Selflessness is the Ultimate Selfishness

What's the connection between retirement and the 1998 fantasy/comedy/drama film called "Pleasantville"?

Well on the surface they both seem like great places to experience.

Retirement is painted as the golden years where you get to do the things that you enjoy. Perhaps the things that you were denied when you had to work.  Endless rounds of golf, traveling, fishing, lawn bowls, coffee with friends, spending time with the grandkids.

Similarly, Pleasantville was a small town in the USA where the environment, facilities, society and residence were perfect.  Everything was just, well, pleasant.  No need was unmet, everyone was happy.  Every day was ideal with a permanent rainbow over the town indicating an even better day tomorrow.

However, both situations have a couple of unforeseen downsides once you scratch the surface a little.

The first is that you will mostly likely still be time poor.  Most retired people are not sitting around twiddling their fingers with nothing to do.  Their days are full, in fact most of them comment that they don’t know how they ever found time to go to work.

Parkinson's law is that "work expands so as the fill the time available for its completion".  This seems to apply not just in work.  It seems to be very true in retirement, things fill your life.  You get out of bed late without any urgency or stress, you might visit a friend, go play a round of golf, have coffees, do some home chores and it's all very pleasant.  How on earth did you find time to work?

Well, that's when you start to realise the second downside of this pleasant life and that is that very few of these pleasant activities are truly meaningful.  They're nice, but they are not significant. They provide a sort of hollow happiness with not much lasting substance.

To understand why, and what to do about it, we need to explore the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, and his use of the saying 'Know Thyself'.  He viewed humans as complex entities with a physical side - the body, and mental side - the mind and a spiritual side - the soul.

Most rational people will agree that money will not buy you happiness.  However, it seems that when people talk about searching for happiness they mistakenly think that if they have a nice holiday, and have a nice car, and nice clothes then they will be happy.  The problem is that it's very short term, then,  you want the next material thing.

True lasting happiness and fulfilment must include all three elements - the body, mind and soul.

The soul is engaged when we are involved in activities which are bigger than ourselves.  When we do useful things for other people.

From the outside doing useful things for others, might seem like acts of selflessness.  However, if we consider how we engage the soul, these selfless actions are the ultimate form of selfishness.

So, we all have a choice.  Stay in Pleasantville and experience a hollow happiness, or be really selfish and find ways to do something useful for other people, our communities, our country or whole world.

Here's to "knowing yourself" and experiencing the ultimate in selfishness!

For more about this concept of 'Pleasantville' and how to have a listen to the 'Don't Retire, Refire' podcast episode with Alan Hay by clicking here.