Be Selfish, Seek Pleasure, Avoid Pain

Let’s get real. If you want a great career and wonderful life, you need to be spectacularly selfish…

Plus two other things: you also need to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

If you do all three, you’ll have a wonderful outcome. If you do just one or two, not so good.

Be selfish + seek pleasure + avoid pain = success

At first glance, you may think this formula encourages you to be the most greedy and self-absorbed person imaginable. In reality, exactly the opposite will happen.

This formula virtually eliminates all the short-term bad decisions most of us make about diet, exercise, money, and relationships.

If you just want pleasure, you might cheat on your spouse. But if you want both pleasure and to avoid pain, you won’t do it.

If you just want pleasure, you will eat rich desserts. But if you want both pleasure and to avoid pain, you will likely eat less dessert.

If you just want to avoid pain, you might lead a quiet, sheltered and safe life. But if you also want pleasure, you will find a healthy balance between safety and excitement.

To use a simple example, I’m a passionate skier with three “kids.” During three different periods, I had to give up much of my free skiing time to teach them to ski. That was a little painful – especially in my lower back – but the subsequent pleasure of skiing with my now-expert offspring far outweighed the pain of a few missed powder days. Teaching them to ski was incredibly selfish of me.

Enlightened self-interest that looks like altruism

Add these three elements together, and you will start behaving in a manner that others interpret as altruism. You will exhibit a strong interest in your community, peers and colleagues, because doing so is how you make the formula work on your behalf.

Here’s the critical part: you must adopt all three! If you adopt just one, your life won’t go so well.

If you just focus on pleasure, you’ll end up with a superficial and unsustainable life. If you simply avoid pain, you’ll never accomplish anything worthwhile. If you obsess with your self-interest, you’ll become the greedy and selfish person I promised to help you avoid becoming.

Selfish, selfish, selfish, selfish, selfish…

I know from previous articles that some people recoil at the word “selfish.” It conjures up an utterly self-involved person who doesn’t care at all about others. But this definition only applies to people who fail to understand that just being selfish won’t lead to success. It won’t help you avoid pain and enjoy pleasure. It is unsustainable behavior.

Much as I care for my neighbors and friends, the real reason I would help them in a crisis is because it would be too painful for me to sit silently while they are suffering. Likewise, we donate to the food bank not simply to help others, but because it is not pleasurable to sit down to a nice dinner while people one mile away don’t have anything to eat.

Be patient

This formula is not an easy one to digest; I won’t be surprised if some of you comment that the formula is evil. I will admit that, at first glance, it is counterintuitive. But give it some thought; if we all lived by this formula, the world would be a much better place.

Jim George, author of Time to Make It Stop, gave me this formula many years ago. I like it because it is memorable, and the only principles you can live by are the ones you remember.


More from Bruce Kasanoff: Bruce has three free ebooks available for download
He is the author with Michael Hinshaw of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies;
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