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The Driving Force Behind Generosity and Selfishness

Generosity results from our feeling content and whole. It is the result of feeling full. Selfishness is the result of feeling empty.

Intuitively this makes sense. Feeling abundant and experiencing our life as abundant is the opposite of feeling a sense of lack and scarcity. When we feel that our “cup runneth over,” we feel more called to share the wealth, as it were. We no longer feel the insecurity that goes along with feeling a sense emptiness and deprivation.

I often hear entrepreneurs and individuals who are trying to take risks and follow their passion wonder, “How can I be generous and bighearted and still pay the bills?”

One answer: generosity.

Generosity is choosing to give. It is not simply saying “yes” when people ask for something. “Yes” is insufficient. To say “yes” is not to mean “yes.”

Do you find yourself saying “yes” to things but are unsure or conflicted about whether you truly mean it? You might be expressing agreement in your words, but not actually making the choice in your heart and in your body.

So why do people say “yes” without actually making the choice? In my experience, it’s frequently stems from the fear of what might happen if I were to say “no” instead. Imagining the loss of relationships, money, influence, success. And oftentimes it’s a lack of presence. I say “yes” without making the choice because I don’t stop to check with my inner Self to ensure it agrees (or even realizes what’s happening). These situations arise from a place of mindlessness as opposed to mindfulness.

The next time you say “yes” notice whether it leaves you feeling empty or panicked about “not enough.” These instances of “generosity” may actually lead to selfishness (and/or broken relationships, business models, etc.).

Try to replace your automatic yes with the discipline of proactively giving what you want to give, when you want to give it, and to whom you want to give it. Make your generosity a choice that comes from within you, rather than a reaction to the desires of others or your ego’s insecurities. The way in which you give becomes your duty, your dharma, your karma, and your destiny. Not your obligation.

Choosing to interact with the world in this way means that you will still give sometimes because someone asks, but you are truly choosing to give, as opposed to simply saying “yes.” This interaction is much more likely to come from a place of fullness. You are far more apt to deliver on your “yes” without resentment and feel even more full afterwards. In this way, generosity may become a virtuous cycle.

  • Think of a time when you said “yes” to something when you actually meant “no.” Were you aware that you were doing this at the time? Why did you choose to say “yes” — what was driving the “yes”?
  • Think of a time when you said “no” to something when you actually meant “yes.” Were you aware that you were doing this at the time you said “no”? Why did you choose to say “no” — what was driving that response?
  • Bring to mind someone you consider to be very generous. How would you characterize him or her? When he or she says “no”, does it change your view of them as generous?
The Driving Force Behind Generosity and Selfishness

Pratibha Anand

Pratibha Anand is a 2021 MD candidate at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Outside of school, Pratibha is a passionate travel enthusiast who holds a deep commitment to service. She speaks both Spanish and French and enjoys hiking mountains, yoga, SCUBA diving, and attending local concerts and theater productions. Stay up to date with Pratibha’s writing at

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APA Reference
Anand, P. (2018). The Driving Force Behind Generosity and Selfishness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 20 Jun 2018 (Originally: 20 Jun 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 20 Jun 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.