The Joy of Being Unselfish
“SELF FIRST!” Just two words, but they were in letters so large that they filled the whole front page. They proclaimed the philosophy that the Muslims were offering in their publication to passersby on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, in September 1972.
How different this message of a modern Muhammad from the message that Jesus Christ brought! He preached putting others ahead of self. He taught and practiced sacrificing oneself for others. He enunciated a principle that must have sounded strange to his listeners: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
There are some persons who are exemplary in unselfishness. Among such are parents who are so unselfishly devoted to their families that at times they need to be urged to do something for themselves, such as buy some new clothing or enjoy some recreation. Thus there was the mother of five children who had to manage her household with extreme economy because of the selfishness of her husband. Caring for her family so consumed her time and energies that she had none left for popular pleasures. Her reward? She had peace of mind and the love and gratitude of her children. Having set her heart on serving her family, she had a sense of satisfaction, and, far from being bored, she had the happiness that comes from giving.
Why is there joy and happiness in being unselfish? Because the Creator, Jehovah God, made us in his image and likeness, and he, above all others, is the Unselfish One. He not only endowed us with a moral sense, which gives us the ability to choose between what is right and what is wrong, but also made us so that we get the rewards of contentment and happiness from exercising justice, from doing what is right. Thus the famed English jurist Blackstone once stated that God “has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter [happiness] cannot be attained but by observing the former [justice]; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter.” And if this is true of exercising justice, and it surely is, it is also true about exercising unselfishness.
If we would experience the joy of being unselfish we must work at being unselfish, for it is not a matter of doing what comes naturally, or following the lines of least resistance. Due to inherited sin and our surroundings we are prone to do what is bad and selfish. (Gen. 8:21; Ps. 51:5) Especially within the family circle, where members are in such close contact with one another, must thought be given to this. Selfishness on the part of one results in pain or a selfish reaction on the part of the others; but unselfishness results in mutual joy and satisfaction. No wonder the nineteenth-century British prime minister Gladstone concluded that “selfishness is the greatest curse of the human race.” And that it is, for it got our first parents—and all the rest of us through them—into trouble. It is at the bottom of all conflicts between nations, between capital and labor, between parents and children.
Even little unselfish acts of helpfulness bring joy. Aiding us to be alert to such opportunities is, of course, empathy, the ability to put ourselves in the place of others. But more often it may simply be a matter of not being always in a hurry. Thus victims of automobile mishaps at times beg loud and long before someone takes cognizance of their plight and slows down to inquire what help is needed. In striking contrast was the Brooklyn car driver on his way home who, not being in such a hurry, noted at an intersection that the driver of the car ahead of him was in a quandary. So the man in the rear car got out and asked the other driver what the problem was. Learning what street the driver was looking for, the other man led the way in his own car; that being simpler than trying to explain. The glowing smiles and appreciation on the part of the one helped and his companions more than compensated the helpful one for his time and trouble, giving him joy and satisfaction in being able to help out someone else.
The Jewish author and Zionist leader, Israel Zangwill, once made a rather perceptive observation that is quite pertinent here. He said: “Selfishness is the only real atheism; aspiration, unselfishness the only real religion.” And this is true if we recognize that real religion is to ‘love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves,’ and this includes ministering to ‘the fatherless and the widows.’ Thus the apostle Paul counseled: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.”—1 Cor. 10:24; Mark 12:29-31; Jas. 1:27.
Because the Christian witnesses of Jehovah are truly unselfishly concerned about sharing with others the good things they have learned they are a happy people, even as others have recognized. Thus at an assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in Vienna, Austria, in 1972, a woman who had come out of curiosity became interested in Jehovah’s witnesses, for, to use her own words, she saw “happy faces of people who seem to know where they are going.” Nor is hers an isolated case. Others also have been so impressed with the joy manifested by the Witnesses that they began to take an interest in the message the Witnesses are bringing.
Certainly the world has it all wrong. It wants to have joy and happiness, yet it pursues that goal by selfish means. But the two can no more mix than can the proverbial oil and water. Joy and happiness come from being unselfish, from doing good, as one has opportunity, to members of one’s own family, to fellow workmen or employees, to strangers on the highways. And, of course, the greatest joy comes from sharing the most valuable thing one could possess, namely, an understanding of God’s Word and purposes. If you have such understanding, then follow through on Jesus’ commandment: “You received free, give free.” This is the way to have joy.—Matt. 10:8.