something in order to get something. Whether that’s money, time, or attention, something has to be given.

When you choose to be selfless by being more giving, you open yourself up to getting more in life.

Is being selfless the same as altruism?

Altruism and being selfless are similar in describing the idea of thinking about another person’s needs more than their own.

I view selfless as more of a word used in an everyday context, whereas altruism is used in more of a philosophical context.


Benefits of a selfless character

Beyond making people feel good, there are lots of other scientifically proven ways having an altrustic nature can be useful. Here are some of the benefits:

Tips to be more selfless

1. Do a random act of kindness

One way you could practice being selfless is by doing a random act of kindness for someone.

You could pay for the lunch of the person behind you in the drive-thru line at a fast-food restaurant.

You could pick up trash that’s been littered outside and put it in a dumpster.

There are a number of different acts of kindness you can do to exercise your selfless muscles.

2. Give to a charity or someone you care about

Giving up our money is one of the most selfless things we can do. Most of us work hard to earn what we have, so it can make some of us apprehensive to giving it up.

But if you can loan to a charity or a person you care about, you’ll feel good knowing that you helped someone out that really needed it.

3. Volunteer

There are many different groups and volunteers that need volunteers to help during charitable events or just normal day-to-day operations.

You could volunteer at a soup kitchen or maybe help out at a blood drive. Giving a moment f your time for a cause is a great way to be more altruistic.

4. Reflect more on what people in your life need

Selfishness is about focusing on our own desires and needs. Switch your mindset to focusing more on what others need and desire.

Think about a way you could help a friend or family member get something they really wan in life.

How do we influence others to be selfless?

Researchers have looked into what causes people to choose to be generous and found some interesting findings.

One study found that people who have higher well-being were more likely to do altruistic acts than those who didn’t.

If our society can continue to get more people to live physically well, that can result in more people generously treating each other well.

Another interesting discovery was that people can be influenced to be helpful just by priming affiliation.

Infants who were shown an image of two dolls facing each other were three times more likely to be helpful. This was compared to infants shown an image of two dolls facing away from each other or just one doll.

Inducing a sense of awe in people can also promote altruistic behavior. Awe inspiring moments can be brought about through music, art, religious experiences, nature, and other areas of life.

On a lighter note, perhaps unsurprisingly, men can be influenced to be more altruistic when in the presence of an attractive woman.

Being generous is one of the keys to happiness

The power of acting generously is it helps to make all of us happy. If you just think about the concept logically, if we’re all giving something, we’re all getting something.

If we’re all going out of our way to be kind to each other, we’re all receiving kindness right back.

It’s a circular effect where all the goodness we’re giving helps to bring goodness back to us. Try practicing altruistic acts for others today.

It doesn’t have to be anything that’s big or extreme. It can be just as simple as letting someone move ahead of you in line or opening the door to let someone go in first.

When you do that kind act for someone, think about how it makes you feel and remember that feeling. It can help keep you inspired to continue to be altruistic towards others.

You never know, it might help someone else be inspired to practice being more giving too.

Inspirational video on why some people are more giving


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