Curious where you land on this continuum? This selfishness versus altruism quiz in psychology today gives you a score. Dr. Manly notes that genetic components can affect a person’s tendency to be more selfish or altruistic, and childhood environment, upbringing and general socialization also play a role. Yet she believes we have a choice be more or less selfish or altruistic.
With that in mind, take the quiz, then read Dr. Manly’s description of the benefits of both, along with tips on how to be more selfish or selfless, depending on your score.
Selfishness versus altruism
The benefits of practicing selflessness are many, including lasting mental, emotional, and physical benefits. “Those who are emotionally, mentally, and behaviorally compassionate — all key elements of altruism — tend to thrive personally and interpersonally,” says Dr. Manly. “Research has found an association between altruism and improved physical health, longevity, happiness, and well-being.”
Selfishness has its perks too, and we all have some selfishness, says Dr. Manly. It’s a good thing because we would never take care of ourselves and meet our needs without it. However, when you move to the selfish end of the spectrum, it becomes more than attention and self-care and into the realm of toxic narcissism. “While a very selfish person can achieve ‘success’ in life by doing whatever is perceived to be necessary to get ahead, the cost to self and to healthy interpersonal relationships is usually extremely high,” says -she.
If you lean more towards selfishness…
If your score leans more into the territory of selfishness, Dr. Manly says you can adopt practices that promote selflessness. The key, she says, is to take baby steps to ensure you find a good fit. Jumping too deep can lead to feeling overwhelmed or regretful.
There are many ways to practice altruism. Dr. Manly suggests finding a place where you can volunteer in your community, such as pet shelters, community gardens, hospitals, and homeless shelters. She recommends trying a few to find the environment that works best for you. Giving money to causes you support, even in small amounts, is another way to practice altruism.
If you can’t afford to donate your time or money, Dr. Manly says many small, generous acts cost nothing. “Altruism is expressed in simple actions such as sharing smiles, helping an elderly person with their groceries, walking a neighbor’s dog, sharing the goodness of their garden or stopping to really listen to a friend in the need,” she said. “One of my favorite forms of win-win altruism is the habit of picking up litter safely on a hike, walk, or stroll on the beach. Not only do these altruistic behaviors make good, but they do good for the environment while providing a positive role model for others.
Dr. Manly also notes that true altruistic efforts are motivated by empathy and selfless goals. For example, a donation made out of goodwill is altruistic while a donation made for publicity or tax purposes is not.
Whatever selfless acts of kindness do you good, big or small, the important thing is to be consistent with them. Dr. Manly says the more you serve and give to others, the more you embed altruism in your brain.
If you lean more towards altruism…
If your score shows that you lean heavily into altruism, it could indicate that you are giving to the point of overdoing yourself and sacrificing your well-being. Dr. Manly says finding a healthy balance between giving to others and taking care of yourself is key.
Your selfless efforts should not interfere with other aspects of your life or cause you personal stress. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed or drained from overcommitment, Dr. Manly recommends taking a break. “Give yourself time to reset and recharge before taking on other commitments,” she says. It’s also an opportunity to set boundaries, which in itself can be a generous act because the more you fill yourself up, the more you can pour out on others. “It’s important to be able to say no when you’re tired or when you need time to take care of yourself or your loved ones. Healthy boundaries are really important; they allow you to take care of yourself and others without fear of exhaustion.
When you give from a balanced place, which means your cup is full, Dr. Manly says the rewards of helping others are enormous.