There are three fundamental ideas of economics.
1. People are rational. People use all the possible information to make a decision that provides the most benefit for themselves.
2. People respond to economic incentives. Human beings act in response to several motives, but they ultimately act in the way that will provide the most benefit.
3. Each decision is made on the margin. Notice that these fundamental conditions are fundamentally based on the idea that human beings act in their self-interest.
Self-interest is the primary motivation in any decision. From making a decision on which snack to buy, to which college to pick for your undergraduate education, to deciding on whether to end a relationship, people fundamentally act in their own self-interest. Based on this idea, the question is, how far does this self-interest go? Are all people inherently self-interested, or are there some who are innately selfless?
We all like to think we are selfless. We all think to ourselves that we are constantly giving, constantly providing for every one else. But from the outside looking in, does it really seem that way? Is that what we are actually doing, giving ourselves up to everyone around us as much as we think we are?
Based on my experiences, I have learned that people fall on a spectrum for everything; when evaluating our traits, we relate it to those around us to determine if we actually have those qualities, self-centeredness included.
Some people will walk into your life and immediately prove their self-centeredness. Some people will come into your life and think of you and others, but within a blink of an eye, prove to you that their selfishness is just a little greater than their selflessness.
But there will be some who will come into your life, fully willing to take on the burden of everyone around them; they feel everyone’s pain and triumph willingly.
Despite this select few of people that are inherently selfless, my advice is to assume that all people are self-interested. In that way, you force yourself to be your own source of happiness; you do not put your happiness in everyone else’s hands because you generate it from within you.
In this way, you have all the power of your own state of mind. The people who are ultimately self-minded will not hurt you as badly because you trained yourself to create your own happiness.
You are the only one that has the power to decide if you are going to give other people this power or determine it for yourself.